This week marks a special anniversary for the Church. 500 years ago in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Our Baptist tradition eventually comes out of the Reformation.
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany. He had a harsh upbringing and later suffered from depression and anxiety. In his early twenties he joined a monastery and became an Augustinian monk-one of the more harsher options for monks. Luther went to confession and would worry that he didn’t confess enough. Eventually his spiritual advisor decided Luther needed to become a priest and a professor.
Luther becomes a professor of the Scriptures at Wittenberg University. It was during his years as a professor that Luther had his discovery of God’s grace in the book of Romans. He struggled with the idea of the justice of God. But he looked at Romans 1:17 where the good news and justice are linked. Luther then discovered that our righteousness is not our own, but God’s. The righteousness of God is that which is given to those who live by faith. (Gonazalez, 19).
Meanwhile the Catholic Church (the only Church in existence) was a total mess. Priests who were supposed to be celibate had virtual concubines and many illegitimate children. Monasteries weren’t places of devotion, prayer and service. Instead monasteries were places of leisure and pleasure. Local priests who wanted a position in the church would have to go bribe someone to get a position. Pope Leo was concerned more with power, money and building projects than the faith.
Luther’s 95 theses got him into trouble because of his words about indulgences. Indulgences were sold to raise money for the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome-Pope Leo’s pet project. These indulgences were supposed to get people out of purgatory faster. Those who sold them would make big claims. You’ll be cleaner than Adam before the fall, they said. You’ll be cleaner than when you came out of the waters of baptism, they said. Luther called the church out on this. Pope Leo took notice because he needed the money to build the basilica in Rome. Luther became a problem and an enemy of the Church.
500 years ago these things happened. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Church has been around 500 years, much less 2,000 years. Nowadays there are many Protestant traditions, Baptists being one of them. The Catholic Church has changed and reformed. They especially reformed after the Second Vatican Council that began after WWII.
Martin Luther stood up for what he believed. Most scholars, Catholic and Protestant, believe Luther was right. The Church was a mess. Speaking up was necessary. If Luther hadn’t started the Protestant Reformation, then someone else would have. The time was ripe for it.
The Church has been around a long time. Even though the Church is shifting now and things are changing-the future awaits. God’s still working and the Church will still be around. It might change and reform. It might become corrupt even. But God still works through the Church and hasn’t given up on us yet.
(Historical Info taken from The Story of Christianity Volume 2-The Reformation to the Present Day, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperSanFrancisco, 1985)