The medieval Roman Catholic Church was cluttered with a myriad of extra-biblical customs and beliefs, with the gospel totally obscured. Luther (1483-1546), a German theologian, objected to various teachings of the ‘established church’ and nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Cathedral door in 1517, after gaining revelation into truths that had become overlooked or concealed. Among other things, he refuted the practice of purchasing freedom from God’s punishment for sin with money, and the teaching that salvation could be earned by good works instead of being received as a gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, as redeemer from sin and hell. He challenged the authority of the Pope, considering the Bible to be the sole source of divinely revealed knowledge. He believed the common people had the right to read the Bible for themselves in their own language, not Latin, and so translated the Bible into German.
Luther’s protesting on these and other points led to the Protestant Reformation with Christianity splitting into two main streams: the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant. This latter stream has split into further branches – evangelicals, conservatives etc, with various denominations of all sorts, including the Lutheran church based on his teachings.
Most insights and practices of the Reformation can be traced back to two key principles: justification by faith and the authority of Scripture. Both principles need to be reinforced in today’s culture: salvation is by grace alone, not by human effort and duty, while human traditions and structures must not eclipse the Word of God. However, Luther was antagonistic to the Jews, and held strong anti-Semitic views.
Luther is quoted as saying, ‘You are not only responsible for what you say, but also what you do not say’, ‘Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see’.