Light from Old Times – A Glance at Martin Luther

by Steven Hong

On October 31, 1517, a small, unassuming monk walked down a busy road to Castle Church at Wittenberg and nailed a pamphlet upon its doors. Five centuries later, this unceremonious event would be celebrated by Christians worldwide as Reformation Day.

The Build-Up

Many historians might consider the moment that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg, as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. But like any significant event in history, there were forces at work long before Luther’s lifetime.

“Pre-Reformation” figures, such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus laid the foundation, condemning indulgences and encouraging dramatic reform. Hus was eventually burned at the stake for not recanting his criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church, but not before declaring in 1415 that, “within a hundred years, God would raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Hus was off by two years.

Luther’s Life

From a very young age, Luther felt the heavy weight of his own sinfulness bearing down on him. As a child, he would have sleepless nights haunted by nightmares of a wrathful God. In July of 1505, as young Martin was walking to school, all this came to a head, when he was caught in a violent thunderstorm. When a lightning bolt nearly struck him, Luther made a vow to enter the monastery if God would only spare his life.

True to his word, Luther turned away from a life of studying law and entered the Augistinian order two weeks later. There, he would continue to wrestle with his sinfulness, constantly seeking absolution. He would flog himself, give alms, and do everything in his power to mortify his own flesh.

Luther, ever the diligent scholar, would eventually become a well-respected lecturer of the Bible. This was significant because the Bible was only limited to the clergy and even then, only those who understood Latin, since the Bible had not yet been translated into the German vernacular.

As Luther delved into the book of Romans, he began to understand that salvation was a product of grace, not works. His notion of salvation was slowly and radically transformed. He soon came to see that all his good deeds were worthless. This also meant that the indulgences that the church was selling were spiritually impotent, and Luther began to raise his voice in concern. However, the corruption brought about by indulgences in the church only grew. As Johann Tetzel, the most charismatic proponent and seller of these indulgences, drew nearer to Luther’s Wittenberg home, Luther penned his 95 Theses and walked up to that door at Castle Church…


Luther’s teachings against the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences became more than a nuisance, and soon he was summoned by the Emperor to stand trial before an official council. Under the threat of death, Luther was called to recant his writings and teachings against the Roman Catholic Church. Luther famously declared, “My conscience must submit to the Word of God: to act against conscience is unholy and dangerous; and therefore I cannot and will not retract. So help me God…Here I stand. I can do nought else. God help me. Amen.”

The courage of a single monk sparked a nationwide flame of reformation. That flame would eventually spread across the continent, to Geneva, England and even across the Atlantic. He liberated many souls from the prison of a works-based salvation, and even translated the Bible into the common language, so that people could draw life from the fountain itself, rather than having the church hold it captive for sordid gain.



The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.



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