An Orange Order perspective on the Reformation
As part of the ‘500 Project’ we have asked a range of contributors from across the spectrum to stimulate and challenge our thinking. We won't always agree with all they write, but that’s the point. This piece is by Robert Campbell, Deputy Grand Chaplain of the County Antrim Grand Orange Lodge.
When an insignificant theology lecturer from a backwater university posted a series of points for discussion on the notice board of his town, no one could have imagined that Christendom was about to be turned upside down, especially when his ideas were neither new nor novel.
But that is exactly what Luther's protest of 31 October 1517 did. He was seeking to commence a debate about the perennial question of how your sins can be forgiven. Luther's methodology to a modern audience may appear rather odd - an act of high drama. He was however following normal academic practice of writing out points - or theses - making them public and then (hopefully) sparking debate. Luther had already publicly lectured and preached against indulgences - but this protest took on a life of its own when it was taken down, translated into German, and then widely circulated.
Several unconnected but interrelated events converged in 1517. The Dominican monk and indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel arrived at the edge of Wittenberg while Luther's long time struggle with the question of where a sinner can find forgiveness of sin was being answered as he studied Scripture. Luther was keenly aware that salvation was not in personal performances or acts of piety.
Thus Tetzel's ministry and indulgences were antithetical to Luther's ever more refined understanding of God's grace. For Martin Luther - the pastor of a congregation - 'Indulgences' were a money making racket wrapped within an elaborate theological charade. Such practices live on - just watch satellite television and with little effort you'll find plenty of so called evangelicals - who for the right donation - will pray for your health, wealth and prosperity. Then, just as now, it was the financially poor and the spiritually desperate that were preyed upon.
Erasmus of Rotterdam - no friend of the Reformation - summed up the wider perception of Luther's protest:
"[He] attacked the pope in his crown and the monks in their bellies."