A Course Wedge
Standing alone, a scholarly
monk nailed a notice to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31,
Little did he know his pounding hammer would set off controversy that would galvanize the growing Protestant movement. Martin Luther, the once timid village boy, never dreamed he would one day be called the "Father of the Reformation."
In his Ninety-Five Theses, posted for all to read, he explained how certain practices of the Catholic church in his day did not adhere to the Word of God. With incisive argument, he addressed corruptions and distortions of worship that kept common people from a true understanding of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
Pope Leo X called him a "wild boar." His own best friend Philip Melanchthon said he was a "violent physician." Luther admitted the same himself: "God uses coarse wedges for splitting coarse blocks."
Born in 1484 to a middle class family, Luther had access to both economic and educational advantages. Although his parents loved him dearly and nurtured him well, Luther later explained that their sometimes excessive discipline encouraged his natural cowardice.
It was in a fit of terror in a thunderstorm that he cried out an oath that if God would save him, he would become a monk. Much to his father's disappointment, in 1505 Luther joined the stringent Augustinian order, which emphasized absolute obedience and self-abasement.
Even within the safety of the monastery walls, however, Luther carried with him his greatest agony-his fear of God. To Luther, God was unapproachably holy. He was obsessed with God's righteousness and felt crushed by what he saw as God's unattainable demands of perfection. Many nights, in private penance, Luther would beat himself until he bled and fell unconscious.
His sole consolation was studying the Bible; it was then he felt closest to God. One day, he meditated on the truth of Romans 1:17: "For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith.""
This was the answer. Luther wept as he accepted Christ's finished work on the cross as full payment for his sin. He was free at last, and new joy filled his heart. When he began preaching and teaching at the University of Wittenberg, people flocked to hear his vibrant messages.
Church officials grew angrier by the day. Luther's words, at times caustic and rough, were drawing money and power away from the established church and stirring up both religious and political fervor. The Ninety-Five Theses was a blow that could not be overlooked.
In 1521, Luther was ordered to appear before the Diet (Assembly) of Worms and recant. After hours of prayer, Luther gave them this bold yet humble reply: "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. God help me. Amen."
Immediately he was declared an outlaw, and his guarantee of safe conduct was revoked. Rumors flew that the church's supporters would capture him and burn him at the stake. God had other plans for him, though, and Luther was unafraid.
On his journey home, a band of masked men, really Luther's friends in disguise, "kidnapped" him and rode him to safety on horseback to the castle of Wartburg. In this new refuge, Luther was able to continue writing reform treatises and to complete his translation of the Bible into German, a landmark literary feat.
After the Pope died, Luther returned to more routine life in Wittenberg. He married a former nun, Katherine von Bora, in 1525, and had six children, four of whom survived. Until his death in 1546 at age 63, Luther's prodigious energy did not flag.
Though battling countless illnesses, ongoing ailments, and bouts of depression, he provided continual guidance for blossoming Reformation activities. He was uncompromising to the last. Biographer Mike Fearon explains Luther's mission: "Though speaking out plainly against sin, he loved sinners and offered them God's righteousness as the only solution."
Luther At Home
At first, Luther insisted he would never marry. But when he helped twelve nuns escape from a convent, he came face to face with Katherine von Bora, the woman who helped a confirmed, forty-one-year-old bachelor change his ways.
Although they were not "in love" when they wed, their marriage became a model of romance and deepest affection that has endeared generations.
He spoke of his home life with characteristic sparkling wit.
Katherine returned his glowing admiration. When Martin died, in bereavement she said: "If I had a principality or an empire and lost it, it would not have been as painful as it is now that the dear Lord God has taken from me this precious and beloved man, and not from me alone, but from the whole world."