Introducing Martin Luther -- By: James Edward McGoldrick

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 07:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: Introducing Martin Luther
Author: James Edward McGoldrick

Introducing Martin Luther

James Edward McGoldrick

The Reformer’s Preparation

By the dawn of the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Church had endured scandals and heresies within, and schismatics had attacked it from without. Catholic humanist scholars had criticized the ignorance of the priesthood, the moral laxity and incompetence of bishops and popes, and hostile relations between church and state had punctuated the Middle Ages. Earlier efforts to reform the church had brought no lasting results, and laymen had no voice in doctrinal matters, very little in papal policy. General councils of the church had sought to address specific abuses, but Renaissance popes prohibited further counciliar meetings and reigned as ecclesiastical monarchs.

When the Protestant Reformation began, it included complaints about ignorance, corruptions and abuses of power, but it did not stop there. Under the leadership of Martin Luther (1483–1546), Protestants proposed a radical departure from tradition on the matter of sin and salvation, and in doing so, they defied the whole structure of church authority. Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—became their slogan, as they reexamined the entire content of the medieval church in the light of the Bible.

Germany became the birthplace of the Reformation, at least in part, because, in the providence of God, political conditions there allowed considerable freedom from the

control of the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Germany was the birthplace of the printing press, without which the Reformation might have failed, and the German expression of Catholicism featured an evident discontent with the formal character of traditional worship. Among the Rhineland mystics, for example, there was a pronounced refusal to regard true religion as the proper performance of prescribed rituals. German merchants often decried the financial exactions of Rome, and German scholars resented ecclesiastical interference with their academic freedom.

The time was ripe for the birth of. .. the Reformation, but [its] principles had to be experienced in the soul of some forceful personality before they could become dynamic for subsequent ages. In its main features the Reformation was the experience, not of an individual, but of the Church. Luther was the forceful personality chosen to precipitate the move and give it its substance.1

When reform came to Germany, it was an effort to restore New Testament principles in doctrine and practice. The major influences upon this endeavor came from the apostle Paul and the church father Augustine of Hippo (354–430). The content of...

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