Martin Luther, the Reformation & Protestantism

American Minute with Bill Federer

On OCTOBER 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted 95 debate questions or “theses” on the door of Wittenberg Church, which began the movement known as “the Reformation.”

Luther’s initial objection was to the methods employed by Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences. He was then fiercely attacked by Johann Eck.

1521, 34-year-old Martin Luther was summoned to stand trial before the most powerful man in the world, 21-year-old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Charles V of Spain had an empire that spanned nearly 2 million square miles, across Europe, the Netherlands, the Far East, North and South America, and the Caribbean.

The Philippine Islands were named after his son, King Philip II of Spain.

The sun never set on the Spanish Empire.

At a trial, called the Diet of Worms, Charles V initially dismissed Luther’s theses as “an argument between monks.”

Luther was ordered to recant without having had his theses addressed. He responded: “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Luther was declared outside the protection of law.

He was kidnapped and hid by Frederick III of Saxony in the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German.

Earlier, during the Great Schism, 1378-1417, the religious fabric of Europe was torn.

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) attempted a translation of Scriptures into English, for which he was declared a heretic and, after his death, had his bones burned.

The General Prologue of Wycliffe’s 1384 translation of the Bible has the inscription:

“The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.”

In Prague, Jan Hus (1369-1415) shared Scriptures translated into the Czech language.

He was summoned to the Council of Constance where he was willing to recant if his errors could be shown by Scripture. Without having his issues addressed, he was declared a heretic and burned at the stake.

Whereas Wycliffe and Hus lived before the invention of the printing press, Martin Luther lived after.

Johannes Gutenberg (c.1400-1468) invented the Western world’s first moveable-type printing press.

The first book of significance ever printed was the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, known as the Mazarin Bible, 1455.

Victor Hugo wrote:

“Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenberg is the precursor of Luther.”

Martin Luther gave the account:

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.

“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.

“Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him.

“Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know that he meant …”

Luther continued:

“Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘The just shall live by faith.’

“Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through sheer grace and mercy God justifies us through faith.

“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.

“The whole of Scripture took a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven …”

Luther concluded:

“If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and over-flowing love.

“This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.

“He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.”

As the Reformation spread, it unintentionally fueled a peasant uprising called the German Peasants’ War in 1524.

Mobs of poorly armed peasants threatened the aristocratic ruling class. The revolt was put down with over 100,000 peasants being slaughtered.

Meanwhile, in 1527, Charles V’s unruly troops sacked Rome and imprisoned Pope Clement VII for six months.

This was the same Pope that refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Charles V’s aunt Catherine of Aragon, leading Henry to break away from Rome and start the Church of England.

(Catherine had been married for six months to Henry’s older brother Arthur before he died in 1502.)

Charles V oversaw the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and began the Counter-Reformation.

He eventually responded to the pleadings of the priest Bartolome’ de Las Casas and outlawed the enslavement of native Americans.

Gold from the New World was used by Spain to push back the Muslim Ottoman Empire’s invasion of Europe .

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s Ottoman fleet dominated the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Suleiman conquered into Christian Hungary, Christian Serbia, and Christian Austria, in addition to controlling the Middle East and North Africa.

Martin Luther wrote:

“The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God …

“If the Turk’s god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat … Christian weapons and power must do it …”

Luther continued:

“(The fight against the Turks) must begin with repentance, and we must reform our lives, or we shall fight in vain.

“(The Church should) drive men to repentance by showing our great and numberless sins and our ingratitude, by which we have earned God’s wrath and disfavor, so that He justly gives us into the hands of the devil and the Turk.”

In an attempt to unite the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Muslims, Charles V agreed to a truce recognizing the Protestants, as Eric W. Gritisch wrote in Martin-God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983, p. 69-70):

“Afraid of losing the much-needed support of the German princes for the struggle against the Turkish threat from the south, Emperor Charles V agreed to a truce between Protestant and Catholic territories in Nuremberg in 1532 …

Thus the Lutheran movement was, for the first time, officially tolerated and could enjoy a place in the political sun of the Holy Roman Empire.”

As the Islamic threat intensified, reformer John Calvin wrote to Philip Melanthon in 1543, (Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts & Letters, I: 373):

“I hear of the sad condition of your Germany! … The Turk again prepares to wage war with a larger force.

“Who will stand up to oppose his marching throughout the length and breadth of the land, at his mere will and pleasure?”

Followers of the reformers who “protested” certain doctrines, were generally referred to as “Protestants.”

Notable Protestant Reformers include: John Calvin, Thomas Crammer, John Knox, Philipp Melanchthon, William Tyndale, and Huldrych Zwingli.

Some Protestant countries refused to help Charles V who was defending Europe from the Muslim invasion.

Finally, Charles V made a treaty with the German Lutheran Princes by signing the Peace of Augsburg, September 25, 1555, ceasing the religious struggle between Lutherans and Catholics.

A line in the treaty, “cuius regio, eius religio,” allowed each king to decide what was to be believed in his kingdom.

A month later, October 25, 1555, suffering from severe gout, Charles V abdicated his throne and lived the rest of his life secluded in the monastery of Yuste, leaving his son Philip II to rule.

Three years before he died, Luther penned an indefensible anti-semitic work that contributed to future Jewish persecutions.

In the two centuries following Luther, different kings in Europe chose different denominations for their kingdoms. This resulted in millions migrating from one country to another simply for conscience sake.

Many of these Christian religious refugees fled Europe to settle colonies in America.

New York University Professor Emeritus Patricia Bonomi, in her article “The Middle Colonies as the Birthplace of American Religious Pluralism” wrote:

“The colonists were about 98 percent Protestant.”

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, most were Protestant, with the notable exception of Catholic Charles Carroll of Maryland.

British Statesman Edmund Burke addressed Parliament, 1775:

“All Protestantism … is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our Northern Colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.”

Samuel Adams stated when he signed the Declaration of Independence:

“This day, I trust, the reign of political protestantism will commence.”

John Adams wrote in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765:

“Desire of dominion … becomes an encroaching, grasping, restless, and ungovernable power … Tyranny, cruelty, and lust … was soon adopted by almost all the princes of Europe …

“The people were held in ignorance … till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation.

“From the time of the Reformation to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England; and in proportion as that increased and spread among the people … tyranny … lost … strength.”

Consistent with Adams’ view are those of Robert D. Woodberry of the National University of Singapore, who wrote a paper titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy” (American Political Science Review, Vol. 106, No. 2, May 2012).

In it, Woodberry demonstrated statistically that countries where Protestant “conversionary” missionaries went to in the 19th century became more prosperous in the 20th century:

“The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.”

Luther wrote:

“I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth.

“I advise no one to place his child where the scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.”

1898 --- Martin Luther Translating the Bible, Wartburg Castle, 1521 by Eugene Siberdt --- Image by © Fine Art Photographic Library/Corbis
 

Luther wrote:

“The Bible was written for men with a head upon their shoulders.”

Luther, who died in 1546, wrote:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.

Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.”


Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.