On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546), an Augustinian monk and professor at the University of Wittenberg. Each year there were lectures and open academic discussions in celebration of All Saints Day (November 1). So on October 31, the day before these discussions were to begin, Dr. Luther posted an outline of his discussion points on the door of the church. These became known as the Ninety-five Theses. As a professor, Luther’s intention was to open a discussion within the church of current practices that were troubling to him. However, his “discussion” ignited a protest against the abuses he saw in the church. Little did Luther know that his lecture series would lead to a major division of the church.
It was never Luther’s intention to divide the church. He hoped that his statements would lead to the reform of the church. But the lines were drawn and there was no way back.
What did Luther find so absolutely important that he had to risk everything? For Luther, the most important thing was the gospel! When Luther read St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he became convinced that the church was headed in the wrong direction and had missed the most essential element of the Christian faith: ‘Justification by grace through faith.’
What distinguishes Lutheranism from other ‘Protestants’ continues to be our focus on the gospel: that through the faithfulness of Jesus we are saved by grace. For Lutherans, the Bible serves as the rule and norm of our lives both individually and corporately. However, the Lutheran Hermeneutic, how we interpret scripture, continues to be: ‘Was Christum triebt?’ ‘What drives (compels) us to Christ?’ All of the scripture from Genesis to Revelation is interpreted on the basis of this principle.
The ongoing legacy of the Reformation continues to be this gospel-oriented perspective. Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold to the basic principles of theology and practice espoused by Luther:
- We are saved by the grace of God alone – not by anything we do;
- Our salvation is through faith alone – we only need to believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who died to redeem us;
- The Bible is the only norm of doctrine and life – the only true standard by which teachings and doctrine are to be judged.
- Scriptures and worship need to be provided in the language of the people.