The clergyperson who is often referred to as the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in the development of a form of Christianity that pioneered the concept of solar scriptural authority, the priesthood of all believers, and salvation by faith. Beginning his religious career as a monk, Martin Luther went on to become the founder of one of the most enduring of Protestant faiths, with his writings continuing to inform many adherents of a number of Protestant denominations.
Born on 10 November 1483, Luther first considered a career in the study of law. However, his heart simply was not in the task. In 1505, he made the decision to abandon the study of law and enter a closed Augustinian friary, where he embarked on a period of secluded monastic life. In time, it was decided that Luther needed to concentrate less on introspective religious endeavors and more on public ministry. By 1507, Luther was ordained as a priest and began to teach theology at the University of Wittenburg in Germany. At the same time, Luther earned several degrees. By 1512, Martin Luther had become part of the Senate of the theological faculty at the University, serving in the position of Doctor in Bible. This is a position that he would hold for the rest of his life.
Luther’s continue study of the scriptural writings of Christianity, along with the earliest writings of the church fathers, led him to be uncomfortable with what he considered to be unbiblical traditions and excesses in the church of his day. His problems with the direction of the established church came to a head with the appeal of Rome for the sale of indulgences among the flock in Luther’s Germany. This action spurred Martin Luther to draft his famous document, the Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Better known as the 95 Theses, the work not only addressed the practice of indulgences, but a number of other doctrines and traditions that Luther believed could not be supported by an appeal to the scriptural canon.
Luther’s work was quickly distributed through Germany in both Latin and German versions, and eventually came to the notice of the church leadership in Rome. While attempts at reconciliation were made, Pope Leo X eventually excommunicated Luther on 3 January 1521.
The censure of Martin Luther did not end the issue. Free thinkers and other Christians who found a great deal of inspiration in the writings of Martin Luther gathered around him. Eventually, this formed the basis for the creation of the Lutheran Church in Germany. The success of Lutheranism sparked a movement in other places to reform the traditional church, as well as create a number of independent Christian faiths that severed all ties with the leadership in Rome.
While not agreeing on every point of doctrine, the writings of Martin Luther laid the foundation for many of the founding principles of the Protestant branch of Christianity. Among the most enduring of those principles is the concept that there was no need for a ministerial mediator between God and humankind, since forgiveness for sins can be obtained by direct repentance to God. The canon of scripture is the final authority in matters of doctrine and belief. In addition, the church in and of itself is not divine, but rather a human mechanism that helps point people toward the Divine.
Luther continued to offer sermons and author a number of religious works that have remained valuable to many generations of Protestant Christians. Eventually marrying and becoming a father, Luther made his home in the abandoned friary where he first began his meditations, and continued his work at the University. At the time of his death on 18 February, 1546, Luther left behind an enduring church structure and belief system that has influenced millions of Christians, and continues to form the basis for Christian faith and belief for many people around the world.