[3 minute read]
In 1517 Martin Luther, a well-known Professor of Theology and Roman Catholic priest in Germany, started the Protestant Reformation. It was Luther’s intent to reform the Catholic Church, but the ‘powers that be’ at that time would have nothing of it. They excommunicated Luther and burned his writings.
Luther’s writings were published in the form of pamphlets by the many printing presses that had spread through Europe beginning in 1450. Fortunately for Luther, his prince of the state of Saxony, Frederick The Wise, rescued him from certain death at the secret order of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Germany.
Luther’s primary teaching was that every Christian believer could claim his or her own salvation by faith by believing in Jesus Christ personally. His primary scripture text was, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” [Romans 5:1-2]
This eliminated the need for a Catholic Priest to personally forgive your sins and tell you how to conduct your life. It is difficult for today’s believer to understand the impact of this on the believers of Luther’s time. It was enormous.
They knew about Jesus dying on the cross for their sins, the pictorial evidence was all around them in the crucifix, stained glass picture church windows and the priest’s sermons. But the individual taking responsibility for his or her sins in a private transaction with Almighty God was new, shocking, and liberating.
In addition, it started the great literacy movement in Europe so that every believer could read the scriptures himself. The political and cultural revolution that followed was gigantic.
In the past the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor had usually shown a united front to the public. There was one secular leader and one spiritual leader over most everyone in Europe.
Luther smashed all of that. He later realized that he had not expected such an overwhelming response to his writings. However, Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
This was not merely a change in religion. It changed every part of life. It sparked a lengthy Peasants Rebellion. It was an economic and social revolution that changed politics forever and helped birth the modern Republic. When the Protestant Work Ethic migrated to America with its great melting pot and seemingly limitless natural resources it “went on steroids.”
Luther also translated the entire Bible into German and taught the “priesthood of all believers” which included the concept that the life’s work of all Christians should be considered a calling from God.
This gave a new place to the work of God’s people. As a result, the tradesmen and farmers became more productive and could soon live above the basic subsistence level. Since they had a little extra money, they began helping each other in their different callings according to the new Christian teaching.
One merchant craftsman or tradesman helping another became the norm. They would either grant a fellow craftsman a startup loan or agree to receive an ongoing share of his profits as time went on. The lender then had a “share” in the other’s business. An additional lender would then have another share.
Shares began to become common place. Historically, a person’s wealth was in his “stock,” goats, sheep, cattle, etc. Now they would have another kind of stock, the things they made or bought and sold for money. Then there was yet another kind of stock, shares in the business of others.
This, my friends, was the birth of modern Capitalism.
David J Keyser PhD