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Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation

Updated Aug 23, 2023
Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation

Thwack! Thwack!
Eight lashes. The sting was tremendous and I cringed, my shoulders sinking lower. The hole in the circle at the end of the stick was designed to raise blisters. I longed to pull my hand to myself and run out of the school as fast as I could.

I glanced sideways and caught a glimpse of "the wolf," my classmate whose job was to tell on everyone. He'd turned me in for speaking German instead of Latin on the playground. The wolf's sneer told me that he was enjoying my pain.

"Say it in Latin," the teacher demanded again, raising the stick to the striking position. "You must speak only Latin in this school!"

I continued to hold my hand out as it swelled, but I held back the tears. If only I could remember the Latin grammar, I would have said it a dozen times, but it was a new language to me and I couldn't string the words together.

I gathered my courage and spoke to the teacher in Latin in my most respectful voice. "Forgive me, Master Heindrick. I would like to remember, but the words escape me."

"Here," he said, shoving a Latin book into my reddened hand. "Take this home and study it. And don't be caught speaking German in this school again."

The Pursuit of God

Even though I hated Master Heindrick's discipline, I loved to learn. My father worked hard to send me to good schools and I wanted to please him.

Every good father in Germany wanted his sons to learn Latin. (Girls didn't go to school.) All of our church services were sung and spoken in Latin. When my family and I attended church, the monks read the Latin Bible, and none of the common people understood a word of it.

My one pleasure in life was my music. I often sat alone in my room or outdoors and plucked the strings of my lute. I learned many Latin chants in the boys' choir at the church. My favorite was the "Magnificat," the wonderful song Mary sang because she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. I wondered if God had some special purpose for my life, too.

The Fear of God

It bothered me, though, that no matter how "good" I was at anything, I couldn't seem to please my father or God. Everyone I knew was afraid of God--too scared to even talk to Him. Even some of the statues and paintings of God were scary looking. I never thought about loving God, and I certainly never dreamed He loved me. Besides, we went to the monks, not God, to ask for forgiveness for our sins.

Some of my friends went to school to become religious monks. A monk had to lead church services in Latin, promise to live in poverty, and never get married. My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I was so glad he didn't want me to be a monk!

The Promise to God

Then one day, something happened that changed everything. I was walking to law school when suddenly the sky darkened and a violent thunderstorm broke out. I was all alone on the road and terribly frightened.

Fierce lightning cracked the sky and bolted from the heavens to the ground right beside me! I flew into the air and landed in a crumpled heap on the ground.

Desperate to live, I cried out a prayer, "Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk." I lived through the awful storm and kept my vow. I felt like Saul in the Bible whose entire life was changed when a light from heaven stopped him on his way to Damascus!

Oh, my stern father was so angry with me! I can't blame him, really. He said that all the money he spent on my schooling was wasted. However, I had made a promise to God, so I joined the monastery. Let me tell you, if someone could earn salvation from hell by being a good, devoted monk, I could! I nearly killed myself trying to be good! I hardly slept, fasted often, recited long prayers, sang in the choir, did lots of chores and gave all my money away. I even gave away my treasured instrument, the lute.

But the longer I stayed in the monastery, the less I liked it. God still seemed to be very much like my old school teacher, Master Heindrick--always ready to strike me to blisters for my sins. I spoke fluent Latin by that time, but I couldn't seem to do enough good things to please God.

The Forgiveness of God

I was feeling depressed about all this one day while studying in the reading room. I was looking in the New Testament at St. Paul's epistle to the Romans when I came upon the Scripture in Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." I suddenly sprang from my chair with greater happiness than I'd ever known!

I realized, in this one flashing moment, that God freely gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Oh, what a relief! What a great hope for heaven! It wasn't my good works that earned me a place in heaven. God would give it as a free gift to those who trusted Him and believed the message of the gospel. I felt as though the gates of heaven had just been opened to me! I was finally able to sense God's love.

The Work of God

Imagine my surprise one day when a monk named John Tetzel began selling pieces of paper to people. He claimed that if they bought that piece of paper called an indulgence, God would forgive their sins. People actually believed they could have God's forgiveness by buying a piece of paper.

John Tetzel wouldn't listen to what I had to say, so I needed a way to make my point that indulgences were wrong. It was a common practice for scholars to write down their positions on religious subjects and tack them on the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church. I decided this was the best way to start the debate on what Tetzel was doing. On October 31,1517, I tacked my 95 Theses, or 95 reasons, onto the door of the Castle Church.

That day, I had no idea that my 95 theses would be the spark that lit the fire of what came to be known as The Great Reformation.


Martin Luther had a big problem: How did he dare stand against a powerful church, long traditions, and great teachers? Yet before God, he felt he had no choice.

There are now about 65 million people in the world who are Lutherans. However, Martin Luther never intended to start a new or separate church. He wanted to see the Roman Catholic Church reformed.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

As a child and young man, Martin Luther thought of God as angry and harsh. When you think of God, what characteristics do you think of?

Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in order to begin a debate on topics he felt strongly about. Can you hold a mock debate in your classroom or in your family? What modern topics would be good to debate?

Luther said, "Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise." He was especially inspired by Mary's song, the "Magnificat." Do you have a particular song that inspires you?

A "defining moment" can be described as an event that changes the course of your life. Can you describe some of Martin Luther's defining moments?

Suggested reading:

Spy for the Night Riders by Dave & Neta Jackson (Trailblazer Books, Bethany House)

("Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation" published on on July 16, 2010)

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/


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