Luther and The American Revolution

It may be Halloween to you, but October 31, 2017 is a much more important date to many people around the globe, and perhaps more important to you than you may realize. This Halloween marks 500 years since Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg in Germany. He did this to protest the sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (raising money for renovations to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), but his action became more than he probably ever could have imagined. Before you contemplate Luther’s impact, let’s take a moment to consider the context of his action.

The Catholic faith is based on salvation by faith and works (James 2:14). However, Luther continually had trouble accepting this premise because he believed any works he did as a sinful mortal fell short of the divine gift of Jesus. The theory behind indulgences was that the saints had stored up more than enough works for everyone, and support to the church would allow the lesser believers to benefit from these previous good works. However, this explanation did not convince Luther. Finally, Luther reconciled his mental dilemma with other scripture that every Lutheran today can summarize without hesitation – “We are justified by grace through faith,” part of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

At the core of Luther, he believed that as sinful beings, we cannot earn salvation; Jesus brought it to us as a gift if we accept his generosity. This is the basis of the theological debate between Luther and Catholic doctrine. However, beyond doctrine he also had a profound secular impact that we too often take for granted: the emphasis on literacy and the individual.

Luther believed salvation to be a personal acceptance of the holy gift provided by the sacrifice of Jesus. The institution of the church cannot bring salvation; it is a gift and must be found by the individual. The scriptures, not the pope, serve as the central authority for our understanding of this gift. Therefore, it is crucial that every individual read the Bible to grasp the reward described within. As a result, he began translating the scriptures into German so that all Germans could read the teachings of Jesus with their own eyes. This belief coupled with Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type printing press of a half-century before brought an explosion of literacy to Europe. Everyone, not just scholars, should read the Bible, and now everyone could put their hands on a copy. They only needed to learn how to understand the words, so education became essential to Western society.

Of course, I could go on and on for several more paragraphs about the impact of this German monk who expressed his dissatisfaction to the world, but these two may be the most important of all. The doctrinal dispute brought Protestantism to the world, and this religious movement brought individualism to the forefront of life’s fulfillment. If you wish to understand how this new notion began to flourish and shape the world, think back to early 1776 when Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet went to the presses and became the hot, must read for colonists. In the end, the primacy of the individual triumphed over the institution of government in the American Revolution.

#history #education #Luther #Martin #95Theses #DeanDohrman #Catholic

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