Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Importance of Luther @ 500

The number five hundred is quite common in our world today – especially in the realm of sports. For instance, the initial gauge of a team is how many games it is above or below .500 (in terms of wins and losses). Many races, including one of the most famous races in motor sports (Indianapolis 500) last 500 miles. Baseball players who hit 500 home runs in their career are in a rather rare club. And on it goes.

But 500 years is quite a milestone. On December 31, 1999, the world held its breath to see if every computer in the world would cease to function as we celebrated the coming of Y2K – just the fourth time that 500 years had passed from the time we recognized the birth of Jesus. Few markers stand the test of time – either in actuality, or in importance – over a period of 500 years. Once such marker is the Reformation, which “officially” began 500 years ago this week on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses (challenges) against the Roman Catholic Church. Many have been introduced or had their understanding expanded by studying/reviewing this over the past few months. I am no exception. As I have considered the importance of the circumstances, and the events and people which followed, I am working toward a conclusion that I outline here.

Over the past couple of months, as I have been preaching on the five solas and other matters related to the Reformation, I have also been listening to various biographies and stories related to the American Revolution. Perhaps, this combination is why I have been considering the importance of Luther (as well as Calvin, Zwingli, and others) in an overall historical context. For the sake of argument, I am going to use Luther as my focus, but I realize others before him (e.g. Hus) and afterward (e.g. Calvin) were instrumental to the Reformation’s success.

But what of Luther’s significance? Is it possible that in the past 2000 years, he could be considered the third most prominent human figure? Jesus is the dominant figure in all of history and certainly that includes the last 2000 years. I would argue Paul’s influence in the first century (taking the gospel to the Gentiles, and writing approximately one-half of the New Testament books) as a case he could be considered the second most important human. So, who is third? To answer this question, let us take a moment to make a few considerations.

First, unless you are a big fan of history (church or otherwise), you can not likely name many individuals from 100 AD to 1500 AD. Some might say, King Arthur, but no proof exists that he was a real person. Augustine, Mohammed, King Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, and Leonardo Da Vinci are possible names that will surface. But otherwise, unless one has a deep understanding of history and/or knows a list of popes, the names will be few. Definitely, much of this period should be considered the Dark Ages. (By comparison, consider how many names are known prior to 1 AD – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Cleopatra, King Tut, etc. – and that is without mentioning any biblical characters such as Abraham, Moses, or David).

Second, we can look past the Renaissance to a world that includes many well known names from around the world. Americans can look at their money and be reminded of Washington, Lincoln, etc., while Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler, and others are well-known names from Europe. Asia has seen the likes of Stalin, Gandhi, and Mao. Again, we could go on and name others.

But although most of these individuals have names that are better known that Luther’s, it is the impact that matters. For instance, Washington, Lincoln, Napoleon, Churchill, and others in Europe and America would not likely be known at all if Luther had not paved the way for a different form of government, including democracy. The world is certainly smaller due to technology, but without Luther’s influence to empower individuals (particularly with the Word of God), would the West care, or even know about the East?

Again, I have not finalized my thoughts on this, but as I consider the possibilities, I am beginning to conclude that Martin Luther may be the third most important person (let alone Christian) to have lived in the last 2000 years. We must not worship Luther for his actions, but we must be thankful and honor him for taking a stand when and where a stand was needed. Again, not many aspects of history stand the test of time, but I suspect that in another 500 years, Luther’s name will still be recognized whereas some of those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs will be forgotten just as so many from 1500 AD and prior have been lost to us.

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