A Man Named Martin
In this most Evangelical of countries, it’s odd to me that there isn’t more reverence for the founder of Protestantism.
With all due respect to the great Dr. King, the most influential guy named Martin Luther in world history is definitely Martin Luther. Luther didn’t just found a Christian sect, he saved Christianity itself from excess and oblivion.
In 1500, Roman Catholicism looked more like a corrupt Italian extortion scheme than a religion.
Pope Alexander VI was a member of the notorious Borgia family and he was anything but a holy man. In order to fund his building projects, his wars, and the lavish lifestyle he wanted for himself and his family of illegitimate children, the Pope squeezed as much dirty money as he could out of the church.
Pope Alexander VI appointed bishops and cardinals based on who could pay him the most. And, even worse, the pope doubled down on the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were certificates issued by the Church that promised to forgive sins and dramatically reduce the amount of time you or your dead loved ones spend in Purgatory.
Purgatory, by the way, was the made-up place where the Medieval Church said your soul goes after you die. A soul spent years – or centuries – there in torment as it slowly worked off its earthly sins.
Unless, of course, you forked over your money and bought an indulgence. As the best German indulgence salesman John Tetzel announced: “when a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!”
None of this – including the very existence of Purgatory – was even remotely justified by scripture. But it was against the law to read the Latin Bible and punishable by death to translate the Bible into your local language, so people had no way of knowing how badly they were being duped.
A pious, educated German monk named Martin Luther had had enough. When he nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door, Luther assumed that the church would realize they had gone too far and simply cut down on the selling of indulgences. He was wrong.
When other reform-minded Christians published Luther’s arguments, the monk became a hero to Christian Germans and public enemy #1 in Rome.
“A Man Named Martin” is an historically complex documentary made by passionate Lutherans to explain why they revere Mr. Luther and follow his teachings.
Luther didn’t mean to start a war but he certainly was ready to fight one. Luther argued that the Church was wrong to prohibit people from reading the bible and he translated the new Testament from original Greek into German.
Luther argued that the Catholic Church was flat out wrong about the road to salvation. In the Latin bible, it reads “do penance…and you shall receive the holy spirit.” In the Greek, Luther discovered, it reads “repent…and you shall receive the holy spirit.”
That may sound like a minor edit, but it’s a huge practical difference. It means, Luther concluded, that you don’t need the pope or cardinals or bishops or Mass or confession or indulgences or purgatory to get to heaven. All you need for salvation is a humble, faithful heart and the touch of the holy spirit.
Luther was condemned as a heretic but he ultimately triumphed over the Medieval church. Not only did he found a new Christian faith that survives to this day, but before long the Catholic Church itself conceded that Luther had some good points. The Counter Reformation was Rome’s sincere effort to cut down on corruption and greed.
You don’t have to be a Protestant to acknowledge Luther’s monumental contribution to Christianity. I propose that we declare Tuesday, January 19th Martin Luther Day. I could use a 4-day weekend.