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【Global Glance】Martin Luther- “On the Trail of Reformation”



Celebration in 2017

Martin Luther

All around the world, Churches and Christian organizations are beginning to prepare for a big anniversary which soon awaits us. 2017 is five hundred years after the nailing up of Martin Luther's pontification at Wittenberg. This will be a year of reconsideration, reflection and realignment. But who is the person that split the church half a millennium ago? What caused Luther to start this public decision and what was his real intention?


Upbringing and background of Martin Luther

Martin Luther was born in 1483, and did not grow up in the easiest of circumstances. The world was coming out of the middle ages but there was a still strong belief in the existence of witches, demons, the devil and a strict, punishing and almighty God. He did not finish his apprenticeship as a lawyer and instead entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in 1505 and took his monk's vow only a year later.

In 1507, he was ordained as a priest in Erfurt, he started studying Theology at the University of Erfurt. A major part of his studies had been the study of the Bible in its original languages Hebrew and Greek. He received his doctorate in Theology and started to teach at the Leucorea University in Wittenberg.


Reformation of churches

The two significant principles of Martin Luther’s reformation are “Sola Fide” which means “just through your belief” and “Sola Gratia” which can be translated as “just through mercy”. These two principles are centered on the individuals’ relationship between God and themselves. A human being cannot do justice to God through good acts and the veneration of Saints. Mercy is to be understood as God's present to a believer. It is by no chance possible to earn through good deeds or to buy it with money.

The second principle is “Sola Scriptura” which means “through scripture alone”. During these times only a few people were able to read Greek or Hebrew, the languages in which the Bible was originally written. Followers of Christian belief only had access to what the priest and the fathers of the churches said. Luther wanted all believers to have access to the Bible themselves.

By doing this, Luther challenged the churches hierarchy by question the right of the decision of the fathers of the church and the role of the priests as adjudicators of salvation.  Furthermore these new ideas implicitly criticized the widespread selling of indulgences which were used to generate a great income for the Catholic Church. If mercy was meant as a present of God's love to mankind then buying letters of indulgence were meaningless. In addition, Luther criticized the role of the sacraments other than the baptism, the Lord's Supper and penitence.


500 years on

All of this happened nearly five hundred years ago, but the word “Reformation” itself implies the main fact that makes this event still important for us today. “Reformation” is not something that is simply done at one point in time but is instead a never-ending ongoing process. Five hundred years ago, mankind lived in completely different circumstances. Theirs was a life filled with superstition and the fear of a possible life in hell after death. The reformatory body of thought was also a reply to this and aimed to be a relief of public burdens and sorrows. Nowadays we live in different circumstances and we face different challenges. Ours is a fast moving world of globalization and it is often the case that we lose sight of what we already knew. We tend to strive for our own personal best and for our own success. Material matters might stand above spiritual ones and they can easily get lost in the daily grind.

500 years of Reformation – The world has changed but the content of the Reformation remains the same. Let us take that as a warm reminder of the great present that we have received: No matter in which time we live, we are gifted with love and mercy – free of charge.


International and Mainland Affairs Section, Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong Edited by Lena Bauer (2015 - 2016 German intern from Nuremberg YMCA)