On All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), in 1517, a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted a document he hoped would spark an academic debate among theologians, but which instead, ignited a fire that would forever destroy and reinvent the world he knew. This week is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s now famous 95 Theses nailed to the Wittenberg door. He was a wild figure whose adamantine faith cracked the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church and inspired Europe out of medievalism into the modern world. Outside of the life of Jesus Christ, no other single man has so changed the world.
Martin Luther ushered the European world out of the Middle Ages and into the Modern Ages in so many ways. He never dreamed of the revolution he would create by his simple plea of 95 arguments related to Catholic Canon Law. He disrupted the status quo and started a revolution that became unstoppable.
On October 31st, 1517, Luther was only asking for a disputation, a debate, over religious practices. Indeed, the proof is that he wrote his 95 arguments in Latin, the language of the educated, the churchman, and the theologian. The commoner could not understand what he had written.
But the medieval mass media of the time changed all of that. “The Guttenberg Press,” the first movable type printing, had been introduced to Europe less than 75 years before. But someone, and no one really knows who, got their hands on Luther’s parchment, translated it from Latin to German and printed thousands of copies. Suddenly, the masses in Saxony, outlying German provinces and then all over Europe could read Luther’s disputation. A theological and political conflagration had begun.
From a few nails and a piece of parchment in a door in Wittenberg, to the highest halls of power, a revolution had begun. Over the next 300 years, the transformation of Germany, Europe and the new world would be monumental. To name just a few:
- The belief that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone,
- The belief that every person is a priest of his home and work,
- The belief that every person can worship God through his work,
- The belief that the Bible should be accessible to every person in their own language,
- The belief that the Bible is the source of the truth, not just the Church,
- The belief that tribes can be formed into nations and have sovereignty,
- The belief that education should be accessible to all,
- The belief that marriage and sex is beautiful and sacred,
- The belief that each person can stand up for truth against despot regimes.
On this, the 500th anniversary, we are indebted to Martin Luther more than we know.
On the reformation road,
Steve Holt D.D. MA