This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s stand for the gospel of Christ against the soul-destroying falsehoods of the Church of Rome.
The name, Martin Luther, cuts through religious lines even today. Because he started more than a cultural movement and more than a political movement his stand for the gospel revealed its power to save men from their guilt of sin.
Martin Luther was born on the eve of St. Martin’s Day to Roman Catholic parents who named him after the church’s festive day. The church taught that souls earn their way to heaven through personal works. It taught the doctrine of satisfaction to God through personal suffering and pain. Because of the fear that the church instilled in people’s hearts, that false notion led Martin Luther into monastic life as an Augustinian monk, but it didn’t lead him into a life of peace with God. Even though he nearly killed himself with penances, fastings and sleep deprivation, Martin Luther found no peace for his soul. He discovered in the cell of the monastery that torture of the body does not relieve torture of the heart.
Through his study of the New Testament scriptures, Luther came to clear views of the gospel and learned to look to Christ alone for forgiveness of sin. The answer to Luther’s struggles for peace with God lay in the death and sufferings of Christ as a sacrifice for sin. It was the study of the book of Romans that led him to understand the truth of justification by faith alone. It was that soul liberating doctrine which gave him the personal conviction to be a reformer.
With the arrival of John Tetzel near Wittenberg selling papal indulgences, Martin Luther’s indignation was stirred up against the peddling of false pardons. With a zeal for gospel truth and a love for the many souls who were being duped by the sale of indulgences he bravely posted his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg, on the eve of All Saint’s Day, 1517. Historians agree that that was the single event that ignited the Protestant Reformation, and made Martin Luther Germany’s foremost Protestant Reformer, whose doctrine of salvation by grace, as opposed to works, spread like wildfire across much of Germany and went on to spread throughout Europe.
The Protestant church owes so much to Luther’s stand for the gospel as it has liberated multitudes from the oppression of Rome. It was not just a German protest; it was a stand for the saving power of the gospel that has shone forth in Protestant churches throughout the world until our time.
During this anniversary year of Luther’s stalwart stand for Christ, we plan to feature some articles on his life and times, though in this issue, we return to the witness of Savonarola, the Italian reformer, and martyr. His witness and death at the stake exposed the stranglehold that the church of Rome had upon the gospel in medieval Europe before the Protestant Reformation.
Let us learn from Martin Luther’s courageous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” and turn them into, our defense of the gospel, to say, “Here we stand we can do no other.”