“Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought”

I just finished a short (230 pages) biography on the life and doctrine and ministry of Martin Luther (1483-1546). I read it as a participant in a staff book discussion initiated and led by my son, David. I’m glad and grateful that I did.

When Luther was born, Europe was under a pervading spiritual darkness of a very corrupt and, frankly, demonic controlled Catholic “Church.” It was a time when the gospel was completely lost, Scripture was utterly obscure, and anyone who sought to resurrect either was punished by death (often by being burned at the stake). Then in 1517, an ordained Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his history-revolutionizing Ninety-Five Theses to a Catholic Church door inside the Wittenberg Castle. While these ninety-five theses didn’t really, in and of themselves, recapture the scriptures and the gospel, the events that transpired subsequent to that did. And it’s a very interesting story that you can read in many church history books and biographies. But the one I just read, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, by Stephen J. Nichols, is short enough and straightforward enough and inspiring enough for me to personally recommend it to you. It’s a nice introduction to Luther and his teachings. And I just ordered ten copies to be available this Sunday in our bookstore at cost if you want to pick one up for yourself.

There are so many little things that inspired me from reading Luther’s story. Just a few things that particularly stuck out to me are:

First, we all owe a great debt to Martin Luther (even the modern-day Catholic Church, which is different in so many ways today precisely because of Luther!). He was someone who stood for the gospel, and with it the centrality of Christ and the cross and scripture, and at an incredible personal cost. The Catholic Church had put out a death warrant for him (their proclamation that anyone who found a way to kill Luther would be forgiven of all their life’s sins), and that death warrant was never lifted. So Luther was constantly in danger and a religious fugitive for 25 years until his death. But he kept preaching, kept writing, kept teaching, and eventually Christianity regained its biblical, Christ-centered, gospel-driven power that swept the world again. And you and I are part of it today, and enjoying it today, in human terms, entirely due to Luther’s profound trials and sufferings and determination. And I was struck just by how much that really is true.

Second, Martin Luther was a Calvinist. Well, that sounds stupid because Martin Luther never met John Calvin, and the bulk of Luther’s teachings, writings and ministry superseded, chronologically, anything ever written by Calvin. And it is indeed a stupid statement. Just as stupid as it is to call anyone a Calvinist. It’s true, Martin Luther definitely believed and taught on predestination and unconditional election. And Luther did so well before Calvin ever did. So why do people associate this doctrine with Calvin, but not Luther? Of course, the reason Martin Luther believed in predestination is the same reason John Calvin did (and it’s the same reason I do): it’s because of his belief in the centrality of God’s word, and the Bible so clearly teaches predestination (for example: Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9, Eph 1:4, 11, just to cite a few scriptures—see my past blogs on Romans 8:28-30). That’s why I actually hate being called a Calvinist, anymore than I don’t want to be called a Lutherist (the term “Lutheran” has already been taken by some people). I don’t believe in the doctrine of predestination because John Calvin did, nor because Martin Luther did, but because it’s what we are taught to be true in Holy Scripture. And that’s the only reason anyone should ever believe and teach it. But a Christian today should take note that, if they do not believe in predestination, they are very much separating themselves, doctrinally, from the likes not just of John Calvin, but also of Martin Luther. And that should at least give one pause.

Finally, I was struck by how much Luther put his money where his mouth is. He believed in the Bible alone being our foundation of truth about God and salvation and life, and he would read it entirely through twice a year! And then he sought to live and teach as if it was true. Even if that meant his death. And he even translated it from the Hebrew and Greek into the common German language of his day (at that time the Catholic Church only allowed the Latin translation, and any exception was punishable by being burned alive at the stake). He preached from the Bible five separate times a week, and lectured on it daily. And he taught that what every believer should strive toward most in their faith is Christ—to love Christ and to love others for/with Christ. Life was not worth living if it meant to compromise loving God and loving our neighbor in any way. And he put his money where his mouth is there too. When the black plague hit Wittenberg, Luther opened up his own home, where he and his family lived, as a makeshift hospital for those struck by the plague. Now that’s love for Christ and love for others. He truly lived the words he wrote in his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

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