PROTESTANT REFORMATION- LUTHER
Okay- let’s start a brief overview of some church history. Over the next few weeks I want to hit on the 16th century Protestant reformation and try and cover some of the key figures of the movement.
Martin Luther- the German reformer who had the most influence in the movement was born and raised in Germany.
As a boy his parents were peasant farmers and eventually his dad became a miner and became a very successful businessman- he would go on and eventually own 6 foundries.
He sent his son to law school- and young Luther excelled. At the age of 21 he accomplished more than many of his peers. One day on his way home from the university a thunderstorm broke out and Luther was almost struck by a bolt of lightning.
In fear he cried out to Saint Ann [the mother of Mary] and said ‘Saint Ann- if you save me I will become a monk’ [Ann was the patron Saint for miners- thus Luther was familiar with her].
He was spared and off to the monastery he went. Luther eventually became an ordained priest and even though his dad initially was upset that his son became a priest- yet he was proud of his boy later on.
Luther would eventually make a Pilgrimage to Rome- on foot [a few month walk from Germany to Rome!] and what he saw devastated him. Rome- and the Vatican- were in bad shape. Many of the priests lived in open sin- and the city that he saw as his headquarters for the faith- well it was a mess.
Luther made the famous penitent walk/crawl up the stairs of the Lateran church [this church was the most famous church before the construction of St. Peters. The actual stairs of the church are the same stairs that Christ walked up during his trial under Pontius Pilate. Yes- you hear many ‘stories’ while studying church history- things like the relics or left over pieces of the Cross- well these stories are usually fake. But the stairs of the Lateran church are indeed the same stairs that Christ walked on- the early ‘church’ builders dismantled the stairs at Pilate’s court in Jerusalem and installed them at this church building in Rome].
When Luther got to the top of the stairs- it is reported that he questioned the faith- he had a crisis of faith and thought that maybe the whole thing was a sham.
Okay- as we do a few more posts over the coming weeks- I want you guys to see that the main players of the Reformation were sincere Catholic men who had many questions about what they saw as corrupt in their own church. These men did not want to start a breakaway church- they simply wanted to reform the church they loved.
Keep in mind that Luther excelled during his legal studies- he had a keen legal mind- this will be important later on when we see the debates he has with Rome over the doctrine of Justification by faith- the letters of the apostle Paul [Romans- Galatians] use lots of legal language- and his early education will help him in these debates.
Okay- that’s it for today. Maybe do a Google search on Luther and familiarize yourself a little with the history.
The ‘readings’ for this week are 2nd Samuel 6-7 and Psalms 89. See what they have in common.
 LUTHER- THE TOWER EXPERIENCE
Let’s start with some church history. In the last post I covered the early years of Martin Luther- probably the most significant figure of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther studied for the priesthood in Erfurt, Germany. He would eventually wind up in Wittenberg- one of the major university cities of the Reformation. Wittenberg was actually a small insignificant town- but the political leader over the region- Frederick the Wise- sought to put it on the map.
He wanted to turn Wittenberg into a German ‘Rome’. He wanted it to become a major Pilgrimage city where Christians would see Wittenberg as a destination- just like they saw Rome.
So Frederick embarked on this plan and he searched thru all the Catholic learning centers of the time and finally recruited 3 top scholars to teach out of the university at Wittenberg- Luther was one of the 3.
Just as a side note- Frederick would succeed at making Wittenberg a major catholic center. He would eventually obtain over 19,000 Relics for the Cathedral church there [Relics were used in the ancient system of buying indulgences and making special pilgrimage trips to important Churches. If the church/city that your making the Pilgrimage to has a lot of Relics- bones or other famous material objects from church history- then the value of the Pilgrimage was high. In theory Frederick collected so many that if you added up all the ‘time off’ from Purgatory- you would get 1 million, 900 thousand years off! Some of the famous relics at Wittenberg were a hair from the beard of Jesus- straw from the manger Jesus was born in- and even a branch from the famous burning bush of Moses! As you can see- there was a lot of commercializing going on- even back then].
When Luther arrived in Wittenberg- he made a name for himself as a top scholar. Many protestants- who revere Luther- usually are not aware that he was a master Linguist [sort of like Rick Perry!]
Yes Luther mastered language- and he showed it in his teaching on the book of Psalms.
In 1515 he began his famous study on the book of Romans and as he went thru the very first chapter- something shook him. He came across the passage that says the Just shall live by faith. This verse first appears in the O.T. book of Habakkuk- and is quoted 3 more times in the N.T.
Luther was very aware of the concept of the righteousness of God- he struggled for many years trying to reconcile his own sinful nature with Gods holiness- but he never really ‘saw’ the biblical concept of righteousness as a free gift that God ‘imputes’ to the sinner.
Yes- for the 1st time in Luther’s life- after his years training for the priesthood- the pilgrimage he made to Rome- the thousands of hours he spent confessing his sins while a monk in Erfurt- he never really understood that the righteousness of God was a free gift given to those who have faith.
It was a giant weight lifted from his shoulders- Luther did not need to try any more to live up to the standards of God- in a way that would earn for him forgiveness- but he would simply believe- and the righteousness of God would be counted to him as a gift.
Luther would go on to call this an Alien Righteousness- that is it is not found within the person who tries to do all the church works he can- or buying all the indulgences- or any other of the many religious actions he was practicing- but this free gift of being right with God- it came to those who had faith- the Just shall live by Faith- this was indeed good news for the scholar.
As time went on- Germany would get embroiled in the political machinations of the day- Luther’s top political cover was Frederick the Wise- hardly a Protestant Reformer! He spent lots of time trying to make Wittenberg the major Catholic center in Germany.
But at the time there was a political fight raging between Rome and some of the other nation/states. There was a figure head office called the Holy Roman Emperor. This office was really in name only- but it rose up during the first Millennium of Christian history and sought to replace the influence that Rome was losing.
So you had France, Spain and England all vying for the title. Eventually it would go to King Charles of Spain- but the Pope- who played a major role in nominating the person- he did not want any of these top 3 to get the position. Henry the Eighth was the king of England at the time- and these ‘3 kings’ were sort of in competition with Rome- so the Pope tried to get Fredrick the Wise to throw his hat into the ring.
Frederick just happened to be one of the Electors of this position.
His actual title was The Elector of Saxony.
So Fredrick had lots of influence- and as Rome would eventually but heads with the stubborn bull of Wittenberg [Luther] Frederick would become the major protector of Luther.
Okay- I think we’ll stop here for today. The experience that Luther had- the enlightenment that came to him while teaching the book of Romans- this is often called The Tower experience of Luther- it took place in the year 1515.
 TREASURY OF MERIT
Let’s pick up where we left off 2 posts back. We were talking about Martin Luther and the events that led up to the Protestant Reformation.
In order to understand the key act that caused the protest- we will have to teach some Catholic history/doctrine.
In the 16th century Pope Julius began the effort to build St. Peters basilica in Rome. He got as far as laying the foundation and died. Pope Leo the 10th would pick up after him.
The church needed to raise money for the project- and the German prince- Albert- would play a major role.
It should be noted that both Catholic and Protestant scholars agree that the Popes of the day were pretty corrupt. They came from what we call the Medici line of Popes.
If you remember last month I wrote a post on the Renaissance- I talked about the Medici family and how they played a major role in supporting the Renaissance that took place in the 13th century in Florence Italy that would spread to the region.
Well this very influential family also played a big role in who would get top positions in the church.
At the time of Luther and prince Albert- if you had the right connections and the money- you could literally buy a position in the church.
Albert already held 2 Bishop seats- and there was an opening for an Archbishops seat in Mainz [Germany] and he wanted that one too.
It should be noted that official Canon law [church law] said you could only hold one seat at a time- Albert was bidding on his 3rd one! And he was too young for all of them.
So even the Pope and the officials held little respect for what the church actually taught at the time.
So Albert opens up negotiations with Leo- and the bidding starts AT 12,000 Duckets [money] Albert counters with 7,000- and they agree on 10,000. How did they justify the numbers? 12- The number of Apostles. 7- The 7 deadly sins. 10- The 10 commandments.
Yes- the church was pretty corrupt at the time.
So Albert works out a plan with Leo- he will borrow the money from the German banks- and pay the banks off by the Pope giving Albert the right to sell Indulgences.
What’s an Indulgence?
Okay- this is where it gets tricky.
The ancient church taught a system called The Treasury of Merit. This was a sort of spiritual bank account that ‘stored up’ the good deeds of others over the years.
You had the good deeds of Jesus at the top- but you also had Mary and Joseph- the 12 Apostles- and other various saints thru out time.
The way the ‘bank’ worked was you could tap into the account by getting a Papal indulgence- a sort of I.O.U. that had the Popes guarantee that it would get so much time out of Purgatory for a loved one.
The actual sacrament that accesses the account is called Penance [confession].
When a penitent does penance- he confesses his sin to the priest- and he is absolved by the authority of the church that the priest has. The priest usually tells the person ‘say so many Hail Mary’s- Our Father’s’ and that’s a form of penance.
One of the other things the church practiced was called Alms Deeds. This term is found in the bible and it means giving your money to the poor- it is a noble act that Jesus himself taught.
In theory- part of the sacrament of penance was tied into Alms Deeds- you can access the account thru the practice of giving to the poor- which also meant giving to the church that helps the poor- and in the hands of the Medici line of Popes- meant outright giving money to the Pope.
So now you see how the abuse worked its way into the pockets of the faithful.
Albert now had the permission from Leo to sell these indulgences in Germany- and he would pick a certain corrupt priest to sell them in a place called Saxony- the region where Luther operated out of.
It should be noted that the Catholic Church never taught the crass act of ‘buying your way out of Purgatory’. The practice of including giving money as a part of the sacrament of penance was tied into the biblical principle of giving to the poor- a good thing.
But Tetzel and others abused the official meaning of the indulgence- and did make it sound like you could by your way out of Purgatory [in theory- a loved one might be in Purgatory for so many years- and through the indulgence you are actually getting time off for them- because the good deeds of others are now applied to the account].
The money Albert would raise- half would go to Rome for the building of St. peters- and half would go to pay off the banks in Germany- it was a sad system- and a sad time for the church as a whole.
It would be wrong to judge the entire church at the time as being corrupt- you did have many sincere Priests and Catholic men and women who saw the abuses and did not take part in them.
But there was corruption at the top- and this would eventually lead to the breakup of the church- and the launching of what we now call the Protestant Movement.
As a side note- it should be said that many Catholics and Protestants are not aware of the whole treasury of merit system- and the church never officially changed her position on the doctrine.
There were 3 Church councils since the time [Trent- 1500’s, Vatican 1- 1800’s and Vatican 2- 1962-65]. The Treasury of Merit never came up for change.
Obviously Protestants don’t believe in Purgatory- and it’s not my purpose in these posts to change Catholics into Protestants or vice versa- but to give all sides a clear view of the issues that divided us- and to try and be honest- and respectful during the process.
Does the bible teach anything like a Treasury of Merit? Well actually it does. The bible teaches that the righteousness of Christ is the treasury that people can access- by faith- and become righteous in the sight if God.
The idea- applied to Christ- is good.
But in the hands of the Medici Popes- and the ambitious prince of Germany- it would lead to disaster.
Note- Do me a favor, those who read/like the posts- re-post them on other sites as well as the site you read them on. Thanks- John
 LUTHER CLASHES WITH ROME
Let’s do another post on the Protestant Reformation. I’ll probably only do a few more before I transition into another study.
By the way- all the studies I do thru out the year are posted in the February posts of the following year.
Okay- last we left off Luther was just beginning to butt heads with the church [Tetzel] over the abuse of the sale of indulgences that was going on in Germany.
In a previous post I mentioned how the priest- Tetzel- was selling these ‘get out of Purgatory’ type coupons in the area where Luther operated out- Saxony.
Actually- Tetzel never entered Saxony itself- but was selling these out of a bordering city- and many of Luther’s students/parishioners were being hoodwinked into spending their money to rescue a loved one out of Purgatory.
Tetzel is known for a jingle he started in connection with the sale of the indulgence- it goes ‘as soon as a coin in the coffer rings- a soul in Purgatory springs’- ouch!
Like I said before- the church never taught this- they did teach the Treasury of Merit [previous post] but the way Tetzel used it was a real abuse of the teaching of the church at the time.
Now- Luther responds to the abuse by writing the famous 95 thesis. This is the act that is often associated with the launching of the Reformation- the act that got the ball rolling.
The 95 thesis were simply 95 questions challenging the whole practice of the sale of indulgences- there was no mention of the doctrine of Justification by Faith- which will become the trumpet sound that springs out of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther takes these questions- written in Latin- and nails them to the university church door at Wittenberg. Sometimes while reading church history this ‘nailing to the door’ is seen as a sort of vandalism – you know- ‘he nailed them to the door!’
In actuality Luther was simply using the system of the day that one scholar would use in order to bring up an official point of contention with the church- Luther wrote the Thesis in Latin- which was the scholars language- not the language of the common man.
But Luther’s students quickly translated the Thesis into the vernacular [German] and it was said that in 2 weeks the paper made it into every village of Germany.
The challenge was a spark in the lives of many Christians who also believed the church was off track and that someone needed to rebuke her- and they picked Luther as the man for the job.
Now- the Catholic church wanted Luther to go to Rome and discuss the situation there- Luther’s friends warned him not to go- so they agreed to meet- a few times- in Germany.
The first meeting was in 1518 at Heidelberg- Luther actually gave a great defense of his argument and convinced some other top Catholic scholars that he was right [as a side note- the church had already scheduled this meeting because of a controversy that rose up between the Augustinian order of monks and the Dominicans. They were debating over which philosophy was more consistent with church teaching- Nominalism or Realism- for those of you who have read the posts this past year- I taught this when doing our posts on philosophy].
One man- Martin Bucer- wrote a stirring account of Luther- Bucer would later influence another young Swiss priest with Reformation teachings- his name is John Calvin.
As a side not Calvin will become one of the 3 big heavy hitters of the 16th century Reformation [Ulrich Zwingli is the 3rd].
Luther will meet again in Augsburg- and debate the leading Catholic scholar of the day- Cardinal Cajetan.
Then he goes to the city of Leipzig- and debates the leading German scholar- Johann Eck.
And his last meeting with the church will be at the famous Diet of Worms [pronounced- Vurmtz] and it will be here that Luther makes his last stand and officially will break with the church and launch the Protestant Reformation.
It should be noted that Luther held what we call a High Church position for most of this time- he still saw the church at Rome- and the Pope- as a legitimate expression of true Christianity- his beef was what he saw as an abuse of the system- by the priest Tetzel.
As time progressed- the other beliefs of Luther- founded upon the bible- did come into contention with Rome.
The main disagreement eventually became the teaching in the bible called Justification by faith. I have written a study on the topic on the blog- I have also written a bible study on the book of Romans and Galatians.
For those of you who can- try and read Romans chapters 2-4 and Galatians 2-3- these are the key chapters that cover the teaching.
Down the road I will cover the official teaching of both the Protestants and the Catholics on the doctrine of justification- the Catholic Council of Trent- referred to as the Counter Reformation- spells out the official teaching of Rome- and there are a few papers put out by the Reformers that explain their belief.
Since the 16th century Reformation there have been efforts made by Protestants and Catholics to bridge the gap as much as possible- to try to come to some common language since the historic split.
I like some of the efforts that have been made- and recently both groups put out a statement that jointly said we all believe that we are saved by Gods grace thru Christ- that’s good.
But as we get into some of the actual discussion- you will see the points at which the 2 sides disagreed- and the main one was on the act- the actual thing that happens- when a person is declared just- the Reformers said it takes place when a person has faith- believes- the Catholic church said it takes place at baptism- water baptism.
This- as well as a few other things- will be a defining distinction between the 2.
Note- Do me a favor, those who read/like the posts- re-post them on other sites as well as the site you read them on. Thanks- John
1775- WHAT DID HE SAY?
Let’s do a little review today. I know the history posts go a little long sometimes- and many Christians do not see the value in studying church history.
But I have found over the years that a lot of independent type churches- good men- good people- but cut off from the broader church- well these churches have a tendency to get off in a rut- a particular doctrine or style of teaching- and after a while it becomes impossible to get these good church folk back on the balanced course.
A few examples. Many years ago- as a young Pastor- I had lots of good Pastor friends who too were doing their best to do what they felt God wanted.
At the time- I began having difficulty with many of the most popular interpretations of the bible that these good men were using.
After a while I realized that some of the stuff was so off course- that if they didn’t make some major course corrections at the time- that they were going to end up spending their entire Pastorate teaching stuff that is out right false.
I have talked a lot about this over the years- and the examples are too numerous to cover them all- but a good example is the ‘Camel going thru the eye of a Needle’ verse.
One time Jesus and his men were going thru town and a young rich guy asks Jesus what he must do to be saved.
A pretty straight forward question- right to the point.
Jesus tells the guy to keep the law- the guy asks which ones.
Ah- now you’re digging yourself in brother.
So Jesus says to love God and his neighbor- these are the top ones.
He asks ‘and who is my neighbor’?
Jesus goes on and gives an explanation- and he also tells the guy to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor- and follow him.
The guy goes away sad because he was rich.
Then Jesus says ‘it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a Camel to go thru the Eye of a Needle’.
The disciples [I think Peter?] say ‘then who can be saved’?
Jesus says with men it is impossible- but not with God- with God all things are possible.
[just a quick side note- I haven’t read all these stories in a while- trust me- they are all in the bible- but I might have mixed a few together- but the main point stays the same]
Okay- in context- what could Jesus be saying about the camel and the needle?
It sure seems like he’s using a figure of speech that would mean ‘look- the guy is too attached to his money to fully give himself over to being a follower of me- maybe down the road he will change- but he’s not ready yet’.
Seems reasonable to me- don’t you think?
But wait- in the group of pastors/teachers that were popular at the time- one of the main teachings was how to get rich- and they saw financial increase as the main thing- I mean that’s what they focused on all the time.
So what do you do with verses like these?
You simply change them- you make them say what you want.
So the ‘true’ explanation for the Camel and the Needle became ‘the Eye of the Needle is the name of a low passage way thru the wall into the city- and the merchants- if they have lots of stuff- well the Camel has to stoop low to get thru’.
Aha- so what seems to mean ‘rich folk will have a hard time making the kingdom’ really means something else- as a matter of fact- it means the opposite- because the Camels that have to ‘scooch’ belong to the owners who have a lot of goods- thus the Camel has to get low.
Okay- maybe as rank amateurs this stuff was not the unpardonable sin- but many of these men are still teaching this type of stuff- and this one example is the tip of the iceberg- I could go on for a long time quoting all them but that’s not the point for now.
The main point is- if Christians separate themselves from the broader church- not just talking about ‘going to church’ but talking about the broad understanding that the people of God have- the books and teachings of those who have gone before us- not just one small group- but the whole community- then we will avoid these kinds of pitfalls.
As we do a few more posts in the coming weeks on church history- we will see this was one of the things restored by the Protestants Reformers during the 16th century.
Luther restored what’s referred to as the Literal Sense- that when you read the bible- you should be able to take it at face value- as much as possible.
Sure- you also want to ‘hear God’ speak in a personal way- but if what your hearing is the exact opposite of what the text is saying- well then we do have a problem.
Note- Do me a favor, those who read/like the posts- re-post them on other sites as well as the site you read them on. Thanks- John
1782- PROTESTANT REFORMATION CONCLUSION
Today let’s finish up the study on the Protestant Reformation. We left off on Luther disputing with the church over the doctrine of how a person becomes just in the sight of God- is it by works or faith?
Now- to the surprise of many Protestants [and Catholics!] both sides agreed that a person cannot be justified by works.
Yes- the Catholic Church rejected what was known as Pelagianism. In the early centuries of the church there was a Catholic priest- named Pelagius- who taught that people had the ability within themselves to obey Gods law and become saved that way.
He rejected the doctrine of original sin and another famous bishop- Saint Augustine- would refute Pelagius and teach salvation comes by the Grace of God. The official Catholic position was to reject Pelagius and accept Augustine.
Okay- then where’s the difference?
The church council that spells it out is the Council of Trent [named after the Italian city where the council took place in the 1500’s- Trento].
This council is often referred to as the Counter Reformation. The church rejected the Protestant line- but also acknowledged the need for reform and made some changes.
This is the council where the church rejects Pelagianism- and also says the position of Luther [Justification by Faith ALONE] was flawed.
The church appealed to the New Testament letter of Saint James- where James uses an example from the life of Abraham [found in Genesis 22] where Abraham obeys God and is willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar.
Of course this never happens- God was simply testing Abraham- but James says this act of obedience justified him in Gods sight.
James says ‘see how a man is justified by works- and not by faith ALONE’.
The argument from Rome was Faith played THE major role in justification- but was not sufficient by itself- there had to be righteous works eventually associated with it in order for God to say ‘you are just’ [saved].
Luther disagreed and said God justified Abraham before he had good works- we find this in Genesis 15. God says to Abraham ‘look- count all the stars- so shall your offspring be’ and Walla- the bible also says Abraham was justified in God’s eyes the moment he believed the promise.
Actually they both are.
I have taught this a few times over the years- and it would take too much time to re-do right now.
But I believe James and Paul [the 2 who debate this in the bible] are simply looking at different aspects of salvation/justification.
Paul emphasized faith- and James showed us how true faith always has works with it.
When you read the statements that came out from the council of Trent- some of them do seem to indicate that both sides might have been talking past each other at some points.
In the heat of the day they were too quick to condemn the other side- without really trying hard to achieve unity [like politics!].
The 6th session of Trent was the one where the church dealt with justification [how we become saved in Gods sight].
Rome made a distinction between mortal and Venial sin in the council- the church said that Baptism is the INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE of justification. Yet faith is the Root- Foundation and Initial act that justifies.
Rome also taught that Mortal sin kills the grace in the soul that brings justification- and when a person commits a mortal sin- they need the ‘2nd plank of justification’ in order to be brought back into a state of Grace.
This 2nd Plank is the Sacrament of Penance [confession]. Catholic Moral Theologians use an example to show the difference between Mortal and Venial sin.
Drinking- if you take a drink [alcohol] not a sin. If you get tipsy- Venial- and if you get flat drunk- mortal.
This is a true teaching by the way- not making this up.
Catholic scholars are not in total agreement on all the Mortal/Venial sins.
Some teach that missing Mass on Sunday is a Mortal sin.
I just threw this in to show you the debates that take place.
The teachings from Trent are referred to as Tridentine.
The Protestants [early on] rejected the belief that a person can lose Gods grace once he has it- later on the Protestants would divide- severely- over this teaching- Predestination and the Perseverance of the Saints.
But early on all the major Reformers did indeed teach this.
Luther believed in the doctrine of Predestination just as much- if not more- than John Calvin.
But sometimes in these history shows they get this wrong and say Luther and Calvin disagreed on it- that’s a common mistake that you hear every so often.
Luther actually wrote a book dedicated to the subject [The Bondage of the Will] Calvin never wrote a book solely on the subject.
Okay- as we end this brief study of the Protestant Reformation- you could also call it a primer on Catholic doctrine [short one].
Why is it important that we study this?
In John chapter 17 Jesus said that he desired unity for all of Gods people- and many of these divisions- which date back 500 years- are commonly misunderstood on both sides.
It is common in our day to run across an ex Catholic who might say ‘you know- I left the church because I don’t believe I need to confess to a priest’ or ‘the Catholic church teaches you are saved by works’.
The original Reformers did not have a problem with confession- the Lutherans carried the practice over into their communion.
And like I just showed you- the Catholic church rejected the doctrine of being saved ‘by works’ [Pelagianism] and simply emphasized the teaching found in the bible- the book of James- and focused more on James than Paul [who the protestants focus on].
So yes- there are still differences- but if we are not informed- then it makes it harder to strive for unity- and at the end of the day God does desire unity for all his people.
The other day I quoted the great Civil rights leader- MLK. In one of his famous speeches that’s played when we celebrate his life- you hear Martin say that not only was he seeking unity among the races- but also in the church.
He said he wanted to see Catholics and Protestants- as well as Blacks and Whites- sit down together- he referred to us all as Gods kids.
I think we should strive to achieve the desire of Martin- and Jesus.