Have you heard the expression, “The pen is mightier than the sword”? It means writing can affect profounder change than violence. This adage proves itself in the life of one of the greatest Christians of all time – Martin Luther.
Luther is a titanic figure. He towers over not just the history of Germany, nor of the Lutheran church, but all Western civilization! He confronted the pope and his abuses of power. He challenged the corruption and superstition of the medieval church. He kindled a fire the flames of which are still felt today.
And he did it using the most unassuming weapon imaginable – not the sword, but the pen.
Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. The oldest of nine children, he was raised in a Catholic home. He excelled in his education and planned to earn a doctorate in law. While returning to school, he was caught in a terrible thunderstorm. He cried, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk!” So he joined the monastery at Erfurt.
Life as a monk was misery for Luther. He treated himself most austerely, but could find no reprieve from guilt and a strong sense of condemnation. It was also a time of disillusionment. On pilgrimage to Rome, he discovered the “holy city” was rife with immorality and ignorance – even among the clergy!
Luther’s supervisor thought education would provide relief from his intense spiritual struggles. Having already taught at the University of Erfurt, he earned a doctorate and began teaching at the University of Wittenberg, where he became chair of biblical studies.
During his tenure there, Johann Tetzel sold indulgences in a nearby town. The prince also prepared to unveil new relics on November 1. These events instigated a pastoral crisis in Luther. He couldn’t bear to see his congregants devoting themselves to such meaningless forms of religion.
So on October 31, 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church. He wrote several polemical works over the next few years, decrying the church’s doctrine of justification and denying the absolute authority of the pope. He was excommunicated and condemned to death as a heretic after the Diet of Worms in 1521.
After a year in exile, he returned to Wittenberg. He resumed teaching at the university. He preached regularly at the Castle Church. And he continued writing. He wrote pamphlets, books, letters, hymns, catechisms, and commentaries. He both crusaded against the pope and provided resources for the fledgling Lutheran church.
Luther died in 1546 at the age 62. A few days later, he was buried in front of the pulpit at the Castle Church.
Luther is an amazing person. As modern Christians, we owe him more than we realize. He championed a straightforward, exegetical method of interpreting Scripture that is still taught today. He advocated a simple, expository method of preaching. And he modeled the sacrificial, committed heart of a pastor.
Luther also established the Christian home. Many aren’t aware he was a family man. He was married over twenty years, and had six children. He didn’t neglect his family to advance the Reformation. He reminds us that our family is our first ministry, and faith must be expressed at home.
Finally, Luther inspires us to think critically and biblically about the church in our day. Are our beliefs based on the Word of God? In our worship and fellowship, are we obeying His Word? Are we holding forth the gospel in its clarity and purity? If not, will we allow the Spirit to reform us?
How does Martin Luther inspire you to live boldly for Jesus? Share your thoughts with a comment below!
(To learn more about Luther, listen to Podcast Episode 6: Lead Like Luther!)