Martin Luther was born in the German town of Eisleben on November, 10th, 1483. He ignored his father’s wish for him to become a lawyer and instead entered an Augustine monastry in 1506. The Augustinians based their lives and theories on the work of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), who was one of the most productive writers of early christianity. Luther’s career went quite well and in 1508 he was appointed professor at the Wittenberg University.
It was in that capacity that Luther nailed his now famous Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. His intention was to get a debate started about several practices of the church that he was convinced were unbiblical and unjust. Still, he never intended to initiate a church reformation that would result in many new denominations being established. Most importantly, Luther disputed the validity of indulgences, which were kind of remissions from future (temporal) divine punishment for sins. Put differently, they were tickets that get you a place in heaven or at least keep you out of hell.
Luther’s most important message
The most important message that Luther wanted to deliver was that the biblical ‘good news’ is that Jesus has died for our sins. All that we need to do is faithfully accept God’s gracious gift. That’s it. We do not need to give our best to satisfy God. We do not need to try to achieve our own salvation. In fact there is nothing we can do to climb up to God.
As the trade in indulgences shows, everyday practice in Luther’s time was quite different. By supporting the system of indulgences the church actually made people think that they were somehow masters of their own destinies. Wrong, Luther said. The Bible shows us that God somehow needs to come down to us and help us out. You’ll get nowhere on your own. But God did help. He has sent Jesus. Faith then, is all you need. Faith unites people with Jesus Christ and restores the relationship with God. This was Luther’s core message.
The protestant reformation
Luther’s writings quickly spread across the German countries. His work turned out to be the start of an impressive reformation of the church in Western Europe. The argument between the reformers and the church leadership eventually got so out of hand that new protestant denominations were established with no links to the Papacy in Rome. The Lutheran church became the dominant denomination in Northern Germany and Scandinavia. Migrants from those countries later brought Lutheran thought to other parts of the world like Northern America. Today Lutheran churches are among the largest protestant denominations worldwide. Over 80 million people are members of a Lutheran congregation.
Lutheranism in The Netherlands
A small country in Western Europe The Netherlands nevertheless has had an enormous influence on the spread of christianity. However, the Lutheran church has always been very small in the Low Countries. The southern part of The Netherlands has always remained a predominantly Roman Catholic area while churches in the northern provinces are mostly reformed churches in the Calvinist tradition.
Most of the Lutheran congregations in The Netherlands were originally founded by immigrants from Germany and from Scandinavia. The majority of them settled near Amsterdam. Today there are about 12,000 Lutherans in The Netherlands. After a long and intense process the ‘Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of The Netherlands’, as the denomination was officially called, partnered with the largest Dutch reformed churches to become the Protestant Church in The Netherlands (PKN) in 2004. On the national level the Lutheran church ceased to exist. Local congregations, however, remain quite independent and still retain their Lutheran flavour in the mosaic of protestant churches.