In its two-thousand year history Christianity has faced many challenges that forced changes in its belief or organization. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges occurred when Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on that parish church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, putting the church hierarchy in distant Rome on notice that Christendom was facing a crisis. (Jackson) .
For centuries the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of its role in the world and its perception of the world beyond Rome, were becoming less and less compatible with actual conditions. Society had been changing in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance was dramatically transforming the way in which people looked at the world around them, and more importantly, how they looked at themselves and their place in the world. .
The pace of change was not rapid, but it was relentless, and the church in Rome had not kept pace with events. Church leaders were out of touch with the common people, and unable or unwilling to admit that all was not well in Christendom. Corruption had worked its insidious way into the ranks of the clergy, and alienated many of the common people, who recognized base hypocrisy when they saw it. External factors such as emerging nationalism, and other economic and political factors contributed to the growing tension between the church and its followers. That tension could only be resolved by reform from within, or revolt from without. .
In support of his action, Luther declared that he could not submit his faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it was clear as day they had frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless he was convinced otherwise by the testimony of Scripture he could not and would not retract his beliefs. (Kirsch 271) .
Internal factors such as Martin Luther's stand on the indulgence controversy and external factors such as the recent invention of the printing press led to the rapid circulation of his writings, which in turn sparked smoldering discontent with the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy into raging flames.