The Times of Martin Luther…
When Christopher Columbus sailed on his first voyage to America, Luther was just nine years old. He was born on November 10, 1483, or nearly 15 centuries after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The teachings of Jesus had been spread far and wide by his first disciples. Other faithful preachers and teachers carried the Gospel to many lands, so that within a few hundred years after Jesus ascended into heaven, most people in Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle-East were Christian. The Christian church did not stay united. In the year 1054 the Christian church split into two large part: the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church; and the Western, or Roman Catholic Church. These two churches are still separate today. Smaller groups of Christians broke away from each of these two main bodies from time to time because they developed different beliefs or ways of worship. Over the years the gulf widened between the two churches, and many questionable practices developed within them. By Luther’s time some of Christ’s teachings were no longer being followed. The Mass had lost much of the spiritual emphasis of the Lord’s Supper. People believed that in the celebration of the Mass Jesus was sacrificed again and that the bread and wine were completely changed into Christ’s body and blood. The people received only the bread, and the priest drank the wine. Christians were led to think of Jesus as being an angry Judge rather than a loving Savior. They were told to pray to his mother Mary, to ask him to be merciful and forgiving. Other saints, rather than God, were on for special help.
Other False Teachings and Customs
The church taught that, even though sins were forgiven, it was necessary for people to make some type of payment to have their sins removed.
For example, people were told to say the rosary many times to make up for doing a wrong (the prayers are counted by means of prayer beads that may also be referred to as a rosary). Since no one, not even the pope, could hope to repay God for all the sins committed during this life, people were taught that after they died they would have to suffer in purgatory for their sins before they could enter heaven (purgatory refers to a place where people are made clean). They were also taught that friends or relatives could get them out of purgatory earlier by saying prayers and making offerings to the church. In addition, people were taught that the more good works one could do in this life, the sooner he or she might go from purgatory to heaven. For this reason people made pilgrimages, or trips, to holy places such as those in Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land. Many people traveled to shrines, where relics of saints, such as clothing, bones, hair or similar objects, were kept. They believed that seeing, touching, and praying before these relics were good works. People of Luther’s time lived in fear of purgatory and hell. Never in their life could they be peaceful and happy. They believed that after death they would have to spend many years suffering before they could hope to go to heaven. They family and friends of a dead person had priests say masses in church to shorten the dead person’s stay in purgatory. Sometimes people left much money to the church so that masses could be said for them after they died. Into a world of such fear and false teaching Martin Luther was born.
(Next month: Luther’s Birth and Boyhood)