Imagine this: what if you could write a post on Facebook that would change the world? Would you do it? What if you knew ahead of time that your one little Facebook post would start wars, that people would get killed, and that you yourself would become a fugitive on the run, afraid for your life. Now would you do it?
That’s what happened to Martin Luther.
It was October 1517, 500 years ago this month, when Luther, a German Catholic priest, got out a pen and paper, wrote down some thoughts he had been wrestling with for a long time, and then with a hammer and nails, tacked his 1517-era social media post (more commonly known as his 95 Theses) to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Doesn’t sound momentous, does it? Who cares if a guy 500 years ago fixed an open letter to his church door? We care because Luther changed the world.
How? Luther was protesting. He believed his Roman Catholic Church had gotten some things wrong. He wasn’t the only protester who felt that way. But he was the one that led a movement to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. Other protesters tried to change the church from within. And some joined Luther in creating a new church.
And then more people started protesting and reforming, thus Luther’s little open letter, we say, led to the Protestant Reformation. Luther and those who came after him in the Protestant Reformation broke away from the Catholic Church, in time starting thousands upon thousands of new churches and denominations along the way. Tragically, war broke out over these factious protestants. Actual military war with soldiers who gave their lives. Luther was a fugitive for a time.
Of course, unlike my question at the beginning of my post, Luther didn’t know the future, that the consequences of his actions would be so dramatic. So why did he do it? What was he concerned about? What was the content of that open letter he nailed to the door of his church? Was it worth it?
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Protest, this month we’re going to look not at what Luther did, but why he did it. Scholars who study the “Why?” of the Reformation sum it up in the Five Solas. The word sola means “Alone”. What Luther believed the Catholic Church had gotten wrong can be addressed by these five. They all have Latin names because Latin was the language of the church for so long:
Sola Gratia is Grace alone.
Sola Fide is Faith alone.
Sola Scriptura is Scripture alone.
Solus Christus is Christ alone.
Soli Deo Gloria is to the Glory of God alone.
Each week in the month of October we will look at the significance of one of these Solas. The Solas can also be tied together in a single sentence like this: We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.
Tomorrow we start by looking at Sola Gratia.