What Did Martin Luther Ever Do For Me?
Today would normally be Road Trip Wednesday, and indeed, there is a Road Trip Wednesday going on over at YA Highway. However, today is also Reformation Day, marking the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses statements against Indulgences to the door of Wittenberg Castle church. Though he didn’t intend it at the time, Luther’s objections turned into a revolution that began the Protestant Reformation.
“So what?” you may ask. And well you might. If you’re a member of a Protestant denomination (Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc.), it was the Protestant Reformation that made it possible for your denomination to exist. If you’re Catholic, the Protestant Reformation affected your church too. The Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) was founded to respond to the Reformers. The Council of Trent put forth doctrinal statements that clarified Catholic doctrine in contradistinction to the Reformers.
If you’re an atheist, or consider yourself non-religious, the Protestant Reformation even affected you. Consider this…
From about the fifth century (perhaps a little before) up to the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church was the official church in the West.* It was the standard of orthodoxy, it controlled the use and interpretation of Scripture, and it held a lot of political power, too. The challenge of the Reformation helped to break the power of Rome. Under the influence of the Reformers, the Bible was made available in languages other than Latin, and made available to everyone. Now the man in the pew could read it for himself and check what the preacher was teaching. People could disagree with Rome on doctrine and not find themselves victims of an inquisition. Indeed, people could reject the Bible completely, and not find themselves burning at a stake.
Now, granted, it took a hundred years or so for much of this to happen. In the initial heat of the Reformation, both Protestants and Catholics were guilty of punishing dissenting opinion. But once the sides settled down, the kind of religious tolerance we’ve come to appreciate today took hold. And I don’t mean the kind of “tolerance” we sometimes see that’s more like “agree with me or you’re a mean and hateful person.” I mean real tolerance, where people can disagree with each other, discuss, debate, and try to persuade–and all in an atmosphere of respect, being willing to agree to disagree, if necessary.
So if you enjoy your freedom to exercise religion, or exercise non-religion, you have something to thank Martin Luther for!