Martin Luther (1483-1546) – Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany to a peasant family. His father wanted Martin to become a lawyer, but a narrow escape from death by a lightning strike changed Luther’s path in life. In 1505 he entered a monastery to become a priest, and attended Wittenberg University to earn a degree in theology.
Throughout his early years in the ministry, Luther struggled with his own spiritual shortcomings as well as the corruption and biblical error he saw going on in the Roman Church. He spoke out against the corrupt practices and on October 31, 1517 Luther posted a list of ninety-five grievances he had concerning those practices and teachings he believed conflicted with the Scriptures. The most important being that forgiveness and salvation cannot be bought or sold. The church had authorized the sale of indulgences (a church document) which stated that divine forgiveness was given to those who purchased them. During his years of study Luther had been convicted of the truth he found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that salvation, or redemption, is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus Christ. He nailed his list to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg–church doors acting as the bulletin boards of his time–an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.
Luther’s 95 Theses (as they are known) were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be fanned by the printing press (remember Gutenberg?). Within two weeks, the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. This caused an uproar with the papacy. Luther was charged with heresy, and in 1520 the pope issued a bull (official decree) condemning Luther’s views. One year later the Diet (council) at Worms ordered Luther to retract his published views. Luther would not do so and, as legend has it, replied, “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason…I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Luther was excommunicated, his writings banned, and his life threatened. But his testimony to the truth lives on in the lives of all who, like Luther, have received the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.