In case you’re not aware, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In the words of President Trump, “This is Huge!” The Reformation is the pivotal moment in Western Christianity when an increasingly corrupt church received much-needed reform. One of the men God raised up to lead the Reformation was a German monk named Martin Luther (not to be confused with Martin Luther King).

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Saxony (East Germany). His father was a copper miner who wanted young Martin to pursue a law degree. But everything changed on a hot July day in 1505. Luther was on the outskirts of the village of Stotternheim when the sky turned black. A huge storm loomed, and Luther began to move quickly. Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck nearby. Terrified, Luther blurted out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” True to his word, he became an Augustinian monk.

The problem is that Luther hated life as a monk. He felt that God was always angry at him and that nothing he could do would turn God’s judgmental stare away from him. At one point, he wrote these words: “I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I can honestly say that if a monk ever got to Heaven by his ‘monkery,’ it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I would have killed myself by all my praying, reading, vigils and work.”

To make a long story short, Luther finally began to study his Bible and soon realized that the Catholic Church’s emphasis on earning your salvation and buying indulgences to get your relatives out of Purgatory was way off base, biblically. Luther began to realize that salvation is not something we earn with pious deeds but, rather, something we receive by faith alone. Luther began to base his teachings on sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and not the traditions and councils of the Church. When challenged about his beliefs in a famous confrontation, Luther said (speaking of the Bible), “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther’s writings and sermons launched a massive movement that slowly changed much of the Church throughout Western Europe (historical note: the Eastern Orthodox Church has never had a Reformation).

I would highly encourage you to read a biography on Luther in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. You will benefit greatly. And if there is one biography to read, it is the one by late Yale historian, Roland Bainton, titled, Here I Stand. I read it for the first time in graduate school, and I recently reread it. The pastoral team has been going through it as of late. So buy Bainton’s classic and follow the advice given to St. Augustine in the garden so long ago: “tolle lege” (take up and read).

Luther on Romans:

This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor