One man, Martin Luther, stood alone against an empire. His motivation was spiritual, but the outcome of his conviction was spiritual and political, leaving a global legacy 500 years later and celebrated this October 31st.
Unbeknownst to even himself, Luther completely upended the current religious system. He initially sought to clarify church doctrine and reform it from within. Despite attempts on his life and retaliation and persecution, his persistence led to one of the most significant events in history that quite literally changed political and religious institutions forever.
Here are ten key principles about the Reformation:
- At the time of the Reformation the Roman State Church Ruled All.
The Holy Roman Church ruled the Holy Roman Empire through a feudal system of kings, queens, lords, landowners, and bishops. It stretched across several continents and rivaled other empires for thousands of years in economic and military prowess. Rome was its capital; the Vatican, the seat of its state religion and papacy. In AD 1054 the empire divided between East and West; its Eastern counterpart, the Byzantine Empire, ruled alongside the Eastern Orthodox Church, in Constantinople.
The Roman Catholic Church/Empire waged war against numerous countries for thousands of years. Its popes initiated seven out of the nine Crusades, one of which was solely against the Byzantine Empire, which subsequently hastened its catastrophic end in AD 1453. The Roman Catholic Church imposed taxes on everyone except its clergy. Its bishops ruled with an iron scepter, collecting taxes, and torturing and imprisoning those who couldn’t pay. The church regulated nearly all areas of life, including literacy. Its edicts were in Latin; no bibles existed in anyone’s native language.
2. One Bible Verse Helped Shape the Doctrine of the Reformation:
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17)
This text also became the foundation for Luther’s declaration of the Five Solas:
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone),
- Sola Fide (Faith alone),
- Sola Gratia (Grace alone),
- Sola Christus or Solo Christo (Christ alone),
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).
On October 31, 1517, Luther posted Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which listed 95 issues he could not reconcile between Roman Catholic doctrine and the Bible. This was a political act as much as it was theological, and it nearly cost him his life. Eventually, Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms, where he was forced to recant or be excommunicated; which he could not do, and was.