Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr. both courageous
Several years ago I taught world history to junior high school students and the textbook had a modest amount devoted to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
When dealing with students who are 12, 13, and 14 years old, you sometimes have to explain things clearly and carefully from the very beginning.
“Don’t get Martin Luther confused with Martin Luther King Jr.,” I told them. “Martin Luther was a German who lived in the 1500s. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American who lived in the 1900s.”
“Both were Christians and both were great men,” I continued. “But they lived on two different continents and were separated by more than four centuries.”
Then I pointed out that there was an interesting connection between the two men, in that the American got his name from the German.
Michael King originally named his son Michael King Jr. but the elder King was so impressed by the impact of Martin Luther that he changed his name and the name of his son.
From that point on, it was Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr.
As history tells us, both Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. were courageous men who stood up for what they believed was right. And, as a result, both brought about great change in their respective countries, and in the world.
On Oct. 31, it will be exactly 500 years since Martin Luther is credited with posting his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther had been studying his Bible intently for years, and he felt that there were beliefs and practices within the church that were wrong and should be openly debated. Placing debate topics on the church door was customary in Germany 500 years ago.
The fact that he followed the protocol in posting the debate topics on the door on Oct. 31, 1517, is not what is significant. What is important is that it marked the beginning of a major movement within all of Christianity, a movement that called for a simpler faith, a firm reliance upon the Bible, and a more independent Christian pilgrimage for each believer.
Luther had come to believe, based upon his understanding of scripture, that popes and priests and church indulgences were actually keeping people away from God and keeping them in spiritual
darkness, rather than enabling people to gain access to God and to enter into Christian fellowship with other believers.
He continued to search the Bible to make sure he wasn’t misunderstanding it or misinterpreting anything that he read.
In his mind, he wasn’t. In fact, his conscience was very clear on this matter. He felt that it was his duty to make sure that every person knew the truth of the Bible and that they could understand the clear pathway to God delineated in biblical teachings.
Latin was the language of the church and of the highly educated individuals in Europe at that time, but the common person did not understand it.
Luther believed in sola scriptura, sola fide, and solus Christus. When this Latin terminology was translated into German, the common person understood that Luther was saying scripture was the only authority in the Christian life, and that a person’s salvation was by faith alone through Christ alone.
No more, Luther claimed, should a person have to go through priests, good works, indulgences, or church councils to be saved by God.
Luther took a great deal of heat for his stand. For centuries, matters of faith and biblical interpretations had been solely in the hands of church leaders, and many in the church hierarchy believed strongly it should remain that way.
One educated skeptic asked Luther, “What will we get when any old plowboy can read the Bible?” “Christians,” Luther said. Five hundred years ago, when Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door, he had no intention of starting a great movement, and he had no desire to foster a break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Instead, Luther wanted to, in the words of author Charles Colson, “… expose the business of selling grace.” In other words, Luther posted the 95 Theses because he desired modifications in the church’s practices and in its theology.
As a Bible professor at Wittenberg, Luther was very credible, but often when a person speaks out against error at any level, harsh opposition will follow. As author Eric Metaxas wrote in his new book on Martin Luther, “…he had no idea what dark forces he would rouse from their slumbers.”
More on that next time.
David Wilson, EdD, of Springdale, is a writer, consultant and presenter, who grew up in Arkansas but worked 27 years in education in Missouri. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.