Born in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483, Martin Luther went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible alone is the rule and norm for our knowledge of God, and that only Christ’s atoning death is sufficient for our salvation.

This was in stark contrast to the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of good works, including the purchase of indulgence to buy one’s release out of purgatory, as being necessary for salvation. Neither purgatory or works righteousness are Biblical concepts.

For his effort Luther was summoned to Augsburg Germany in 1518 to answer charges of heresy at a diet (assembly). For three days Luther and the Cardinal Thomas Cajetan debated their positions about the efficacy of indulgences.

On November 9, 1518 Luther’s writings were condemned as being contrary to the Church’s teaching and a year later condemned as heresy. In July of 1520 Pope Leo X issued a papal bull (public decree) that gave Luther 120 days to recant. Luther refused and on Jan 3, 1521 Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Once again Luther appeared before a diet, this time presided over by Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Again Luther refused to recant and offered his famous defense, “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.” On May 25 Charles ordered all of Luther’s writings to be burned. Luther hid in the castle at Eisenach for the next year where he began his translation of the New Testament into the German language.

The documents of the Reformation including the Augsburg Confession, The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, The Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord are assembled in a volume we call the Book of Concord. These documents are also called the Lutheran Confessions and articulate what the Bible teaches about major doctrines of the Christian Church as we understand them from the Bible. All ordained pastors of the LCMS subscribe unconditionally to the content of the Lutheran Confessions as part of their ordination oath.

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