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Martin Luther, Part 6: The Reformer (continued)

Luther’s Call for Reformation

Luther returned to Wittenberg with renewed determination to do all he could to combat the spiritual evils that had plagued the people for so many years. The cell in the Black Cloister was his workshop. There his mind and pen worked tirelessly to produce tracts, pamphlets, and books. In one year alone the printers published 133 of his writings, for which he refused to receive any royalties. It is hard to understand how he could do all that writing in addition to attending to his regular duties as professor and pastor. He said, “God has given me a swift hand and good memory. When I write, it just flows out. I don’t have to press and squeeze.” His writings were circulated far and wide and were eagerly read. Luther recognized the printing press as a God-given means to bring the truth to thousands who could not be reached by his voice. And it was mainly through his publications that support for his cause continued to grow, not only in Germany but also in many other countries.

In 1520 Luther produced three very important documents that had far-reaching effects. In his Address to the German Nobility  Luther urged the princes of Germany to do everything within their power to improve conditions in the church and state. He blamed the church leaders for much that was wrong and evil in the church and state. He pointed out that the authority of the pope should be restricted to spiritual matters. Civil matters are not the responsibility of the church but of the state. In the church the clergy had also assumed too much power. It had no right to lord it over the people. All believers are equal before God and have the right and duty to read, interpret, and proclaim the Word of God. Luther also suggested definite steps that should be taken to correct the disorder and evils that existed in the church and the state.

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther attacked the teaching that the seven sacraments of the church were the only means by which anyone could gain God’s saving grace. First of all, he pointed out, a sacrament must be instituted by God. Christ established only two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not seven. Furthermore, the power and benefits of the sacraments do not come from the priest who administers them but from the Word of God in the sacrament. The power of forgiveness comes from the word of promise in the sacrament. But only those who believe the word of promise receive its benefits. Without faith in the promise there is no forgiveness. Justification is by faith alone. In discussing the Lord’s Supper, Luther stated that the church was in error when it taught that the priest transformed bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and that he sacrificed Christ over and over again for the sins of the people. He said that not only the priest but everyone should receive both the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Christ said to all who were present when he instituted the sacrament, “Take eat. Take drink.”

The Freedom of a Christian Man was the shortest of the three documents Luther wrote in 1520. Luther began by saying, “A Christian man is a perfectly free lord, subject to none. A Christian man is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.” That sounds like a contradiction. What Luther meant was that since a Christian is saved through faith in Christ Jesus, he is free from guilt and fear. And since the Christian now belongs to Christ, he will want to show his appreciation for his salvation by deeds of kindness and love. Not the fear of God’s wrath and punishment, as the church taught, should cause man to do good works; but truly good works flow only out of faith in Christ.

These three treatises were Luther’s call for reformation. Their impact was great throughout Europe, especially in Rome. Many who did not agree with Luther accused him of dividing the church and of trying to establish a new church. But he was not trying to establish a new church. Luther hoped to restore the authority of the Word of God in the church and to expose the falsehoods that had hidden the gospel for so many years.

150376_featuredFrom The Life and Faith of Martin Luther, by Adolph F. Fehlauer. © 1981 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.