Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. Disturbed by the claims made for indulgences (the Roman Catholic Church's grants, for a price, of release from temporal punishment due for sins), Luther wanted to debate the issue of indulgences publicly. The 95 Theses were intended to be discussion points for that debate in which Luther wanted to take a stand against the sale of indulgences. The theses were written in Latin because the debate was intended for a learned audience of clergy and professors. They were soon translated into German, however, and quickly spread across Germany. Although the posting of the 95 Theses is generally considered to be the beginning of the Reformation, these theses are an early work of Luther and do not fully reflect his later positions on other theological issues.


Secular historians view the Reformation as a revolution against the Roman Catholic Church as it had developed during the Middle Ages. In this connection Martin Luther is viewed as the leader of the opposition against a church controlled by a bureaucracy located in Rome. The secular viewpoint suggests that German nationalism fought against the influence of non-German influences. As a result Luther felt compelled to break with the Roman Church and establish a German church.

Historical theologians view the Reformation as the result of a return to Scripture. Martin Luther was searching for peace with a God, whom he viewed as an angry judge. In studying Scripture the Lord led Luther to rediscover the truth of justification by faith alone. Our salvation is not based on our earning God's favor; rather it is entirely the result of God's having forgiven our sins for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. Luther, by the grace of God, moved the focus away from what people do for God to what God has done for all people.


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