It is impossible to envisage the renewal and reformation of the church without Martin Luther. In his day, he stood up against many evil practices in the Catholic Church. Chief amongst these was the practice of selling indulgences; assurances of forgiveness given in exchange for a gift or donation to the church.
After many years of Biblical study, as a Catholic scholar and monk, Luther came to see that the forgiveness was freely available through faith alone in Christ alone. Constrained by his conscience he challenged the practice of selling indulgences for this, in 1521, he was excommunicated.
On the 18th April 1521, Martin Luther appeared at the Council (Diet) of Worms where Johann Eck presented Luther with copies of his writings and asked him two direct questions; first was he the author these works and then secondly whether he still stood by their contents. Luther acknowledged his writings but requested time to consider the second question. He prayed, consulted friends and colleagues, and the next day he gave his response:
‘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.’
Over the following five days, several private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. Finally, the Catholic Church decided to outlaw Luther, ban his literature and require his immediate arrest. All of Europe was in uproar. Luther went into hiding, under the protection of Fredrick III the Elector of Saxony, and over the next year he translated the New Testament into German and penned several doctrinal works.
Central to Martin Luther’s understanding of the Gospel is justification, God’s gracious act of declaring sinners righteous! In response to the humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, Luther maintained that a Christian’s righteousness doesn’t simply come from following Christ but is actually the righteousness of Christ. For righteousness comes by faith in God, ‘we have been justified by faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).
As a true evangelical Martin Luther believed the Bible to be the only source of divinely revealed knowledge. Indeed, he wrote, ‘let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture’ and he translated that Bible into the language of the common people. In saying and doing this he established the first principle of the reformation, sola Scriptura this is the doctrine that everything necessary for salvation is contained in Holy Scripture and that Scripture is the only infallible standard for our faith.