It was October 31, 1517. In the town of Wittenberg, Germany, a monk named Martin Luther posted on the door of the Castle Church a list of 95 Theses, confronting the error and ungodliness in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Theses, he exposed the wrong in the sale of indulgences—remission for sins, and confronted the idea that any man can give—or sell for money—forgiveness for sins, as God alone has power to remit sins. Later, when his writings against the unscriptural teachings of the Roman Church were addressed at the Diet of Worms, and he was commanded to recant his teachings, he spoke these famous words: “My conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and his words at the Diet of Worms had a great impact on Europe, and indeed, on the whole world. Men and women of every rank began to look to God’s Word again as the source of truth, not to traditions made by men. In returning to God’s Word, they saw that salvation comes not by works of penitence and self-depreciation, or by paying money to the Church, but only by the grace of God in Heaven, through faith in the work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross, where He paid the penalty of sin for all mankind and reconciled man to God. We now refer to this return to the Scriptures as the Protestant Reformation, and it still touches lives today.
The film Luther, made in 2003, follows the life of the German monk Martin Luther, as well as the beginning days of the Reformation. This high budget independent film stars Joseph Fiennes, Jonathan Firth, Sir Peter Ustinov, and Alfred Molina.
While travelling during a thunderstorm, Luther, in terror of the lightning, pleads with God to save his life and vows to become a monk. He keeps his vow; however, even as a monk, he faces doubts about the justice and the love of God. He battles with depression and wishes for a God who loves him, and whom he can love. His mentor, a monk named Johann van Staupitz, encourages him to look to Christ and rest in Him for salvation.
A visit to Rome opens Martin’s eyes to the immorality taking place inside the Roman Catholic Church, as well as to the emptiness of indulgences and the evil in the Church taking money from people while claiming to give forgiveness, which God alone can give, and that freely, through Christ. Soon after this, Martin is sent to Wittenberg, where he digs into a study of the Scriptures. There, he discovers that God is indeed a God of love, and that salvation from eternal punishment for sins can be found, not in works or indulgences, but in faith in Jesus Christ.
Martin begins to speak up about his discoveries in the Word of God, and openly challenges the Pope’s selling of indulgences to raise money for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This creates great debate, and Martin must make the choice to stand boldly on the truth of the Word of God, even if it means excommunication, capture, or death.
I ought to be ashamed of myself; I have done little reading on the life of Luther. However, I know that the d greater part of the film follows his life very accurately. That was not hard to do, for Luther’s life really was as exciting as a novel! Inaccuracies (mostly small details) are pointed out in this article under the subcategory “Historical Inaccuracies”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_%282003_film%29
If there is a damper on my being able to complete enjoy the film Luther, it would be the language. There is quite a bit of language that is just not necessary. The “s” word is used in a few scenes in which Luther is rebuking the devil (we often fast-forward these scenes), and some mild language is used here and there as well (some are mixed into conversation and easy to miss, but still there). The Lord’s name is used in vain a couple times.
Luther is rated PG-13 for “disturbing images of violence”. We see a few dead bodies hanging (one is a suicide), Tetzel burns his hand in a fire to illustrate the terrors of hell, one man is burned at the stake (the camera fades out before it gets graphic), and dead bodies fill the Church after the Peasant’s Revolt.
There is no sex or nudity; Luther and his wife are seen in bed, but are clothed. Immorality is hinted at during Luther’s visit to Rome, but not shown.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Luther is a thrilling and challenging movie for a Christian. These days, we often take for granted the multiple copies and translations of God’s Word that we keep around our house, the freedom we have to worship as we believe God has commanded, and the privilege we have to know God’s truth rather than having it hid from us. Luther reminds me of the great struggles men and women went through to overcome the darkness of the Catholic Church and proclaim the truth God has spoken. Luther’s boldness is a challenge to me as I find myself to be such a coward when it comes to declaring the truth.
Interspersed throughout the film are pieces from Luther’s writings mixed in with dialogue or in the sermons he preaches. Perhaps the most stirring of these, for me, is included in his sermon before going to Augsburg. “Terrible. Unforgiving. That’s how I saw God. Punishing us in this life, committing us to Purgatory after death, sentencing sinners to burn in hell for all eternity. But I was wrong. Those who see God as angry do not see Him rightly, but look upon a curtain as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face. If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where He is, there I shall be also.’” What a thrilling blessing it is to reflect on this glorious truth—If we have turned to God in faith for salvation, we need no longer fear judgment or spiritual death. Jesus has indeed made satisfaction on our behalf—taken our place and paid the debt of our sin—so that we might be reconciled to God and live with Him forever, free from guilt and sin and death.
Luther also challenges me to share Jesus Christ with others. Luther sees many people in the movie who are downtrodden by darkness and hopelessness: a boy hangs himself in despair, impoverished and starving people give money for indulgences that mean nothing, many people live with no hope of anything but the same daily routine until they die and suffer eternally. Luther reaches out and points them to Christ, the only true hope. I need to as well—for, just as in his day, so in our day do people live their lives day by day with no hope or joy or peace. We hear of suicides and crimes and broken lives and despairing people everywhere we turn—even among the people of high standing whom we look up to as a culture. We cannot pass these people by without heeding the cry of their heart; if we have seen the light and come to know Jesus Christ, we must pass it on to others. We may not affect a whole continent, as Luther did, but each soul we touch counts in Jesus’ eyes.
This is definitely a favorite film of mine, and I have enjoyed renting and watching it with my family in honor of Reformation Day both last year and this year. Besides being a stirring and convicting film, Luther is also very well done. Music, costumes, sets (especially the castles 😉 ), and acting are wonderfully done. And while the movie, being only two hours long, does not cover even half of the details of Martin Luther’s life, it is a great start to studying this great man’s life. Due to the topics covered under “Content Advisory”, I would not recommend this for children under 13. For older teens and adults, however, I highly recommend it for spiritual and educational value and very uplifting entertainment. I would particularly recommend making it part of your Reformation Day (October 31st) celebration. Instead of obsessing over the death and darkness promoted on this day, we may instead rejoice in the life and light God has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and made known to us in His Word!
Note ~ Mild language at 0:34 and 1:24