Five hundred years ago a professor in Germany, who was also a monk, nailed a paper with ninety five points of discussion to a church door. In so doing he lit the fuse on an explosion that became the Reformation and changed the course of history.
Martin Luther was struck in his conscience by what he saw as abuses in the way the Roman Catholic Church of the time was practicing its faith. He was alarmed at what he understood was God’s revealed will in the Bible as opposed to what the RC Church was doing. He bravely wrote down his Ninety Five Theses in order to start a debate in the hope that the Church would listen and respond by correcting those abuses. Instead he met the full force of the Church head on and was kicked out of the Church.
But his courageous protest set in motion a process that split the Church down the middle. The establishment hunkered down and strengthened its defences, while all across the then known world people flexed their theological muscles and broke away and formed their own independent factions. Lutherans, Baptists and Calvinists and in due course Anglicans! In England Henry VIII wanted a divorce and so going with the fashion declared UDI from Rome and the Church of England was born. Something of a dubious start for what is our established Church, but there were enough learned theologians to keep it on track.
Meanwhile the RC Church undertook to look at itself and the abuses were addressed. The RC Church today has regained its integrity and is no lesser than the breakaway groups.
Today one estimate is that there are twenty-five thousand different Christian denominations in the world. It is one reason why I shall be having a break early next year to look at Christian unity. Jesus prayed that believers should be as one, so has something gone wrong? It is a challenging question and may not be an easy journey!
On this 500th anniversary of the kick start for the Reformation a number of those Christian groups have over the last week been nailing their own notices of protest to cathedral and church doors about how they feel that even the breakaway churches have gone wrong. But the point is that protest is something we take for granted today in a democratic society, and is something Spain is struggling with at the moment. It has many outlets as diverse as Pussy Riot in Russia to the recent protests in our communities to the way our education system is being dismantled by economy cuts. It could be said that we all owe a lot to Martin Luther!