This year marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Reformers have existed throughout church history, but a professor in Wittenberg, Germany, named Dr. Martin Luther created 95 talking points listing what he thought needed to change in the Roman Catholic Church. It is said that in 1517 he nailed these discussion-starters to his local bulletin board—the church doors—and many mark this event as the start of the Protestant Reformation. The influence of Luther and his followers led to many changes. Here are a few of the more subtle ones:
- People shifted holiday gift-giving from St. Nicholas Day (December 6 in most Western countries) to Christmas Eve.
- Church art changed from judgment and crucifixion scenes to those of the resurrection.
- Luther translated the Bible into German for the people—coining some new words in the process. Ultimately, his work led to the common person having access to the Bible.
- Congregations’ spiritual shepherds shifted from celibate priests to pastors, who were and are usually married.
- Church music church shifted from being performed by choirs only to participation by the masses accompanied with instruments. One happy result was the eventual employment of the Bach family. Luther wrote at least 37 hymns, his most famous being “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” If you go to Wittenberg today—which I highly encourage—you can see these words inscribed on the tower of the Castle Church, where now-brass doors bearing the “95 theses” mark the spot where many say it all began.
Want to learn the history behind the Protestant Reformation? A new three-hour series from Christian History Institute titled This Changed Everything explores the story of the people, places, and events that shaped it.
Drawing on expert commentary from more than twenty scholars and clergy from both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, such as Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Frank James, Shane Claiborne, Bishop Robert Barron, the visually rich documentary explores how the Protestant church came to be, where it is today, and where it might go in the future. Renowned British actor David Suchet provides commentary that weaves together interviews and illustrations to tell the story.
This Changed Everything celebrates the fruits of the Reformation while grappling with difficult questions about the legacy of division. Clearly, the medieval church was in dire need of reform, but could complete schism have been avoided? Why does the Protestant movement continue to splinter into ever increasing factions?
Viewers can rent, stream, download or purchase the DVDs of This Changed Everything. My husband and I couldn’t stop until we’d viewed each episode and half of the bonus material—which includes five hours of interviews with experts on topics by category, virtual tours of key Reformation sites, and a 36-page guide in PDF. The content would make for great group discussion.