the ecumenical examiner is dedicated to the power and glory of the God of Creation, Yahweh, and Yeshua the Messiah

   One the most interesting and influential individuals in ecumenical church history, Luther was born only about 30 years after Gutenberg began printing his Bibles in Latin. He was only about 10 years old when news began to circulate around Europe that a new world had been discovered. He was born in Eisleben, Germany in 1483 to poor parents. He excelled in school and studied Latin, later enrolling to study law at Erfurt university. 

   One day in 1505, returning to school on horseback during a thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning struck very close to him. It was a terrifying, life changing experience. Perhaps a sign from God. He quit law school and sold his books, and just a couple of weeks later joined a cloistered Augustinian religious order in Erfurt.

   He became well known among his fellow monks for his fasting, standing half naked outside in the snow for hours, frequent confessions and prayer. He threw himself into a vain devotional determination to purge himself of sin and guilt. This was a period he later described as one of deep spiritual despair. It was the superior of his religious order that gradually convinced him that true repentance cannot be achieved through such measures, but rather through a change of heart.

   The young monk was ordained to the priesthood in 1507 and was appointed professor of theology in 1508 at a new Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg. He was awarded the Doctor of Theology in 1512 and elevated to high position in the senate of the theological faculty at Wittenberg university. His religious order appointed him provincial vicar of Saxony and Thuringia in 1515 whereby he had oversight of eleven monasteries in his province.


   The practice of selling indulgences had been started by Pope Alexander Borgia in 1500. The practice was necessary to provide funding for a major construction project on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. In 1516 a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel was dispatched from Rome to Germany to collect money through the sale of indulgences, a scheme devised for raising the necessary funds by way of deceitful intellectual dishonesty. One may argue that it was the enormous expense of the Basilica that triggered the reformation. A cascading chain reaction that the mother church would come to regret. The Basilica is a beautiful work of human hands, true enough, but how does it represent Yeshua's teachings on humility?

   The indulgence was a slip of paper, many of which incidentally, were printed off on Gutenberg presses, that the church would sell as one might sell a commodity in the marketplace. A clergyman such as Tetzel would travel about and make the pitch from pulpit to pulpit, using his credible authority as an ordained priest to convince the buyers of the solemn validity of the transaction. One would purchase these for a price, believing they would get forgiveness of sins for themselves, or use the indulgence to help a deceased loved one gain an early release from purgatory. It was a crass, unseemly and completely unscriptural method of getting people who didn't know any better to part with their money. It was fully sanctioned by the church, and it was that fact that pushed Luther over the edge.

   On October 31, 1517 Luther nailed his "Ninety-Five Thesis" to the door of the Wittenberg church. Ninety-five points of contention that Luther had with church teachings and practices. Clearly there were a lot of issues he had been struggling with for a long time, as his complaints went well beyond just the issue of indulgences. Copies of the Thesis were made, published, and came very quickly to be distributed around Europe. He spent the next few years lecturing and writing about the corruptions of church theology. Students packed the halls to hear his lectures. His writings circulated widely. One of his books, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, likened the church to the 70 year exile and 

captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. It was said Luther threw a lot of ink at the devil, literally and figuratively. His study had a large ink stain on the wall where he had thrown an inkwell.

   It was the doctrine of justification that Luther argued most vociferously against. The church in his opinion, had lost sight of some of Christianity's most essential truths. He taught that salvation or redemption is a gift of God's grace, through faith in Jesus as the Messiah of God. His realization of being justified by faith was "as though I had been born again." His ranting against the selling of indulgences was based on these beliefs. Luther's understanding of salvation through God's grace received by man through the sacrifice of Jesus would become the first of two primary points that would underpin the Reformation. 

   Letters and consultations began to go back and forth between Luther's Archbishop and Rome. Pope Leo X dispatched envoys to confront Luther and then summoned Luther to Augsburg for a hearing concerning the heresies contained in the Ninety-Five Thesis. In 1518 the hearing developed into a three day shouting match between Luther and the Pope's legal representative, Cardinal Cajetan. The Pope's right to issue indulgences was at the heart of the argument. The Cardinal's instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but he hesitated, and Luther fled the city secretly at night. But the clash between Luther and the church wasn't over.

   In 1519 Luther was drawn into a debate with the theologian Johann Eck. Luther made the unthinkable assertion that Mathew 16:18 does not grant the Pope the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore, neither popes nor church councils were infallible. Eck then labeled Luther a new Jan Hus. Hus had been a convicted heretical reformer, burned at the stake in 1415. (see - Catholic suppression of Bible reading / Jan Hus)

   In 1520 the pope issued a bull demanding Luther recant from his heresies or risk excommunication. Later that same year Luther publicly set fire to a copy of the bull, essentially excommunicating the pope. On January 3, 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Martin Luther.


   Unwilling to recant of his writings, Luther said, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."
   Eck responded, "'Martin, there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments. It was with Biblical texts that Pelagius and Arius maintained their doctrines." Dr. Eck's statement was quite true, though not in the sense he intended.
   Following the hearing at the Diet of Worms before Emperor Charles V and all the dignitaries of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, Luther came to be declared an outlaw, his writings were banned, and his arrest was ordered as a heretic. Prince Frederic III of Saxony, however, had guaranteed Luther safe passage from the confrontational hearing in Worms and as he was traveling back to Wittenberg, Frederick had him abducted by men dressed as masked highwaymen, who escorted him to the safety of Wartburg Castle. From this safe haven, Luther completed his translation of the New Testament from Greek to German. He also continued writing extensively on what he saw as doctrinal errors of the church.

   Luther's only two primary points of doctrinal contention were salvation by faith alone and the primacy of the pope. But these two points had tentacles that spread through catholic teaching and tradition.

   In 1523 he married Katharina von Bora, a former nun. He had helped 12 nuns escape from a convent, having smuggled them out in barrels. It was not uncommon that naive young girls were recruited into convents with the idea of living cloistered lives apart from the world as brides of Christ, only to find themselves being used to indulge the sexual pleasures of the priests. A life from which there was no escape.


   Once liberated, Katharina wouldn't leave his side, and they were married. It was not unheard of that a priest might marry, but in the case of Luther it was as if the idea of clerical marriage was suddenly seen as normal and acceptable. He had condemned the vows of celibacy for priests on scriptural grounds, but had decided not to take a wife given that he could be arrested at any time and burned at the stake. Katharina changed his mind. Luther then began the process of guiding the establishment of a new church. In fact he did not deviate to any great extremes from orthodox Catholicism. In 1526 he wrote a German mass, allowing some freedom of ceremony. Vestments, alter and candles were optional. He wrote a "large catechism" which included instructions for pastors and teachers, and a "small catechism" to be studied by the laity.

   It wasn't until 1534 that Luther along with collaborators completed the German language translation of the Old Testament. Once his translation of the full Bible was completed and published, he continued to work at refining it often in ways that were meant to bend the words to his own understanding of doctrine. This, in fact is a practice common among all translators of scripture. Luther's translation would even influence the work of William Tyndale who was working on his English translation at around the same time period (see - William Tyndale).
   Luther rejected the catholic teaching of purgatory. He affirmed the idea that a Christian's soul rests in sleep after separation from the body at death. He likewise rejected the idea of compulsory confession, favoring the idea of private confession and absolution, given that every Christian is a confessor. In the organization of his new church Luther did not break radically away from Catholicism. In fact his early training as a priest was so deeply ingrained as to disallow any extreme breaks, and so Lutheranism retains a great deal of Catholic theology, doctrines, and traditions. This fact would put him at odds with other reformers, as the Reformation he had triggered continued to grow and expand. 
   The belief in transubstantiation is one example of retaining Catholic theology, whereby it is believed that the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist actually becomes the literal flesh and blood of the Lord. Even though the Protestant controversy was well under way concerning this belief, and the idea was spreading that the bread and wine merely "symbolized" the presence of the Lord in a spiritual way, Luther would not be moved from this belief.

  Among other doctrinal matters he failed to address, the Roman Catholic dissolution of the seventh day Sabbath, and it's replacement with the first day "day of worship." Just how wedded he was to so much of Catholic teaching cannot be overlooked ( see- the Sabbath and the Devil). Luther and all the other reformers failed to address the issue of the Sabbath while they were overturning so many other errors of church tradition. Even among the reformers who should have known better, Roman Catholic replacement theology won the day.

   Another example would be the doctrine of infant baptism. Luther was greatly opposed to the concept of adult re-baptism which was a concept growing among some Protestant groups who believed infant baptism was a meaningless ceremony, in that an infant cannot make a conscience decision to symbolically dedicate themselves to the Lord, and full immersion was the only scriptural method of baptism. (see - Anabaptists of the Reformation).

Martin Luther

Luther before the Diet of Worms

a brief look at the ecclesiastical mutiny that burst out of Wittenberg

An earthquake rattled the Roman church in 1517.   It's name was --

    Luther's early training as a Catholic priest also informed his understanding of the relationship between Christians and Jews. His attitudes reflected a theological and cultural tradition that viewed Jewish people as cursed and rejected by God for the murder of Jesus. The Catholic church and Lutheranism lean heavily on the concept of replacement theology, also known as supersessionism. In 1523, his early years, he advised showing kindness to the Jews given that the Messiah was born a Jew and had made great effort to convert them to the Christian faith. When Luther's overtures toward Jewish conversions failed, he grew increasingly bitter towards the Jewish community.

   He wrote a major work entitled On the Jews and Their Lies, and another, On the Holy Name and the Lineage of Christ. He argued that the Jews were no longer God's chosen people, but rather the Devil's people (replacement theology). He stated, "The Law is for the proud, and the Gospel is for the brokenhearted," indicating his contempt for the Mosaic Law, and the people that observe it, as well as his apparent confusion about what constitutes a broken heart. He advocated ruthless measures of persecution, including the burning of synagogues, destruction of Jewish prayer books, forbidding Rabbis from preaching, seizing their property, money, and destroying their homes. He argued that these measures would force them to labor or drive them permanently away. He saw a Christian failing in that the Christian church had not seen to the wholesale slaughter of them all. Yet, as hideous as these beliefs were towards the Jews, in all fairness, he felt much the same about Baptists.


   The expulsion of Jews from the Wittenberg area had begun nearly a hundred years before Luther, under the direction of the Catholic church. However, later these expulsions spread throughout several more German Lutheran states after anti-Jewish riots broke out due to Lutheran preaching.

   A significant number of Luther's writings are believed to have provided religious reinforcement for the NAZI holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s. Martin Luther died at the age of 62 in 1546 after a long illness. While Luther was a remarkable individual of courage and intellect, who played a very prominent role in throwing open the gates for Protestantism, he should in no way be considered a saint beyond error.


THE REFORMERS MOST INEXCUSABLE  BLIND SPOT