The Protestant Reformation was not all great

The Protestant Reformation was not all great.  The Reformation (16th and 17th centuries), initiated by Martin Luther, is credited with the creation of the individual, and fostering the Enlightenment.  This is the usual sketch, and its correct as far as it goes.  I’m going to look at the good parts and the not so good parts.  First, the good parts.*

The good parts of the Reformation

Many people know about Luther’s 95 theses, stuck on the church door in Wittenberg.  In it he attacked the Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which allowed the dead to get out of purgatory faster, a toll road for sinners.  The practice was corrupt to the core.  While his attack on the corrupt church helps explain Luther’s appeal, it is even more important to understand how Luther’s own religious experience lessened the fear that most people lived under five hundred years ago. 

It’s difficult for most of us to grasp Luther’s sense of guilt and dread in the face of an angry God (Marty, loc 105).  Of course, it was not just Luther’s dread, but almost all who believed in the Christian God, which means almost everybody.  People trembled at the thought that when they died, Jesus would judge them, sending some to heaven and others to the fiery flames of Hell, including many who led exemplary lives, but had less than exemplary thoughts.  That includes most of us.  Since God knows our every thought, as well as sees our every act, there is no escape. 

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Can one man change history? Martin Luther

Can one man change history? Martin Luther?  Hitler?

October is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. Or so the story goes.  It might even be true, but there is no need to be overly dramatic.  The church door served as a kind of community bulletin board. 

An angry man

Luther was an angry, troubled man, who brought not just the church, but the medieval world, to the threshold of the modern.  In 2000, Life magazine ranked Martin Luther third among the one hundred most important figures of the millennium (Kolb, p 1).  I don’t think many people pay that much attention to Luther any more, but he was a big deal.

What I can’t figure out is the relationship between Luther’s life and the transformation he wrought, brought, heralded, or led.  Or perhaps it was time for these changes to happen anyway, and Luther just happened to be there.  In any case, the transformation of the world that began in Luther’s era made our world possible. 

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