During the late medieval period of western civilization, the Roman catholic church obscured the clear articulation of the Biblical Gospel by practicing indulgences, mysticism, and seven sacraments. Good works were blended with faith, so one could not tell if faith alone, or faith plus works saves. The human condition was considered a fall of nature into flesh, not a legal condition of criminality before God. Rome was by no means monolithic, but was generally unbiblical in their thinking during this period.
It was in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, when Martin Luther wrote ninety-five theses of debate on subjects of indulgences, good works, repentance, veneration of saints, etc. He invited interested scholars to debate with him. According to Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s friend) Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517. The Church faced Wittenberg’s main thoroughfare. The church door functioned as a public bulletin board and was therefore the place for posting important notices. Posting his document on October 31 put it in public view. It was the eve of the All Saints’ Day. This was the beginning of the Reformation.The publication of the Ninety-five Theses brought Luther to international attention, and into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and the Emperor. At the Diet of Worms three years later, the Pope excommunicated and declared him a heretic.
Many other reforms had come to the church, but they were all moral reforms. Luther’s reforms struck at the heart, the root of the problem, theology. It was a reform back to Biblical Christianity. The “reformations” of Luther and others (John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Peter Vermigli, John Knox, etc.) did not seek mere moral reform. They sought Spiritual transformation by the Biblical Gospel building the church to maturity.
Martin Luther on the Reformation
“For the Word created heaven and earth and all things, the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners. In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf- the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it.
I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play. I did nothing; I let the Word do its work. What do you suppose is Satan’s thought when one tries to do the thing by kicking up a row? He sits back in hell and thinks: Oh, what a fine game the poor fools are up to now! But when we spread the Word alone and let it alone do the work -that distresses him. For it is almighty, and takes captive the hearts, and when the hearts are captured the work will fall of itself.”