HAPPY REFORMATION DAY
-Martin Luther on marriage
Its that time of year again. Way back in 1517, a monk and scholar named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door as many had before, and it started off the Protestant Reformation that changed the world. The story has been told many times (you can read the history here from a previous Reformation Day post), but the blows of that hammer have echoed down through the ages and still reverberate today.
The Reformation changed a millennia of Roman Catholic dogma which had over the years stagnated and become corrupted more and more largely because of its vast political power. Christianity does not prosper or stay true to its essential beliefs with power, it tends to be led astray by success. The reformation was an attempt to return Christianity to its origins and roots and further to think through some aspects of life and faith in the light of the then-modern growing understanding of the world and science.
Out of this movement came many benefits to the world.
The main one is Democracy. While Democracy had a limited form in the past in places like Athens, it was always tainted by slavery and the control of a very powerful elite. The principles of limited government and not trusting those in power were heavily influenced by the Reformation which taught that all men are sinful and corrupted by the fall and hence not to be trusted with too much power. When the founding fathers wrote the US Constitution, they were influenced by this concept as well as the idea that before God we all stand equal.
Related to Democracy is the principle of civil equality. Reformers taught that there is nothing innate in any human that makes them better or worse than any other. Not only are we all equally sinful before God and only saved through His grace, not our virtue or good works, but we are all created as image-bearers of God and of great worth. Because of these principles, civil rights and equal treatment under law naturally follow - and did, as time went on.
MARRIAGE AND SEX
Marriage, sex, and women all were benefitted by the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church taught that marriage was unpious, that sex was sinful (original sin was said to be sex between Adam and Eve rather than Adam and Lilith, put in the garden for Adam to deal with his urges), and that women were the root of sin as wicked seductresses. The Reformation rejected this, noting the Bible's strong endorsement of marriage and command that married couples should rarely go without sex and only with good reason (I'm not making this up; check out 1 Corinthians some time). Further women were treated as a blessing, with wisdom and to be treated with respect and honor. Indeed, in Reformed areas, women were allowed to divorce their husbands rather than requiring them to wait for the man to dump her. They were even allowed to divorce over abuse and abandonment. Reformers also heavily emphasized fidelity in husbands rather than winking at mistresses and adultery - even in Monks and priests.
Women were encouraged to study and write about the world and the Bible. Notable Reformed scholars such as Catherine Parr, Catherine Willoughby, and Anne Locke Prowse all rose from the Reformation and their embrace of women as intellectually capable.
The reformation also created an explosion of scientific study and achievement. Men such as Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Charles Babbage, Lord Kelvin, Michael Faraday, and Samuel Morse were all reformational Christians who saw the world as being a word of God, teaching about His nature and proclaiming His glory. Because of them science grew by leaps and bounds, unhindered by dogma and church inquisition.
The reformation also promoted the idea of educating everyone, because of this view of the world and knowledge. Knowing more of the world means knowing more of God, and further it helps someone read and understand scripture better. Printing copies of the Bible in the common ("vulgar") language of the local people for the first time in human history, reformers such as Luther and Tyndale wanted everyone to read it and thus to be taught to read. The principles of popular education went hand in hand with the reformation, especially reformers such as John Calvin.
Literature also flowered and expanded due to the reformation. Now books could be written by more people as more were literate. Quotes from the Geneva Bible printed by Reformers (the first Bible translated by a group of scholars from ancient texts) are scattered through Shakespeare's works. And of course Bach's music was all signed with one of the reformed slogans "Solo Deo Gloria - SDG - to God alone be the glory." Arts were allowed much greater freedom of expression without fear of punishment for straying from permitted boundaries.
I've written more extensively about the Protestant Work Ethic, which has been widely slandered and misunderstood in our increasingly leftist society and in hateful academia, but it was the basis of free enterprise, the powerful economies of the day, banking, and more. This was a direct result of the reformation, and it transformed the world. The reformed concept of private property, the individual's right to a fair wage for good work, and the principles of ownership all changed the very core of society from the workplace on outward.
Reformers were the first to promote the idea of the individual conscience as inviolate. That one could not be commanded to do that which he believed was wicked, and that one could not be held accountable for the ideas or beliefs they had. As Luther allegedly quipped "I'd sooner be ruled by a wise Turk (Muslim) than a foolish Christian." This is the very basis of liberty: the freedom to be who you are and believe what you wish within yourself without fear of harassment or punishment.
It is not an overstatement to say that Martin Luther is the most influential person in history since Christ, and that his 95 theses changed the world for the better in ways we're still seeing unfold. Celebrate Reformation Day, even if you're not a Christian, because the life you live and the benefits you enjoy came out of that simple act almost 500 years ago.