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At the end of October the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation began. In Germany on the 31st of October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. This method of communication seems a bit strange or quaint today, but in those days it was a common way of getting your message across, perhaps the equivalent of the modern day internet blog.
The 95 theses were in direct defiance of the Pope at a time when in western Europe there was only one denomination. The Roman Catholic Church ruled supreme and brooked no dissent. You couldn’t simply set up your own church like you would be able to today. You would be swiftly arrested and executed as a heretic if you attempted to. So Luther’s actions were both courageous and necessary.
What do we have as a result of it?
Firstly, the Bible in our own language. The Roman Catholic Church believed the Bible to be dangerous in untrained hands, and so allowed it only to be printed in Latin, the preserve of priests and scholars. The Reformers, however, wanted everyone to have access to it, in order to benefit from its authority.
Secondly, spiritual freedom. Luther attested that salvation is by faith alone. No-one on this earth can forgive sins, and we do not have to go through an intermediary such as one of the saints or the virgin Mary. Instead we can communicate directly to God through prayer, and do not have to earn salvation through good works or religious rituals.
Thirdly, religious freedom and democracy, although these took a long time to come to fruition. Sadly some of the reformers were just as intolerant as the Roman Catholic leaders, but eventually things changed as the monopoly on religion was broken and the importance of an individual’s conscience recognised.
So we can thank God for Luther and other courageous reformers such as William Tyndale (who received no protection and ended up executed), and trust that we also can fulfil His purposes in the time we live in.