On October 31st, 1517, a German monk by the name of Martin Luther protested the Roman Catholic practice of selling plenary indulgences (a slip of paper that excused the purchaser from paying the debt owed for all of their sins) by writing out a list of 95 concerns. In Latin. This monk, who was also a priest, a district vicar, and a professor, happened to be a student of Scripture and a brilliant man. He took his list to a printer to have copies made and then nailed it to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.
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It was like posting an issue for debate on the university bulletin board. Luther didn’t expect that anyone other than Church officials and university professors would see his list. The document wasn’t a secret–he sent a copy to Albert, the Archbishop of Mainz. He truly wanted to open a debate and inspire change. Martin Luther was certain that if Church officials knew what was happening in his little area of Saxony in Germany, they’d fix it. Immediately.
Martin Luther and the 95 Theses
The thing is, the Church did know. Selling plenary indulgences in Germany was a scheme that Albert of Mainz and Pope Leo X cooked up. They split the money earned to pay for the ongoing work on Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome–and Albert owed Leo X some money after he purchased his archbishopric. It seems Leo X had spent quite a bit of the Church’s treasury in a big party when he was elected. Neither Albert nor Leo X had an issue with a little simony, either, it seemed.
Martin Luther, of course, knew none of that. He just knew that Scripture is clear–we don’t pay for our salvation.
We are saved by grace through faith.
Martin Luther and the 95 Theses would have been a small local issue, or perhaps a broader academic debate among scholars, had it not been for the printer. That sneaky printer.
He translated Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses into German. That document was distributed throughout Germany, then across Europe–translated into the languages of the local common people by printers along the way.
And that changed everything.
Listen to me read the first chapter of When Lightning Struck!.
Martin Luther and the Reformation
The Roman Catholic Church had been in need of reform for quite some time. Church officials had long complained of issues of simony, corruption, broken celibacy vows at all levels of the Church leadership, and plenary indulgences.
Martin Luther’s study of Scripture led him to take issue with more and more teachings of the Church. A prolific writer, he taught Scriptural concepts in books, pamphlets, and sermons. The response was an all out battle. Reformers and adherents to the Roman Catholic Church chose sides and fought over who and what was supreme. It could either be the Pope or Scripture. But not both.
The Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church had been tamped down for about two hundred years before Martin Luther came on the scene. Reformers were often labeled heretics and publicly martyred. But Reformation could not be held back any longer by the time Martin Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses.
Martin Luther’s work and life led to both the eventual reform of the Roman Catholic Church, and the development of the Protestant Church. From there, Christians fought for a continued return to the teachings of Scripture.
Though Protestants don’t always agree on doctrinal issues, we do agree that we’re saved by the grace of God alone, through the faith that He gives us. We agree that Scripture is the Word of God, and the Bible can be trusted to reveal His will to us. We can have a personal relationship with God our Father through the atoning work of Jesus Christ our Savior and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Fun Reformation Resources!
When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther
When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther is an historical novel for teens. In it, I tell Martin Luther’s story in an exciting narrative (written with my adventure-loving boys in mind!). You can download a free 12-week unit study on Martin Luther for middle and high school students. You’ll find that link below.
Teens will learn about the important theological debates and central events of the Reformation, and be introduced to a number of the key players. They’ll come to know Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation. By the time they finish the book, your teens will understand how God used Martin Luther to change the world. His fight for Scriptural truth reverberated across all areas of life–political, religious, and personal. Teens will also recognize that Martin Luther was a man like all other men–imperfect and a sinner. Martin Luther clung desperately to the truth that he was saved by God’s grace through faith.
Though When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther is written for a teen audience, it makes a great family read-aloud. There’s nothing in the book that would make it inappropriate for younger family members. I have a great free discussion guide available for you to use as a family. You’ll find a link below.
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FREE Martin Luther Resources!
The When Lightning Struck! Discussion Guide is perfect for:
- Youth Groups
- Sunday School Classes
- Family Read-Alouds
- Homeschool Christian History
Each chapter has discussion questions and timeline dates to add to the 4-page timeline I’ve included at the back of the guide. There are also short biographies of important figures, and relevant Scripture passages to consider with discussion questions.
- Martin Luther’s life
- Timeline dates
- Biographies of important people
- Relevant Scripture
- Art history
The assignment schedule page for each weeks tells students what to study or write in each subject. In addition to the timeline, there are also vocabulary worksheets and maps at the back of the unit study. Each subject includes book suggestions that should be available at most libraries. Students can also just research subject matter online. There is no purchase in addition to When Lightning Struck! required to use the unit study.
There are notebooking pages available for the history and science subjects. These include both subject-related notebooking pages and biographical pages.
The art history section for each week’s study includes a biography page for an artist, and three notebooking pages with five art pieces by that artist. Students will be able to write about how each piece impacts them, how they feel about the work, and why.
Each week, students will have a writing assignment. There are two pages available for this assignment. Students will also have weekly copywork, either from Scripture (both ESV and KJV are cited so you may choose the version you prefer), or a quote from Martin Luther.
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~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.