MARTIN LUTHER, HIS IMPACT ON US
Jesus said to his disciple, I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (Jn.4: 35). Luther, along with Zwingli and Calvin were the beneficiaries of those that preceded them in seeding and planting for the harvest. There would have been no crop without the martyrs. The Roman Christian Church curtailed and restricted forcefully all individuals and groups that attempted to reform their religious system. The Pope and the priests had become the Church or body of Christ. The priests only were the administrators of salvation at a price. Saints, relics and indulgences had become the way to heaven and works had replaced grace. That was the religious system Luther lived and served under.
Luther was a Monk, pledged to lead a clean and holy life. When a drunk thanked him for selling him absolution, he was compelled to nail 95 theses on the door of his Church at Wittenberg. That triggered the reformation. Unlike John Huss, who was burned at the stake hundred years earlier, Luther had the support of the German princes. All the reformers were demanding a return to the authority of the Scriptures (Bible), justification by faith based on grace and the priesthood of all believers. These were the principles Luther was willing to die for and stubborn enough to risk everything. His determination and literary ability inspired many others and the reformation became unstoppable. What Luther could not control was that different reformers moved into different directions that resulted, even in coercion and violence. Martin Luther spoke for all when he declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other!”
The simple principles were not at all simple. The Bible became once more the authority, but by the interpretation of the reformers? Luther wanted the Bible to have the final say and not the Pope; yet, he too acted as if he were a pope. He retained infant baptism, changed communion from trans-substantiation to co-substantiation and held up free will over predestination. Rome held that wine turned into blood and Luther regarded wine as a supplement. Zwingli, Calvin and others understood Jesus to mean a remembrance meal. Zwingli and Calvin insisted of predestination. None of these men departed from their convictions. Convictions led to Baptists, Anglicans, Mennonites, Moravians, Pentecostals and many others. For most of these, Luther had no sympathy. These splintered groups, political differences and a Roman counter reformation halted Lutheranism from taking over Europe.
Justification by faith without works was even more difficult. The text in Habakkuk had nothing to do with salvation, but living an upright life. Paul had to be reinterpreted or even reinvented. In trying to make justification simple, the reformers made it more complicated. Faith without direction and visible evidence led to more confusion. It assigned all the redemptive work to Christ and left man unaccountable for his deeds. Faith predestined people for eternity and not works. Man could do nothing to earn salvation. It was a gift of God and it did not matter what kind of a life a sinner led. It led to immorality, social injustice and a thirty-year bloody war. It created uncertainties about eternal security and people began to return to the Roman Church where the priests could guaranty salvation for a price. Rome had learned her lesson and orders like the Jesuits reformed Catholicism and made it more appealing than Lutheranism that had not gone far enough in its reform. It would be decades before the Pietists would awaken and improve the moral consciousness of Protestantism. To this day, Protestantism is not sending a clear signal as to what man must do to retain salvation.
The return to the priesthood of believes was expected to repair and restore a life-style becoming of the followers of Christ. There were no in between agents to administer salvation. Every one could go to Christ directly. The problem was that most of the people were illiterate. Now those that could read became the intermediaries and their opinions of the Scriptures guided the people in different directions. Luther set forth certain “Article of Faith” but so did the other reformers. The more educated the people became, the more they divided over what the Bible intended, or what was required to be a follower of Christ? The Prussian King, or the Old Fritz, said it best, “Everyone shall be saved according to his fashion (understanding).”
The road to salvation had become an open field and a happy hunting ground. Every person became his/her own pilot (priest) presuming to travel in the ship of grace. And since man is not required to pay for grace, he can do as he pleases. He no longer has to deal with morality. Yet, it was the problem with morality that made Luther post the 95 Theses. We have yet to learn that faith alone will not correct morality. Particularly, when grace overshadows morality and Karl Marx is replacing Jesus, we stand in dire need for someone like Martin Luther to lead us back to what the Bible regards as being acceptable to God. That is why Christ Jesus insisted that man must follow God’s laws and not his own (Mt.5: 17-20). We need another moral reformer like Martin Luther.