But all of us in the West (whether we are aware of it or not) owe a great deal to the Protestant revolution that Martin Luther began.
It heralded huge changes in national politics as states broke their allegiance to Rome. Our relationship with the written word changed as the Bible began to be translated and printed in the English language. It was the catalyst for independence movements around the world, including the founding fathers of America. Music, arts and culture were all impacted too. Of course, as Nick Page’s article highlights, the Reformation had its downsides, and Martin Luther was far from perfect. You can read several articles and reviews across this edition of the mag tracing the key players and ideas of the movement (p20, p28, p34, p56, p66, p68)
But by far the most important thing the Reformation gave us was the simple, central gospel truth that it recaptured: We are saved by grace not by works.
Somehow, Christendom had taken a wrong turn. People were labouring under the assumption that we had to earn our way into God’s favour. That heaven could be bought at a price. But grace declares that that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less than he already does. He demonstrated that unfathomable love on the cross and he offers us the gift of salvation without strings attached.
That realisation changed Luther’s life and has changed the lives of countless others down the ages.
Yet, 500 years later, most people in our culture (and many within the Church) still have a false perception about faith. Ask most people on the street and they’ll probably give you an answer involving, “heaven is a place you go to if you lead a good enough life”.
It’s not hard to see where they get that idea. The majority of religions are predicated on the idea of doing enough to please God so that he opens the pearly gates. And, in a society where working hard is still the key to success and rewards, people continue to have a hard time grasping the concept of a God who wants us to come just as we are, not as we should be.
Which is why, whether we call ourselves Catholic, Protestant or anything else, the grace awakening is more important today than ever. The world needs grace just as much as it did in Luther’s day, and we are all called, by the God of grace, to reform the world as we go.