500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The event that is marking this anniversary is the nailing of 95 Theses on the Chapel door at Wittenberg (Germany) University on October 31, 1517 by Dr. Martin Luther.  That event started a chain of events that has changed the face of Christendom and, in some ways, the whole world.

The success of the Protestant Reformation would not have been possible without other circumstances in Europe.  Other people had tried to reform the Church, but were not successful, some paying for their lack of success with their lives.  But Luther was helped greatly by the fact that Guttenberg who had invented the early printing press happened to like his material.  Through Guttenberg, Luther’s ideas spread quickly through Europe.

It also helped that the politics of Europe made many local rulers ready to break the hold that the Church had on secular powers.  The powerful Borgia and Medici families in Italy had manipulated the Church so that members of their families held the papacy at critical times between 1492 and 1534.

It was a shake-up time in many areas of life.  Contemporaries of Luther were Copernicus, Columbus, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli and Henry VIII.   Europe was ripe for change, the Church included.  The excesses of greed and lust for power that massacred and enslaved the native peoples of the “new world” while the Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain or faced the Inquisition helped create a need for a new spirituality.

The ordinary people of Europe were ready to hear theologians like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Knox tell them they could approach God on their own without having to go through the corrupted institution that the church had become.  The wealthy and powerful were no more precious to God than the peasant and serf.  God loves us all.

Sometimes we study history so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.  In the current climate of rapid changes and institutional corruption, I study the past and wonder who will rise to become the great Reformers to bring healing to our time.

The success of the Protestant Reformation would not have been possible without other circumstances in Europe.  Other people had tried to reform the Church, but were not successful, some paying for their lack of success with their lives.  But Luther was helped greatly by the fact that Guttenberg who had invented the early printing press happened to like his material.  Through Guttenberg, Luther’s ideas spread quickly through Europe.

It also helped that the politics of Europe made many local rulers ready to break the hold that the Church had on secular powers.  The powerful Borgia and Medici families in Italy had manipulated the Church so that members of their families held the papacy at critical times between 1492 and 1534.

It was a shake-up time in many areas of life.  Contemporaries of Luther were Copernicus, Columbus, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli and Henry VIII.   Europe was ripe for change, the Church included.  The excesses of greed and lust for power that massacred and enslaved the native peoples of the “new world” while the Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain or faced the Inquisition helped create a need for a new spirituality.

The ordinary people of Europe were ready to hear theologians like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Knox tell them they could approach God on their own without having to go through the corrupted institution that the church had become.  The wealthy and powerful were no more precious to God than the peasant and serf.  God loves us all.

Sometimes we study history so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.  In the current climate of rapid changes and institutional corruption, I study the past and wonder who will rise to become the great Reformers to bring healing to our time.

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