This traces the impact on the church with the formation of Protestantism and (via Henry VIII) on politics and the formation of the UK Labour Party and more latterly, the divisive politics of the USA. The most critical concept identified by Luther was the ‘priesthood of all believers’, ie that we are free to determine our own beliefs by studying the bible and other writings. This had a consequence not only within the church hierarchy itself but also with secular society in that it encouraged challenge to all hierarchies and authorities. This resulted in the formation of Protestant church from the Roman Catholic as lead by the authority figure of the Pope, the beheading of Charles the First (for religious not political reasons) and may yet undermine US right wing political conservatives.
Luther and his supporters exploited the use for the new technology of the printing press to communicate their view about how one might save one’s soul (through faith alone).
Luther’s 95 precepts were not in themselves, particularly radical but came at a critical time so they acted as a trigger. Dissatisfaction with the church was high, sale of indulgencies made many uneasy with the promise of ‘salvation’ unaffordable, the Bible was not available to the common person and was only read ‘unintelligibly to most’ in Latin, Greek or Hebrew which preserved the power structure of the church and priests to interpret. Luther’s revelation of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ and his consequence translation of the Bible into everyday German not only broke the priests grip on power but unleashed a pent-up grab for power by Princelings anxious to replace the church’s influence. This was not what Luther expected or wanted; he was looking to ‘reform’ the (Catholic) church not replace it nor to turn society upside down in the process. [There is a modern parallel in the publication of A.T. Robinson’s Honest To God in 1963, and Prof L Geering’s subsequent articles in NZ, which also acted as a trigger with wide and unexpected consequences.] Change and the need for reformation is on-going.