He did that which only a handful of people have ever done, changing the course of human history. For the world which Martin Luther left behind when he died in 1546 was strongly different than the one into which he was born some fifty-seven years earlier.
Luther’s story is well known, or at least it used to be. For it is said that more books have been written about this son of a copper miner than about any other figure in history, save that of Jesus Christ himself. Long ago Erik Erikson, the coiner of the term “identity crisis,” even penned a post-mortem “psychoanalysis” of Luther in which he tried to explain the German monk’s behavior looking back half a millennia later.
In the end, however, the lasting legacy of Martin Luther can perhaps be summed up in just three simple phrases: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fidei.
The first, sola scriptura, means that there is an external source of authority for us all, no matter how clever or self-reliant we deceive ourselves in thinking that we might be. For when it comes to understanding both who God is, and who He desires for us to be, we must always look not to the cues of the culture but to the witness of the Word—the Logos which became flesh and dwelt among us, but also that which was entrusted to the prophets and saints of old. Or as our Methodist founder John Wesley put it, we must be a people of “one book,” and that is the scriptures.
Sola Gratia, however, means that it is by grace alone that any of us can ever come close to getting it right. For without God’s grace, all of our efforts to reform ourselves (much less reform others) will come to naught. And if we are indeed wholly dependent upon God’s grace for ourselves, would it not be only right that we learn how to extend that same kind of grace to all those around us, even the ones with whom we most may disagree?
Then sola fidei simply reminds us that it is by faith alone that we can stand before God, not on the basis of any of our good works or even good intentions. For when Luther discovered for himself that it is not just penance, but genuine repentance, that God desires, everything changed for him.
Confronted by a church hierarchy more interested in building great cathedrals than in saving individual souls, the lawyer turned professor thus turned to the pen to express his theological convictions, writing out 95 propositions for debate. His theses dealt principally with the question of selling indulgences, a practice of the church at the time (and still the most effective fund-raising scheme ever) which promised “time off for good behavior” in purgatory in exchange for helping to renovate St. Peter’s in Rome.
And then—as was the custom– to open the conversation, Luther posted his points on the cathedral doors at Wittenberg where he taught. And the firestorm which Luther’s propositions set off led not only to the formation of the entire Protestant movement, but to a genuine reformation in the thinking of all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike.
Or, in short, we could suggest that when Martin Luther tacked up his theses 496 years ago today, that he quite literally “nailed it” when it came to arguing for the genuine power of the gospel over the coerced control of the church in people’s lives. And for that, he is indeed a genuine hero of the faith worth remembering, even on a day like Halloween.
So do you suppose that anyone will think to dress up today in the kind of Augustinian alb that a German monk of old might have worn rather than just another Batman or Captain America muscle costume?
And beside, he was a lone voice in his time, he not only physically “stood” against Rome the seat of all power and against the religious tyrants of his day, and “nailed” them publicly on the doorstep of every mind and heart of every soul. Yes, we still have a few among us in the UMC. However, until we see our “called-out-shepherds” of the flock in the various Episcopacy, to put their faith where their mouth is. Salvation of the church decline can radically turn the soul of the nations back to God specifically America, to her life and not to her death. The deafening silence of the Church in things that matter to human’s existence is virtually absent. Until our pulpits become the Gospel’s instrument to continually proclaim the “God of the Scripture”, “One Book” and “One Message,” the church prevails to all the gates of hell that is here and all that is to come. Thank you for sharing this post and may we be found faithful disciples (not little messiahs), when Jesus Christ the Savior come, in final victory.
I must say, I am surprised that Martin Luther, and even Reformation Day, would be brought up on the UMC site. Martin Luther was indeed instrumental in bringing about the Protestant church. He determined that the Catholic church had misunderstood how men are saved. Hence, the following…
“If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”
Luther would not be welcome in the Lutheran church, let alone most other so-called protestant churches. They have forgotten what the reformers were protesting
Folks would have us believe that men who are enemies of God, dead in sin, unable to please God, or to subject themselves to the law of God, can, under their own power, reach for God. You just don’t find this paradigm in the Bible.
There is no grace (prevenient or otherwise) mentioned in the Bible, where salvation is the subject, that does not save. Wesley, like Arminius, could not abide man not being at the center of his salvation. Elsewhere on this site you can find a discussion of Wesley’s adherence to Arminius’ Catholic belief system, as it applies to salvation.
Scripture says that Jesus actually saved, redeemed, purchased, justified, sanctified, and propitiated God’s wrath on behalf of the people he represented on the Cross. Any other interpretation would have Hell populated by folks for whom Christ died. Can we say that the shed blood of Christ is insufficient to bring about salvation? Dare we? Are we brave enough to stand before a Holy God and tout our addition to our salvation process?
The UMC church (of which I am a member) apparently believes that the Fall only slightly wounded men. Elsewhere on this site, there is a dissertation that seems to indicate that Adam had the same capabilities after the Fall that he had before the Fall. This is simply not true, and the Reformers knew it. What the Fall actually did was kill Adam’s descendants spiritually, and eventually, physically. They are unable to reach for God, or even know that they need God. If the decision to be saved were left up to the natural man (a creature most assuredly compromised by sin), none would be saved. God must make a man spiritually alive before he can (or will) reach for God. All that God makes alive will indeed come to Christ. As Jesus said, He is building his Church, and all that the Father gives Him, WILL come to Him.