Editor’s Introduction: Why Luther? -- By: Jonathan Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 07:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: Editor’s Introduction: Why Luther?
Author: Jonathan Armstrong

Editor’s Introduction: Why Luther?

John H. Armstrong

No one seriously questions it—at least among historians anyway. Martin Luther was the human torch that lit the fire of the Protestant revolt against the Church of Rome in the sixteenth century. And the fire he lit has never gone out, now nearly five centuries later. But who was Martin Luther? What did he actually believe? Why did he respond to the church in the manner that he did? And why did the Roman Catholic Church respond to him as it did? Are his life and work really that important to us so far removed from his world and work?

Martin Luther was, and still is, a controversial figure, often misunderstood by friend and foe alike. Born November 10, 1483, Luther lived to the age of sixty-two, dying on February 18, 1546. During this relatively short life, by modern standards at least, he accomplished more, under God, than most moderns could accomplish in three times the life span. Intriguing, enigmatic, straightforward, opinionated, sometimes coarse, always down-to-earth, Martin Luther was a man profoundly and deeply moved by the free grace of God. But he certainly did not appear to be inclined toward becoming a Reformer in his early life.

A brief glimpse from his early life reveals just how much Martin trusted in the teaching of his church. On a very hot day in July, in the year 1505, a twenty-one-year old university student and the devoted son of the church, Martin walked along a road just outside the Saxon village of Stotternheim. As he neared the city a rainstorm interrupted his journey. A flash of lightning knocked him to the ground. Rising from his near-death experience he cried out, in sheer “terror” as historian Roland Bainton put it: “St. Anne help me! I will become a monk.”1

Bainton notes that the man who cried out to a saint on that day in 1505 would later repudiate the cult of the saints. The man who vowed to become a monk would eventually renounce monasticism. And this man was to be used by God to virtually shatter the centuries-old structure of medieval Catholicism. Even the Roman Catholic Church would never be the same once Luther embarked upon his protest.

But just who is this controversial man? Roland Bainton writes:

The multitudinous portrayals fall into certain broad types already delineated in his own generation. His followers hailed him as the prophet of the Lord and the deliverer of Germany. His opponents on the Catholic side called him the son of perdition and the demolisher of Christendom. The agrarian agitators branded him as a sycophant of the princes, and the radical sectaries compared him to Moses, who...

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