This October 31 is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. He had no idea that day that he was sparking a titanic revolution; he hwritten everything in Latin and all he wanted was a lively debate with his fellow monks. It didn’t turn out as he expected, and the world is much different now because of what he believed. How different is the world? What did his Reformation give us?
1. Mass literacy, massive Bible translation, and free schools for the public. Because Luther believed that everyone can understand the Bible without the aid of specially trained clergy, he believed everyone should have the Bible in their own language. This is why he translated the Bible into German, basically creating the modern German language. And Protestants ever since have believed in getting the Bible into the language of almost every language and tribe on earth. So, if you have a copy of the Bible in Swahili or Uyghur…you can thank Protestsnt missionaries inspired by Luther. Also, the idea of free schools for everyone? Thank Luther (and later the Pilgrims and Puritans who borrowed his idea). Everyone needs to be literate…so they can read God’s Word. And that’s the idea that created public schools, folks!
2. Congregational singing, exegetical preaching in the common language, and a pastoral family. Before Luther most singing in worship services was done by the priest and a trained choir. Luther believed everyone needed to sing. He even wrote songs based on scripture so everyone could learn truth while singing (his most famous hymn being “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). Luther also brought back the centrality of preaching the Word of God. Instead of picking out a verse here or there and spiritualizing it to mean whatever, he believed in preaching through whole books of the Bible, one verse at a time, following the normal rules of grammar and historical context. And Luther married Katherine von Bora, thus establishing what a Protestant Minister’s first ministry should look like. Rather than just talking about marriage, Luther lived it out and modeled it before others.
3. Representative, limited government. Luther believed that the Bible taught no intrinsic spiritual distinction between the pastor or parishioner. He believed in the priesthood of all believers…all are equal before a holy God. And no human authority, whether it is a king or cleric has any right to forbid you from following God as your conscience dictates. As Luther said while he was on trial: “My conscience is held captive to the Word of God”. Well naturally people all over Europe started thinking, “if we are all equal, and even the king has no power over my conscience, then maybe there are things the King has no authority over?” And that’s where we get this idea of limited government. The king is not above the law. He is equal to us all, as we are all equally accountable to the ultimate King–God Almighty. And if we are all equal, then maybe…just maybe we can govern ourselves and elect our own representatives? You see where this is going.
An invading army can be stopped, but not an idea whose time had come. It was time for Martin Luther.