Martin Luther

by Kevin Au

When we think of the Reformation, no other name comes to mind more than Martin Luther, and for good reason. This was the man who stood at the forefront of the German Reformation, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, and stood before men who could take his life yet held his ground at the Diet of Worms in one of the greatest moments in church history. But underneath these grand acts of devotion to the truth lay a deep appreciation and die hard commitment to the Bible as basis for truth.

Luther spent most of his early years in preparation to become a lawyer, and came very close, except by a surprising act of God. As Luther was on the road, coming home from law school, he was caught in a thunderstorm and so frightened that he vowed to St. Ann to commit his life to the monastery if he survived. Luther admitted later that this was a blatant act of sin, but he and all of subsequent church history is thankful for all the good that came of it.

True to his word, he committed his life to the monastery, where he developed a deep sense of his sin and guilt, but without the proper understanding of the gospel to free him. He was constantly tortured by his own guilt, desperately seeking God’s approval and mercy on his soul with his sorrow and acts to please God. He would often beat himself, hoping to curry some favor from God. Through his study of the Bible, he would come to understand that salvation and righteousness comes by faith alone. His passion for getting the truth out to the common man would soon challenge the heresy of his day.

What characterized Luther’s ministry and drove his influence in the church was his devotion to and emphasis on the Bible, or the external Word, as he called it. He believed that the Bible was true, applicable, and more valuable than the authority of the hierarchical establishment of Rome. It wasn’t long before a host of circulated writings attacked the beliefs and practices of the established church. This culminated with the nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, as Luther publicly challenged the stranglehold of the Catholic Church.

This was revolutionary. Revolutionary enough that he was brought before the Imperial Diet and given an ultimatum: either he recant his writings or be condemned as a heretic and punished. In response, Luther gave his famous defense, concluding that “I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honourable to act against conscience.

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Luther escaped his sentence with the aid and protection of Frederick the Wise, ruler of Saxony. He spent the rest of his days practically in exile in Saxony, where his ministry took place in relatively quieter fashion. Though most would know of the grander events of his earlier life, the bulk of his ministry took place during the rest of his years, as he took on the role of preacher, teacher, and writer.

While he was known as a university professor for most of his life, Luther was also a regular preacher, preaching well over 3000 sermons between 1510 and 1546.

In addition to this, Luther also was a family man. He married Katharina von Bora and had 6 children with her, also having to deal with the loss of his daughter Elizabeth in the midst of the busyness of his life.

During these years as well, Luther’s ministry as a writer flourished. He wrote regular publications, and among them, his most famous work: The Bondage of the Will.

His ministry did not end there. He bore the weight of the church, dealing with the practical issues of churches that were walking for the first time without the support of Rome. Luther continued to fuel the Reformation he helped to start, writing the Large and Small Catechism for the instruction of the church, publishing a hymnal for worship, and translating the complete Bible into the German language, giving the common man access to the Word of God.

The influence this man had on the church is immeasurable.

Though there were reformers before and after him, his writings and devotion to understand the Word, as well as the circumstances that God brought about in his life worked to ignite the Reformation in earnest.

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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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