In October of this year 2017, we mark the 500th anniversary of the day an obscure Christian monk named Martin Luther posted a scholarly document in Wittenberg, Germany. The document questioned certain practices of his church.
It was an unsettling time. Armies from the Middle East threatened Europe. Less than a century before, the city of Constantinople, the ancient bastion of eastern Christianity, had fallen to Muslim Turks. In a few years time, Turkish armies would lay siege to Vienna, Austria, and do so again late in the next century.
Even more disturbing were new ideas spreading through a recent invention, the printing press. Pamphlets and books, including Luther’s ideas, were now produced more cheaply and with lightning speed compared to the old way of copying manuscripts by hand.
The explosion of ideas created challenges to established ways of doing and thinking. The gatekeepers no longer functioned.
Tragically, war and conquest too often became the answer to these new thoughts. Rulers, anxious for political power, usurped religious ideas as a pretext for their own ambitions, unleashing great suffering.
Today’s internet age shows remarkable parallels to Luther’s time, but we don’t have to choose the ways so often chosen then. It’s not a zero sum game. We can reason together, gleaning the good from our old culture, while allowing new growth. We don’t have to agree on everything.
Changes have come, and they won’t go away, any more than they did in Luther’s time. How we use them is our choice.