Martin Luther

Yes, it’s Halloween and it’s also… Reformation Day!  Last year, I dressed up as Martin Luther (head shaved like a monk and the whole shabang), but no promises this year!

If you don’t know what Reformation Day is, well then, if you’re a Christian, you better get to know your roots!  It was on this day October 31st, 1517 that is credited as the unofficial start of the reformation of the church, the recovery of the gospel, and a call back for the church to stand alone on the authority of the Scriptures, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (or concerns) to a church door (a common practice by the way for public community announcements).

Justin Holcomb from the Resurgence has a great overview of the 95 theses and the hammer heard around the world… Read it here.

So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also!”

— Martin Luther


Have you ever wondered what the marriage was like for some of those historical figures of the past?  Well, just in time for the annual remembrance of the Reformation (October 31), the guys over at the Resurgence blog have let Justin Taylor write a humorous piece on Martin Luther’s marriage to Katherin von Bora.  It’s a 5 part series.  I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it!  Click on each one to read them…

Part 1: Luther: The 40 Year Old Virgin?

Part 2: When Martin Met Katie

Part 3: The Original Lutheran Marriage: Love and Marriage Aren’t Always Like a Horse and Carriage

Part 4: The Luthers’ Marriage

Part 5: 4 Lessons from Luther on Marriage

Want to know more about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  Well, Justin Taylor interviews  Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, and Academic Dean, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Trueman wrote his dissertation on Luther’s Legacy.  The following is from Justin’s post:

This Sunday is Halloween. But more importantly, it’s Reformation Day—when the church celebrates and commemorates October 31, 1517. It was on this day (a Saturday) that a 33-year-old theology professor at Wittenberg University walked over to the Castle Church in Wittenberg and nailed a paper of 95 theses to the door, hoping to spark an academic discussion about their contents. In God’s providence and unbeknownst to anyone else that day, it would become a key event in igniting the Reformation.

I thought it might be helpful to ask a few questions of Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, and Academic Dean, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Trueman wrote his dissertation on Luther’s Legacy, teaches on Luther’s life and theology, and is writing the volume on Luther for the Theologians on the Christian Life series, forthcoming from Crossway, edited by Steve Nichols and me.

Had Luther ever done this before—nail a set of theses to the Wittenberg door? If so, did previous attempts have any impact?

I am not sure if he had ever nailed up theses before, but he had certainly proposed sets of such for academic debate, which was all he was really doing on October 31, 1517. In fact, in September of that same year, he had led a debate on scholastic theology where he said far more radical things than were in the Ninety-Five Theses. Ironically, this earlier debate, now often considered the first major public adumbration of his later theology, caused no real stir in the church at all.

What was the point of nailing something to the Wittenberg door? Was this a common practice?

It was simply a convenient public place to advertise a debate, and not an unusual or uncommon practice. In itself, it was no more radical than putting up an announcement on a public notice board.

What precisely is a “thesis” in this context?

A thesis is simply a statement being brought forward for debate.

What was an “indulgence”?

An indulgence was a piece of paper, a certificate, which guaranteed the purchaser (or the person for whom the indulgence was purchased) that a certain amount of time in purgatory would be remitted as a result of the financial transaction.

At this point did Luther have a problem with indulgences per se, or was he merely critiquing the abuse of indulgences?

This is actually quite a complicated question to answer.

First, Luther was definitely critiquing what he believes to be an abuse of indulgences. For him, an indulgence could have a positive function; the problem with those being sold by Johann Tetzel in 1517 is that remission of sin’s penalty has been radically separated from the actual repentance and humility of the individual receiving the same.

Second, it would appear that the Church herself was not clear on where the boundaries were relative to indulgences, and so Luther’s protest actually provoked the Church into having to reflect upon her practices, to establish what was and was not legitimate practice.

Was Luther trying to start a major debate by nailing these to the door?

The matter was certainly one of pressing pastoral concern for him. Tetzel was not actually allowed to sell his indulgences in Electoral Saxony (the territory where Wittenberg was located) because Frederick the Wise, Luther’s later protector, had his own trade in relics. Many of his parishioners, however, were crossing over into the neighboring territory of Ducal Saxony, where Tetzel was plying his trade.

Luther had been concerned about the matter of indulgences for some time. Thus, earlier in 1517, he had preached on the matter and consulted others for their opinions on the issue. By October, he was forced by the pastoral situation to act.

Having said all that, Luther was certainly not intending to split the church at this point or precipitate the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy into conflict and crisis. He was simply trying to address a deep pastoral concern.

Was Luther a “Protestant” at this point? Was he a Lutheran?

No, on both counts. He himself tells us in 1545 that, in 1517, he was a committed Catholic who would have murdered—or at least been willing to see murder committed—in the name of the Pope. There is some typical Luther hyperbole there, but the theology of the Ninety-Five Theses is not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, are not yet present. He was an angry Catholic, hoping that, when the Pope heard about Teztel, he would intervene to stop the abuse.

How did that act of nailing these theses to the door ignite the Reformation?

On one level, I am inclined to say “Goodness only knows.” As a pamphlet of popular revolution, it is, with the exception of the occasional rhetorical flourish, a remarkably dull piece of work which requires a reasonably sound knowledge of late medieval Catholic theology and practice even to understand many of its statements. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck a popular chord, being rapidly translated into German and becoming a bestseller within weeks. The easy answer is, therefore, “By the providence of God”; but, as a historian, I always like to try to tie things down to some set of secondary or more material causes.

Certainly, it was used in a way that appealed to popular anti-clericalism, resentment of the Roman curia, and a desire to stop money flowing out of German speaking territories to Rome. Yet, even so, the revolutionary power of such a technical composition is, in retrospect, still quite surprising.

For those today who want to read the 95 Theses, what would you recommend?

The place to start is probably Stephen Nichols’s edition (with an introduction and notes).

Nevertheless, if you really want to understand Luther’s theology, and why it is important, you will need to look beyond the Ninety-Five Theses. Probably the best place to start would be Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology.

492 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  One of my reformation heroes… from his first thesis, it says…

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

Read Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis here.

And until November 1 you can download for free Max McLean’s reading of Martin Luther’s speech, “Here I Stand” (24 minutes).

Good news from heaven the angels bring,

Glad tidings to the earth they sing:

To us this day a child is given,

To crown us with the joy of heaven.

~Martin Luther

From DesiringGod blog, by David Mathis… a tribute to Martin Luther… (can anyone tell that Luther is one of my heroes!)

It was a backwater German town called Eisleben on November 10, 1483—today marks 525 years.

There Martin Luther had his inauspicious beginning. He was born a poor boy, son of a coal miner. And by a strange providence, Luther died in the same town 62 years later on February 18, 1546, even though he spent barely any of his life there.

In the intervening 6 decades, the world changed—and Luther, under God, was the chief catalyst.

The pope excommunicated Luther in January of 1521, making him a marked man. For the last 25 years of his life, he lived with the awareness that each day could be his last. He often expressed surprise that he was still alive.

To the right is a 1526 painting by Lucas Cranach, which may be the most authentic portrait we have of Luther. And, so that you can join us in celebrating Luther’s 525th, below is a timeline of his life, highlighting some of the most significant events of his 62 years.

Thank God for Luther—simultaneously righteous and sinful.

Timeline of Luther’s Life 

1483, November 10 – Born to Hans and Margaretta Luther in Eisleben
1484, Summer – Luther family moves to Mansfeld
1501, May – Enters university at Erfurt (age 17)
1502, September 29 – Receives Bachelor of Arts (age 18)
1505, January 7 – Receives Master of Arts (age 21)
1505, July 2 – Vows to become a monk
1505, July 17 – Enters the monastery in Erfurt
1507, May 2 – Celebrates his first mass as a priest (age 23)
1510, November – Journeys to Rome and is disturbed by its corruption (age 26)
1511, April – Transferred to Wittenberg to teach at the university
1512, October 19 – Receives his Doctor of Theology (age 28)
1517, October 31 – Posts his 95 theses (age 33)
1518, April 26 – Defends his theology at Heidelberg
1519, July – Debates prominent theologian John Eck at Leipzig
1520 – Publishes Address to German Nobility, Babylonian Captivity, and Freedom of the Christian; breach with Rome now irreparable
1521, January – Excommunicated by the pope (age 37)
1521, April 18 – Gives “Here I stand” response to the emperor at the Diet of Worms
1521, May – Kidnapped and hidden at Wartburg to preserve his life; begins translating the New Testament into German
1522, March – Returns to Wittenberg to lead the Reformation
1522, September – Publishes his German New Testament
1524, November 30 – Writes that he has no intention to marry
1525, June 13 – Marries escaped nun Katherine von Bora (age 41)
1525, December – Responds to Erasmus’ Freedom of the Will with The Bondage of the Will (which J. I. Packer calls “the greatest piece to come from Luther’s pen”)
1527, Summer – Composes “A Mighty Fortress” during a season of sickness and deep depression
1529, October – Meets Zwingli at Marburg and is unable to come to agreement on the Lord’s Supper
1534 – Publishes the complete German Bible (age 50)
1546, February 18 – Dies while traveling in Eisleben (age 62)

491 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  One of my reformation heroes… from his first thesis, it says…

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

Read Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis here.

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