{12}     Reformation & Luther

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 1

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 1-4,9

        12.1.1  Name

·         Reformation: It was the religious movement that led to massive reform and restructure of the universal church. It was an attempt to return to the purity of early Christianity. It led to new Protestant churches.

        12.1.2  Interpretations

·         For Protestants, it is a return to the original Christianity. For Roman Catholics, it is a heretical schism.

        12.2.1  Ecclesiastical: corruption & demand for renewal

·         Problems in the papacy: There was widespread moral corruption in the church: corruption, immorality, luxury, and neglect of the laity. A church council [1229] forbade the laity to possess the Scripture.

·         Abuse of indulgences: The clear abuse of the indulgence system was the direct cause of Reformation.

        12.2.2  Socio-economic: worsening economy

·         Cause: The deterioration of the economic conditions was partly due to increasing exploitation by aristocracy, monasteries, and church officials. The rising middle class challenged the old establishment.

        12.2.3  Political: end of the feudal system

·         Monarchy: The rising powerful monarchies in different countries opposed a universal religious ruler.

·         Nationalism: The rise of nation-states and nationalism led to the increasing resistance to foreign domination.

        12.2.4  Philosophical or intellectual: changing worldview

·         Changing worldview: Discoveries of new worlds led to a new worldview. Advances in medicine, mathematics, and physics led to a new way of looking at nature. Freedom of thought was promoted.

·         Individualism: The Protestant taught direct relationship with God, without a human mediator.

·         Back to the Bible: The reformers encouraged the study of the Bible in the original languages.

·         Printing: The use of the printing press allowed rapid distribution of books.

        12.3.1  Luther’s life (1483–1546)

·         Historic step: His study of the Romans led to the doctrine of “justification by faith. He posted the Ninety-Five Theses [1517] at the University of Wittenburg, attacking the sale of indulgences.

        12.3.2  Reaction to the Ninety-Five Theses:

·         Popular support: The document received wide support in Germany. Luther received protection by the Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Luther was excommunicated by the pope [1520].

        12.3.3  Luther’s 3 pamphlets [1520]

·         Attacking RCC—Luther wrote the pamphlets attacking: [1] the German nobility (for helping the RCC), [2] the sacramental system, and [3] RCC theology (good works do not lead to salvation).

        12.3.4  Diet of Worms [1521]

·         Result: Luther was ordered to face the accusation by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. The Diet condemned Luther’s writings but Luther was hidden by his friends in the castle of Wartburg.

        12.4.1  Word of God

·         Christ as the Word: It is more than the written word in the Bible. It is none other than God the Son. Any who read the Bible and somehow do not find Jesus in it, have not encountered the Word of God.

        12.4.2  Knowledge of God

·         Through revelation: God reveals Himself to us in the cross of Christ.

        12.4.3  Law & gospel

·         God’s manifestation: God’s revelation is both a word of judgment (law) and a word of grace (gospel).

        12.4.4  Predestination

·         No human free-will: Luther affirmed the Augustinian belief in man’s total dependence upon God’s grace and predestination. He appeared to say that man has no free-will in anything.

        12.4.5  Justification & sanctification

·         On justification: When the sinner turns to God in faith, God gives him His Holy Spirit and he is then justified and made righteous. Sanctification is a process that naturally came with justification.

        12.4.6  Church & sacraments

·         Universal priesthood of believers: All Christians are priests and can approach God without official priests. There are only 2 sacraments: baptism and communion. Luther opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation.

        12.4.7  Two kingdoms

·         On the state: God has established two kingdoms: one under the law, and the other under the gospel. Christians should not expect the state to support orthodoxy by persecuting heretics.

        12.5.1  Continuation of Reformation

·         Support: While Luther was in hiding, Karlstadt and Melanchthon continued the work of Reformation.

·         Changing practices: Some monks and nuns married. The worship was simplified, using German instead of Latin. In communion, both the bread and the cup were given to laity.

·         Emperor delayed: Charles V wanted to stamp out the “heretical” Luther but was delayed because of: support of Luther by German people, and challenges by Pope Clement VII, Emperor Francis I, Turkish invasion.

        12.5.2  Political conflicts

·         Augsburg Confession [1531]: It was written by Melanchthon on the doctrines of Lutheranism. It was deliberately moderate in its tone and language. The papacy was NOT condemned.

·         Rival leagues: Protestant League of Schmalkald against Catholic League of Nuremberg [1539].

·         Peace of Nuremberg [1532]—Threatened by Emperor Francis and the Turks, Charles V agreed to this agreement allowing Protestants to remain in their faith but they could not extend to other territories.

·         Peace of Passau [1552]—This agreement was signed because Protestants in Germany had increased too much so the emperor wanted to maintain the status quo. It allowed freedom of religion, but only for Lutherans.

        12.5.3  Peasant rebellion [1524]

·         Result: The rebellion was caused by worsening economic conditions. Luther called on the princes to suppress the rebellion, and 100,000 peasants were killed. Many peasants believed that Luther betrayed them.


[1] treasure our heritage

Reformation churches all believe the Bible as Word of God.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

The complex politics allowed the Reformation to succeed.

[3] avoid past errors

A leader’s error, such as Luther’s position against the peasant rebellion, could have long-lasting regrettable results.

[4] apply our knowledge

Using available resources wisely can help reaching difficult goals, e.g. Luther’s use of printing and German national sentiments.

[5] follow past saints

Luther was a model for Christian courage in the face of powers.