"It was a dark and stormy night..." and so the story of Martin Luther the Reformer began.... But the bolts of lightning in the darkness of that night when Martin Luther prostrated himself before God were more than the storm Luther sought to escape. Although it is not "politically correct" to refer to the "Dark Ages," in the recently released movie—Luther— Martin is called a "star" rising out of a very dark time in Christian history. Luther appears to be one of the "stars" in the hand of Jesus to enlighten true Christians (Rev. 1:20). Even though the film did not specifically emphasize justification by faith (Rom. 1:17)—it certainly advocates a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as the basis of our Christian faith.

The number of Protestant Christians who will see the movie Luther may not be great. Catholics have been warned against seeing it. And certainly it is a bump in the road to ecumenism since the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" by Lutherans and Rome was signed October 31, 1999.

Earlier attempts to reform the church of Rome by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and John Hus came short of the dramatic success Luther would achieve. Graphically portrayed in Luther, the Reformer responded powerfully to the practice of selling "indulgences."

It was nearly a century after the invention of printing. Men were beginning to think for themselves. The public sale of indulgences by the authority of the Pope for the purpose of raising money for the completion of St. Peter's Cathedral at Rome—and particularly by one John Tetzel, a Dominican monk of notorious character—aroused general indignation. Responding in 1517, Luther nailed his famous "95 Theses" to the door of the Church at Wittenberg and launched the Reformation.

Perhaps Tetzel is gone, but the Papacy still provides indulgences for those looking for justification beyond the blood of Christ. Notably, people will remember "The Great Jubilee of 2000" when indulgences were publicly encouraged for saving souls from Purgatory.

As incomplete as Luther's personal work of reform was, it was nevertheless a landmark effort in facing the corrupted Church of Rome and its raging abuses. The work of Luther and others brought western society a step away from the intoxication of a Church which fraternized with emperors such as Constantine and kings such as Charlemagne. Nevertheless, Luther's own conservatism and his need to cooperate with the princes of Germany continued church-state union abuses. However, the most serious abuses were later dismantled during days of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era when the heavy handed persecuting power of Rome was broken.

Under the bold leadership of Luther, Zwingli, Carlstadt, Melanchthon, and others, a Reformation movement progressed—albeit beset by many hindrances. So the Reformation pressed forward the utter repudiation of priestcraft and the various superstitions and errors of the Dark Ages, back to the primitive simplicity and purity of the apostolic church—both in life and doctrine.

While hiding for ten months in Wartburg Castle under the protection of Elector Frederick, Luther translated (1534) the Bible into a more readable form of the common language of the people. This alone was a revolutionary act, in defiance of Rome, but it met with the support of local secular rulers.|

The people encouraged by Luther (as well as by some others) gathered in associations and drew up their grievances against the oppressive practices of princes and landlords in a petition called the Twelve Articles. This was followed by episodes of the armed Peasants' Revolt. Although sympathetic to the grievances of the peasants, Luther was also attentive to the privileges and duties of the nobles. Luther called on the authorities to suppress this revolt without mercy.

Although the film does not show Luther calling the Church of Rome as Antichrist—it does portray Luther as refuting the Pope as the one built upon the Rock Christ—instead of the true church itself. But, in fact, by 1520 Luther was very specific in identifying papacy as Antichrist. (History of the Christian Church, Phillip Scahff, vol. VII, ch. III sec. 48).

Luther and others of that time, though still befogged by the errors of Antichrist made remarkable progress out of the darkness toward the full and clear light. When all the circumstances of their time are appreciated, it cannot be denied that they were remarkable men, and that they not only took a courageous step, but a long step in the right direction.

In the movie, the liaison of the Church of Christ with the worldly kings and princes was vividly enacted as though it was the Kingdom of God on earth. The pure virgin Christian Church in reality did not wait for Jesus Christ to return. Instead, she united with the kings of earth to set up an apostate Kingdom. Perhaps if Luther would have understood that Antichrist was not just the Popes—but the Pope with the Church of Rome—he would not have compromised himself with the German princes. Sadly, Luther's dependence upon the German princes led to yet another brand of church-state cooperation and fornication.|

The German princes, on the one hand, were glad to be freed from their abject bondage to Papacy and, on the other hand, glad to escape the growing tendency of teachings such as Zwingli's. They recognized in the teaching of Luther and Melanchthon a way of escape from both, which would still preserve their powers—and even increase them. From expediency, therefore, many of the German princes embraced the Lutheran cause, which prospered, while the more thorough reformers and their works went down. So while Luther identified the "mother of harlots" (Rev. 17:5), he did not see the daughters that followed her.

Why didn't God forward the greater and purer views? it may be asked. Because it was not then due time. Slowly, after centuries have passed, thinking people will admit that Zwingli and Carlstadt were much nearer the truth, much more thorough teachers of reform than Luther. D'Aubigne (History of the Reformation, vol. 3, p. 243.) upon this subject, cautiously but forcibly remarks: "Notwithstanding his opposition to Papacy, Luther had a strong conservative instinct. Zwingli, on the contrary, was predisposed to radical reforms. Both these divergent tendencies were needed. If Luther and his followers had been alone in the work, it would have stopped short in its progress; and the principle of reformation would not have wrought its destined effect."

The impact of Luther's challenge to the Church of Rome came after sincere attempts to reform abuses he believed were damaging the Church. By far, Luther's greatest contribution to the Church was his shining of light on the doctrine of "Justification by Faith." In spite of all his other imperfections, his work opened the way for a reformation movement which far exceeded the work of his predecessors. By the time the impact of Luther's influence was complete, the world would also see revisions in social, political, economic as well as religious reform. By the end of the 18th Century the Dark Papal System which Luther valiantly confronted would be humbled first by the people of France —the citadel of the Church of Rome—and eventually by Napoleon.

Luther's name and the Protestant Reformation are virtually synonymous. The need for that reform was great—and certainly he was a bright shining star for his time. But today as the storms of the nighttime of sin ravage the whole world, we need to correctly understand what many Christians have known for centuries—the identity of the Antichrist! Let us remember that Luther already identified the Antichrist system.