Martin Luther: The Champion of Justification by Faith

Editor’s Note: In honor of the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, this article is the first in a series exploring the history and significance of the Protestant Reformation from a Baptist perspective. (View part 2 and part 3.)

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It began when Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, issued a series of propositions for an academic discussion in Wittenberg. It is unlikely he actually nailed these to the door of the church, but clearly he produced the document that created a huge stir across the Holy Roman Empire. Luther sent a letter on Oct. 31, 1517, to his superiors wanting to address the sale of indulgences. In nearby Brandenburg, Germany, another monk, a Dominican by the name of Johann Tetzel, was hawking the promise of a full pardon for sin to any who would pay money to the church. This could be applied to the sinner or to a deceased relative in purgatory. “When a coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs” was the ditty sung. Luther was outraged at such ecclesiastical abuse. He repudiated the practice in the Theses. This event ignited the firestorm of protest that became the Reformation.

As a Baptist, what does this event so long ago and so far away have to do with me? Baptists are not Protestants, or so it is claimed. We certainly have much with which we disagree when it comes to our Lutheran friends. Why should we care about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation?