With a hammer in one hand and a large scroll under his arm, Martin Luther approached the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He paused to take a couple of nails from a pouch hidden in the folds of his dark woolen habit; he then began pounding his 95 Theses to the church’s heavy wooden doors.
Even though the date was October 31, 1517, Luther’s protest was not against ghosts and goblins or children dressing up to trick-or-treat. He chose All Hallow’s Eve because it was the night before All Saints’ Day, a day when most of Wittenberg’s inhabitants would be in church.
It was good advertising.
Today, let us pause to remember and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the event that not just split the church, it also changed the world. Here are a few examples of the impact Luther and the Reformation had in addition to the split in the church:
- Protestantism birthed secular democracy
According to many historians, the Reformation de-emphasized the power of institutions. As religion became more of a private and individual thing, the bonds between church and state began to weaken.
- There was a major shift in church architecture
Unlike Catholics, who adorned their churches with stained glass windows and religious icons, Protestants favored a minimalist approach. They believed the ornate architectural elements distracted worshippers from their personal relationship with God.
- Luther paved the way for social media (loosely speaking)
If noticeboards were the 16th century equivalent of Facebook or Twitter, Luther might be said to have created the world’s first “viral” media campaign. Technical innovation was key to his success — thanks to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, Luther circulated his 95 Theses swiftly through his town.
- Luther gave us “contemporary Christian music”
A singer, flute and lute player himself, Luther wrote several hymns and inaugurated congregational singing in church. Luther saw the emotional power of music as an opportunity to engage ordinary people with their faith.
- The Reformation began the empowerment of the women’s movement
Prior to the Reformation, women were regarded as a lesser creation. But when the Reformation allowed clergy to marry, this idea slowly began to fade away…very slowly. Eventually, clergy wives began to share in pastoral duties which h paved the way for women clergy.
Happy Reformation Day! And may your heart be strangely warmed.