Martin Luther & the Reformation Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Five hundred years ago, a monk named Martin Luther started one of the biggest changes in all of history called the Reformation against the Catholic Church. In this lesson, learn about why Luther wanted to see change, what he did to stand up for what he believed in, and how it created new religions.

Change In The Air

Is there a rule you have to follow that you think is the absolute worst? Maybe it's getting your homework done before watching TV, having to go to bed early, or having to eat vegetables before getting dessert.

There have been lots of time throughout history that people have tried to change the rules instead of following them. When people tried to change really important rules, sometimes it became a problem.

A long time ago in Europe, the Catholic Church was much more powerful than it is now and it ruled everything with LOTS of rules. About 500 years ago, a man named Martin Luther decided he wasn't going to follow them anymore. He ended up playing a big part in what we now call the Reformation, a period of change where many European people adopted new Christian religions instead of following the Catholic Church.

Portrait of Martin Luther in 1525
Martin Luther

Starting Off

Martin Luther was a monk in the Catholic Church. As a monk, he got to see lots of the Church's problems, too, and he wanted to fix some of them.

One of the largest problems was the corruption in the Church system. Even though the Church leaders were supposed to be teaching how to live a good life by example, they often took bribes to do people favors. The Church leaders would also threaten people with excommunication, or banishment from the church and heaven, if they didn't do what the Church wanted.

St. Peter

As Martin Luther studied the bible and taught classes on Jesus' teachings, he began to realize that a lot of the things the Church was doing didn't match up with what the scriptures said were 'right.' Luther came up with the idea of sola fide, which means 'faith alone,' and began to tell others that to get to heaven, all they had to do was believe.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church continued to insist that to get to heaven, you had to do good works and you had to follow the Church's rules. Luther's most famous moment came when he nailed a copy of his criticisms, called the 95 Theses, to the door of a church.

Making Enemies

The Church was not happy. The Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, said that Luther would be excommunicated if he did not go back on his statements. Luther was sent to trial where he said that he would only go back if his claims could be disproved with the Bible.

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