The Reformation

The Reformation, also known as the Protestant Reformation was about three main ideas:

  1. The Bible is the sole authority on matters of faith. Teachings and traditions of the church must be based upon Scripture. This doctrine is known as “Sole Authority of Scripture.”
  2. We are justified by faith, and faith alone. Grace is not dependent upon anything we do or the Church does. It is about what God does for us through Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 2:8.) This doctrine is known as “Justification by Faith.”
  3. There is only one mediator between humankind and God, and that is Jesus Christ. (See 1 Timothy 2:5.) As believers, we all have access to God through Jesus, so we do not need intermediaries, such as angels, saints, or the Virgin Mary. This doctrine is known as “Priesthood of the Believer.”

Where Does Martin Luther Fit In?

Reformers such as the English philospher and theologian (one who studies religious beliefs or ideas), John Wycliffe (1330-1384) and Czech priest and philosopher, Jan Hus (1369-1415) began trying to reform the church of their day. They attacked the corruption they saw in the church, the sale of indulgences, and the authority of the pope, among other things. These were dangerous ideas at the time, and Huss was eventually burned at the stake as a heretic for his beliefs.

Martin Luther built upon previous reformers’ ideas and added many of his own on the concepts of redemption and grace, and then posted his ideas for public debate. Luther made history when he posted his “Ninety-five Theses” in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The Pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church taught that grace was something to be earned through suffering punishment and accomplishing good works. Under that doctrine, one’s sins could also be reduced by making an offering of money or valued possessions, which was known as buying “indulgences.”  Luther, who described that practice as “redeeming souls for money” in Thesis #82, believed instead that God’s grace through Jesus was a free gift for all.

Luther focused on the means of grace, which are confession and forgiveness, preaching, and the sacraments, which should be available to all people, not a special few. He also believed like other reformers, that people should be able to read the Bible and worship God in their own native language. At the time, all religious practice was done in Latin, with only the religious leaders able to participate.

Martin Luther translated Scriptures into German, and preached in German so people could hear the word of God. And to bring Jesus' teachings to the people, he wrote the Large and Small Catechisms (educational booklets about religious doctrine) in simple language that parents could use in teaching their children. We still use Luther’s Small Catechism today in the Lutheran Church, embracing God’s grace as the free gift that we can never earn, based on what we learn from Scripture.