Western Civilization was changed forever, for the good. Our world took a dramatic turn toward the better for all. Our world was given new shape and enlightened thought with these events we now remember and ponder anew. Our relationship with God was re-defined and re-established, very much for the better. The reality of “what one man can do” remains astounding. Of course, all this deserves both acknowledgement of the past and analysis for the future.
What was this most noteworthy historical event? The Protestant Reformation. And who was this man who astounds us with “what one man can do?” Martin Luther. And how many years ago? 500.
Let me clarify again here what is sometimes confusing. Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk and university professor in Germany in the 16th Century (the 1500’s). Martin Luther King, Jr., the great civil rights leader in the 1960’s, was actually named after the former.
So, maybe you know a good bit about Martin Luther, or maybe you don’t. Here’s a very short recap.
The only church at Luther’s time in this part of the world was the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was personally tormented with the church doctrine of his day that he must earn for himself the favor of God or come under His wrath and severe punishment.
The Church had developed the teaching that God was an angry judge, and that after one’s death there was a place called “purgatory,” where additional time had to be spent suffering and making further attempts to please and appease God in order to get to heaven. This doctrine was taught with fearful threats and frightening intimidations.
We must also understand that The Church was both the political and governmental power, and that most people were uneducated and simply had to do what they were told. The Bible also was only for the clergy and universities, and only translated into Latin.
Simultaneously, the Pope in Rome was building St. Peter’s Cathedral, the beautiful edifice which stands today. However, in order to help pay for this expensive construction, the Pope issued papers called “indulgences,” which were then sold to people with the promise that there were “extra merits” of Christ, Mary, and the disciples which could be transferred to people and their relatives in order to “buy out” years of purgatory or even hell.
In his study of the Bible, Martin Luther discovered that God is not an angry judge wanting to punish sinners, but rather a loving Father, who loves sinners enough that He sent His sinless Son Jesus to die to pay for all sin. This unconditional love is called grace, and Luther declared that the only thing sinners need do is to have faith in this promise. He also declared that the only authority to establish truth and doctrine is Scripture.
With these Biblical insights, in response to the sale of indulgences, Martin Luther wrote out his 95 Theses (sentences), which challenged the sale of indulgences and asked for debate and an end to this practice.
Now, the 500 year part. It was on October 31, 1517, that Luther went to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, where he was a Biblical professor, and nailed up these 95 Theses. The church door was the “social media” of his time, and everyone would see them.
Perhaps this might have only been a local issue, except for the fact that Gutenberg had invented the printing press, and The 95 Theses were mass produced and distributed throughout Europe, of course also reaching the Pope. The Pope called for a trial where Luther was ordered “to recant,” but he did not. Instead he boldly declared these famous words, “I cannot and I will not recant…here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen”
So, with the posting of The 95 Theses the “fires” of the Protestant Reformation were set. Those following Luther were called “Lutherans,” which Luther never wanted. Then other Reformers followed and eventually we have the multi-faceted picture of Christianity today where relations between Catholics and Lutherans are much, much better.
But it was Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses 500 years ago that gave rise not only to corrected Biblical doctrine, but also to lifting the “common man” into a place of dignity, and releasing the human spirit to soar to new heights for the advancement of all civilization.
For all these reasons we will give thanks to God for the life and work of Martin Luther on this 500th Anniversary. I invite you to join us in a Communion Service sponsored by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and Word of God Lutheran Church on Sunday, October 29, at 10 a.m., to be held at Prince of Peace, 257 Hwy. 314, Fayetteville 30214, between Lowe’s and The Pavilion. Also, tickets for the Oktoberfest at noon that day are available by calling 770-461-3403 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The importance of this anniversary and this Communion Service of Celebration cannot be overstated. Please recognize it in your own churches, and again I invite you to join us here for this historic occasion.
Find Kollmeyer at www.princeofpeacefayette.org