4 Ways the Reformation Changed the Church

Alex Duke | October 23, 2017

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the 9Marks Journal

Martin Luther has a complex legacy. Many laud him as a historical and theological hero—the German reformer who drove a nail through the heart of works-based righteousness. Others lambast him as a derisive, ego-driven anti-Semite. Still others champion Luther as the humanist’s humanist, a 21st-century man liberating personal freedom and reason from the cold clutches of the dogmatic Catholic Church.

This is the kind of stuff that happens after half a millennium, when the tug-of-war between hagiographic fact-or-fiction is won and lost by a slew of different card-carrying demographics: Nazis, evangelical Southern Baptists, liberal historians, and so on. But after reading two delightful works of intellectual history (Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers and Michael Reeves’s The Unquenchable Flame), it’s clear Luther and his fellow Protestant reformers changed the course of church history.

How so? Let me name four ways.

1. It disarmed the ecclesial meritocracy that suppressed the common man.

“Do, or be damned”—that was the calling card of the Roman Catholic Church, willing to anathematize any antinomians who said otherwise. The 16th-century church service, before the Reformation took hold, was a mindless chore, a political…

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