Reformation 500

The Legacy of Martin Luther

Scrupulous, cantankerous, and titanic are words used to describe Martin Luther.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

One church leader snorted, “He is a demon in the appearance of a man!” Another leader pronounced, “He, alone, is right.”

Today, Luther’s inspirational quotes stand side by side with his angry, vitriolic, and bawdy rhetoric.

Suffice it to say, his ideas of reform triggered a turmoil that ended the Middle Ages and commenced a new era. Church historian Martin Marty notes, “He is the last medieval man and the first modern one.”

By unshakeable conviction and sheer dogged personality, Luther exposed wearily accepted religious corruption. Though originally seeking internal Catholic reform, the result became Protestantism.

The global spread of the Reformation demonstrates both the durability of the Gospel and the versatility of Protestantism. Nigerian Pentecostalism, Pennsylvania Dutch Amish, Australian Hillsong, and The Salvation Army are all different from one another. However, they are all Protestant.

The influence of larger–than–life Luther continues to shape our spiritual lives. Theologically, Salvationists may be Wesleyan by heart, but we are descendants of Luther—to the marrow.

Here we stand.


Salvation by Faith
A thousand years before the Reformation, salvation was mediated through the Church, and specifically through the Mass administered by clergy. In contrast, Luther proclaimed that salvation is mediated by faith though Christ, alone.

A key text for Luther is Romans 1:17: “In the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

This Scripture liberated him. He writes, “I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”


Priesthood of all Believers
The idea of grace available by faith directly from Christ to the believer—with no need for priestly mediation—simultaneously disempowered organized religious authority and empowered individuals. Each believer is now his or her own priest.

The impact is immeasurable: mighty Luther opens a door, closed for fifteen centuries, and then a flood of church denominations quickly follows. He stands up to organized religious authority on principle, but in a short time, someone else stands up to him with equal conviction, passion, and principle, and so on.

Today, reputable sources cite as many as 40,000 denominations in the world.


The Supremacy of Scripture and the Primacy of Preaching
The central act in the mystical drama of medieval worship was the Mass. While never compromising the ceremony, Luther urged that the preaching of Scripture should be more dominant.

And so, the Reformation brought the Christian pulpit into the modern age. Robust, scholarly, impassioned Protestant preaching through subsequent centuries is one of the enduring legacies of the Reformation.


Married Clergy
Luther’s marriage to Katherine Von Bora is one of the great partnerships in the reformation story. As forceful as Luther was, Katherine was his equal, and he loved her for it.

Luther believed that marriage was a vocation equally as important as monasticism. And so, as the Reformation spread its global influence, married clergy became a regular feature.

It may have been unintended, but Luther contributed to the rising status of women.


Mission in the Language and Music of the Culture
Luther translated the Scriptures into the German language and composed both the music and lyrics for several melodic hymns. What today seems normal and sensible to us was then revolutionary.

Paul Grime writes, “For a thousand years of Christian worship, lay people had rarely sung. Then came Luther.”  Martin Marty echoes, “Singing used to belong only to monks and priests. But as a result of Luther, lay people erupt in song.”

by Colonel Richard Munn

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