The Reformation Turns 500: How Luther Shaped Our World

What an INSULT towards the Jewish people for anyone to celebrate Martin Luther and many other “early church fathers” who did nothing more than incite hatred towards the Jews that led to the slaughter of millions if not billions of Jews.

Written by John Stonestreet, G. Shane Morris

On this day in 1517—at least according to tradition—a German monk-turned-Bible-professor nailed a list of debate topics to a church door, altering the course of history.

Now, we don’t know the exact date when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, although he did submit them to his archbishop on October 31. What we do know is that Luther never intended to defy the church or split Western Christendom. When he challenged all comers to a debate on the sale of indulgences—which were essentially a way to buy into Heaven—he wanted to call God’s ministers back to Scripture.

But those ministers resisted. Luther wouldn’t budge, and the result was what we now know as the Protestant Reformation.

Historian Philip Schaff writes that next to the beginning of Christianity, the Reformation was “the greatest event in history.” That may be hyperbole, but not by much. If you worship in a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, or—of course—Lutheran congregation, you’re directly affected by Martin Luther. Anglicans have been affected too, and even Roman Catholics saw reforms within that communion that came about because of Martin Luther.  

And the Reformation’s influence goes far beyond the church doors. Luther’s appearance before the Diet of Worms—that famous moment when he reportedly said, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” has been called “the trial that led to the birth of the modern world.”

Our ideas about free inquiry, democracy, education, and capitalism can all ultimately be traced back to the Reformation.

And the Reformation also reemphasized ideas like the sacredness of all callings, and spheres of authority in human society. In Luther’s mind, individuals and civil magistrates, as well as the clergy, were responsible to read, understand, and obey the Bible.

As Eric Metaxas and I discuss on this week’s Break-point podcast, Luther came to personify the power of Scripture. In his outstanding new biography on Luther, Eric tells how this bold reformer stood at the intersection of the Middle Ages and the modern world, insisting that there is “daylight between truth and power.”

And it was this idea—that God’s written word is the highest authority in the Christian faith, available to everyone—that birthed a still more revolutionary idea: that God Himself admits us into His kingdom by grace alone.

“The Reformation,” wrote the late Episcopal priest Robert Capon, “was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us singlehandedly.”

Now the fallout of the Reformation wasn’t all good, and even today Christianity is plagued with divisions, disagreements, and distortions of Luther’s project. Luther, himself, was far from perfect.

But I’m a mentee of Chuck Colson, who together with Father Richard John Neuhaus brought evangelicals and Catholics together over common cause. I pray and believe that the divisions of the 1500s—which remain real and significant to this day—can be addressed without sacrificing truth, and yet in the meantime, we can treat each other with love and grace, and should work together whenever and wherever we can.

As we mark 500 years since Luther’s initial protest, it’s clear there’s more reforming to be done on both sides of the Wittenberg door. But that’s why Reformation is not just a moment in history. It’s a posture. During the next 500 years, the sound of Luther’s hammer should call us as the people of God to conform ourselves to the Word of God, and ultimately to the Person of God in Jesus Christ.

 

Theologians seek Protestant unity through ‘Reforming Catholic Confession’

More than 500 pastors and theologians have signed a ‘Reforming Catholic Confession’ designed to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation on October 31, 2017.

Produced by a drafting committee composed almost entirely of US-based scholars, the Confession aims to highlight ‘the Reformers’s original vision for Catholic unity under canonical authority’. It says critics of the Reformation often ‘fixate’ on Protestant divisions. However, it says that ‘despite our genuine differences, there is a significant and substantial doctrinal consensus that unites us as “mere Protestants”.’

Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers, 1625/1650© Deutsches Historisches Museum

Its sub-heading is: ‘What we, Protestants of diverse churches and theological traditions, say together’.

The Confession includes sections on the Trinity, Scripture, the atoning work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A section entitled ‘explanation’ stresses the Reformers’ original intentions and defends Protestantism from the charge of being inherently divisive. It says: ‘While we regret the divisions that have followed in its wake, we acknowledge the need for the sixteenth-century Reformation, even as we recognize the hopeful possibilities of the present twenty-first century moment.’ The Confession continues: ‘We therefore aim to celebrate the catholic impulse that lies at the heart of the earlier Reformation even as we hope and pray for ever greater displays of our substantial unity in years to come.’

The ‘explanation’ acknowledges Protestant divisions and says the Reformers ‘sometimes succumbed to the ever-present temptations of pride, prejudice, and impatience’. However, it denies divisions were the ‘inevitable consequences’ of the Reformation.

It says that rather than attempting to replace denominational credal formulations, ‘our statement aims at displaying an interdenominational unity in the essentials of the faith and agreement that the Word of God alone has final jurisdiction’. It urges further conversations and dialogue seeking to ‘achieve greater unity’.

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, who co-chaired the Confession’s steering committee, said that a significant motivating factor of the Confession’s participants is to call the Church to spiritual renewal.

He told the Christian Post: ‘It’s a call for the Church to be the Church in a world that is very much pushing against the things of God in so many different ways, and to believe that God will sustain in the midst of the storms that are all about us.’

George said: ‘I don’t think we can be faithful Christians in the tradition of the Reformation unless we take seriously Jesus’ words and his prayer [in John 17] that his disciples would be one so that the world might believe.’

He said the Confession was ‘a call to recognize that there is a brokenness about us and within us, which we have to pray that God, the Holy Spirit, will heal and mend in our midst. But we don’t think that relaxing into our divisions and accepting the status quo as divinely ordained is the way forward.’

[written by Mark Woods]