The movement that began nearly 500 years ago when a monk posted a list of 95 criticisms of the Catholic Church and its penitential practices and teachings on the doors of a castle church in Germany has had far ranging consequences that continue to shape Christianity and culture today.
“The contributions of the Reformation are really an ongoing gift,” the Rev. Ralph Blomenberg said.
Blomenberg, pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seymour, said the Reformation — sparked by Martin Luther in 1517 — was about much more than clarifying the church’s teachings about salvation and eternal life.
The Reformation also helped transform married life, gender relations and political and economic theory and the promotion of human rights and mass literacy, some contend.
At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, a service of celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will take place at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 605 S. Walnut St., Seymour. The featured speaker is Dr. Dale Meyer, former speaker of The Lutheran Hour and current president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
The service, sponsored by the churches of the Lutheran Mission Federation, will include adult and children’s choirs and instrumentalists. The celebration, which includes a meal after the service, is open to everyone in the community.
Luther was an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Wittenberg, Germany. On All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31, 1517), he posted a list of 95 criticisms or “theses.”
Around the time Columbus sailed to America, there also was a rediscovery of teachings of the Bible. With the posting, Luther invited a debate on teachings of the church he found to be unbiblical.
This movement gave birth to the Lutheran church and almost all other Protestant groups.
The Reformation is recognized by historians as one of the events to mark the beginning of the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. Another would be the invention of the moveable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. That invention allowed for the spread of Luther’s criticisms throughout Europe and beyond.
In addition to reforming Catholic liturgical practices and theology, the ensuing Protestant and Catholic reformations spawned religious wars for the next century and resulted in the political-religious division of Europe into absolute monarchies supported by state religions.
Blomenberg said the Reformation still impacts the world today. More than 75 million people around the world identify themselves as Lutherans.
“Like Luther, we believe the Bible teaches we are saved by grace,” he said. “God gives us forgiveness and life not because we earn it but because Jesus earned it for us (John 3:16).”
Blomenberg said salvation is by faith, but it is not the act of believing, or kind actions or deeds, but having faith in the work of Jesus that saves.
“Christ alone is the reason for our salvation, and Christ alone is the head of the church,” he said. “This faith bears the good fruit of acts of love.”
Lutherans also believe God’s inspired word alone is to be the source of what we believe and teach about God, Blomenberg said.
“Luther translated the Bible into German,” he said. Before that time, the Bible had been written in Latin, the language used primarily by priests.
This not only unified Germany in a common language but also allowed the Bible to be read by the common people.
Some of the other contributions of the Reformation include Christian education.
“Dr. Luther was a pioneer and proponent of Christian education for boys and girls,” Blomenberg said.
By teaching and example, Luther honored the vocations of spouse and parent.
“He criticized the Roman Catholic prohibition on marriage of priests as an unbiblical command, married former nun Katherine von Bora and with her raised six children, to which he was a devoted father,” Blomenberg said.
He said Luther emphasized the preaching of the word and the participation, especially in singing, by the congregation, and he wrote many hymns and translated the liturgy into the people’s language. He also provided prayers to assist lay people in family devotions, such as morning and evening prayer, and encouraged the use of the Lord’s Prayer, meal prayers and devotions at home.
Blomenberg said the ordinary Christian at the time of the Reformation had no certainty about salvation.
“The Church focused less on what Jesus did and more on what the Christian needed to do,” he said. “Luther was terrified of God’s righteousness until he understood God makes us righteous by grace through faith in Christ’s atoning work and that Baptism unites us with Christ in his death and rising and makes us heirs of eternal life (Romans 6:3-5).”
Blomenberg said the “separation of church and state” incorporated in the founding documents of the United States of America is in large part based on Luther’s teaching of the Two Kingdoms.
“That teaching affirms what the New Testament states about the realm of the church and the realm of the state,” he said. “God is at work in each realm with different means and different goals.”
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation writing about the importance of the Reformation 500 years later, said he believes the First Amendment of the Constitution wouldn’t exist without the Reformation.
“As the United States Supreme Court takes up religious liberty cases this term, let’s hope our justices realize that our nation did not come about in a vacuum but rather in a political, economic and religious environment that fostered freedom of conscience — and that includes, per force, freedom of worship,” said Franke, who is a former associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
What: Communitywide service celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Immanuel Lutheran Church, 605 S. Walnut St., Seymour
Featured speaker: Dr. Dale Meyer, former speaker of The Lutheran Hour and current president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis
Want to know more about the Lutheran church and its impact today? Contact one of the Lutheran churches of our community, attend Sunday’s celebration or email firstname.lastname@example.org.