Local clergymen weigh in on Reformation's impact

Jeff Bobo • Nov 5, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Tuesday, Oct. 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” on the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany, which in essence started the Protestant Reformation and changed the world. The Times-News asked some local pastors to talk about how their churches recognized that anniversary and to discuss how the Reformation continues to affect our lives.

Steve Counts, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsport:

“The Reformation touches on the whole course of Western history. It literally changed the world far beyond any consequences that Martin Luther could have ever imagined. Western democracy is largely the result of the Reformation. When you talk about Western history, it’s impossible to imagine it without Luther and the Reformation because it played into the rise of nation-states, which was determinative of the whole course of modern European history. It spurred on exploration because there was a competition for saving souls between Catholics and Protestants. It changed education because the written word of scripture became so central that Luther and other Protestant reformers insisted that laypeople have access to the scripture in their own language. In order to do that, they had to be able to read, so it was a huge boon to public education. I’m a pastor and to me the most important thing is the recovery of the gospel. But from a historical standpoint, it really did change everything.”

Joshua Kilbourne, Church Hill First United Methodist Church:

“Clearly the Protestant Reformation had an impact to recognize the importance of the individual and know that God has given us the ability to think for ourselves and read scripture. Really the idea of the priesthood of all believers plays a big part in our more modern understanding of individual rights and human dignity. Those are the very important things that the Reformation played into. The negative side of it is religious persecution, but then people came here in hope of having religious freedom, be able to read the Bible and interpret it and worship as they choose. ... Luther in his symbolic act of nailing the “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the church at Wittenberg was calling the church to some accountability to their abuses with things like indulgences. I emphasized to my congregation that it’s a message that’s still relevant today. We’re saved through God’s grace and we receive that gift through faith, and then the word of God is our authority. Luther understood that the word of God is important because it reveals Jesus.”

Doug Messer, Hope Community Church, Allandale:

“The outgrowth of it was that Christianity would become personal. Before that, you couldn’t have your own personal relationship with God. One of the things that Luther fought for, or protested for, was to create the opportunity for individuals to be able to know God and worship Him, and a hundred years later, to be able to have their own Bible, read it, and the Holy Spirit would tell them what it means. They could have understanding of it. The whole Reformation, I believe, was to make God personal in individual lives. That doesn’t mean the church isn’t an important part of our lives. But the church is just a resource for being able to bring these things to life in people’s minds. The celebration of this anniversary is just being able to go to church on Sunday, being able to go into Walmart and buy a Bible. Being able to say that “I hear God and He talks to me.”

Sheldon Livesay, Of One Accord ministry, Rogersville:

“We think it’s a very significant anniversary, and in Rogersville the pastors, the area church council, partnered with St. Henry Catholic Church and did a unity service. We prayed together. From the beginning of Christianity until 1517, when Martin Luther nailed those theses to the door, there was only one church and one head. I think it’s a good thing that there are different denominations, although there is some competition and division that has arisen between them. Our prayer now is that in the days ahead we will see churches working together again. Many people came to this country seeking religious freedoms, and despite our difference we’ve always come together against outside forces in defending our common interests. All churches just want to work together and do what the Bible says to do. And we all call attention to the Matthew 25 verses that direct us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, housing the homeless, which should remain our common goal.”