Rev. Jeffrey Courter

Marking the Protestant Reformation

Published Oct 21, 2017 at 4:00pm

The last Sunday of this month, the 28th, Presbyterians will celebrate what we consider to be the beginning of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which was initiated when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door of Wittenburg.

While Presbyterians are not Lutherans, John Calvin was emboldened to join Luther in leaving the Church of Rome, writing his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in 1536. (Presbyterians trace our roots back to Calvin, and at one time were called “Calvinists.”)

The Reformation started as a reaction against what were thought to be impurities of the Church, urging a return to piety and personal religious practice. It started what became a growing movement away from the institutional authorities of Europe towards an emphasis on the individual believer.

Luther’s famous statement, “Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me,” was his proclamation that his own conscience and belief were more important than that of the institutional Church.

Today, we are all in some way children of Luther – our Constitution affords us freedom to follow whatever religion we want, or to follow none at all. Confidence in institutional religion has reached a low point with younger generations, perhaps because of how faith has become associated with political parties recently. Luther himself became very political, involved with the German princes in revolt against the Holy Roman Empire.  

It took the 30-Year-War to bring religious tolerance to European Christendom after Luther; we should learn from this lesson about tolerance and peace.