When Christianity was young, the church was pure and holy. In the time of the apostles until about 100 years after their deaths, the Gospel of salvation through Jesus alone was preached with power and in purity. The white horse of Revelation 6:2 represents this period. But compromise and error crept into the church. About 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity had been corrupted by false teachings and looked like it might die. In Revelation 6:8, this period is represented by a pale horse whose name is Death.
One of the errors that had come into the church was celibacy. The church had started teaching that only unmarried men could be priests. In order to become a minister, priests took a vow, promising they would not marry. Some think that it’s a sign of holiness to stay single and serve God and the church. This idea seems to have come from a false teaching that came from an ancient Greek mystical religion called Gnosticism.
But this is not the main reason that priests were not allowed to marry. The church was concerned that priests would put church property into the hands of their children and wives when they died. The church didn’t want priests’ families to inherit church property so in 1074, Pope Gregory VII made a law requiring that priests take a vow of celibacy.
Celibacy goes against God’s plan for humanity and for His church. (See Genesis 2:18 and 1 Timothy 3:2.) When Jesus was on earth, He chose disciples and made them teachers and ministers. Likely, most of the apostles were married men. In fact, Jewish laws required that priests and members of the Jewish council be married men. Jesus’ disciple Peter, whom the Roman Catholic Church claims was the first pope, certainly had a wife (Matthew 8:14).
Many horrible scandals regarding unmarried priests were well-known in Luther’s time. Priests, monks and high-ranking church leaders had affairs with women. The famous indulgence seller Tetzel himself, a Dominican monk, is said to have travelled with his son. Tales of the terrible treatment of women and their illegitimate children resulted from the church’s rule of celibacy.
It should be no surprise therefore, that one of the first reforms to be put into effect was the rejection of celibacy by priests in Germany. A priest named Feldkirchen declared, “The obligation of keeping God’s law compels me to violate the traditions of men.” Feldkirchen was the first priest to get married. The archbishop called for Feldkirchen’s arrest. Feldkirchen lived and ministered in Frederick’s territory and Frederick protected him.
A second priest, Seidler, also married. Unfortunately for him, he lived in Duke George’s territory. Seidler was arrested and soon afterward died in prison.
Melanchthon and Carlstadt taught at the university that priests and monks should be free to marry. Luther heard of it and was appalled. “They will not force me, at least, to take a wife!” he exclaimed. As Luther considered the sinful practices that went on in some of the monasteries, he began to see that even monks should be free to marry.
Luther could see, however, that the vow of celibacy was not the only problem with the monasteries. Luther believed that monasteries existed as a form of works and he knew from experience that without faith, monks even in their monasteries were spiritually lost. Becoming a monk was no guarantee of salvation, since no one could be saved by works.
Luther called for the overthrow of convents and monasteries. He said the devil lived in such places. Instead, Luther wanted the monasteries to be converted into schools.
Luther’s father had been very angry when Luther left his law studies and entered a monastery. Luther wrote him a letter, telling him that he’d been right in wanting to rescue him from the place. He said that God Himself had rescued him and that although he might still look like a monk on the outside, he was no longer a monk on the inside. “I am a new creature, not of the pope, but of Jesus Christ.”