489 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church at Wittenburg, somewhat similar to posting a notice on a university bulletin board today. I think it’s safe to say that Luther had no idea that these theses would be the “spark that kindled the explosion” of the Reformation. “While these theses are far from expressing the full round of Luther’s thought, they display certain principles which would have revolutionary import” (A History of the Christian Church). Never underestimate the power of ideas with revolutionary impact given the right conditions. The ideas spread quickly thanks to a newfangled invention – the printing press. “The 95 Theses were quickly translated into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be fanned by the printing press. Within two weeks, the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. In contrast, the response of the papacy was painstakingly slow.” Technologies that spread ideas can be dangerously useful. The impulse behind the Reformation is captured by the Latin phrase semper reformanda, which means “always reforming.” Dan Edelen asks:
Too many of us Protestants have capped Christianity at the Reformation. We believe that nothing more can come out of Christ’s Church than what we got out of the Reformation nearly five hundred years ago. In some ways, we’re like the fifty-year-old shoe salesman at K-Mart who once quarterbacked his high-school team to a state championship. Our entirely lives revolve around that day when we threw the winning touchdown. We relive it, revel in it, and on and on. But we let that one event in time become the be all and end all of our existence. It can never get better than that time, nor can we ever let it possibly come close. But oh what we may be missing because we can’t see the opportunities that lie before us today! Don’t get me wrong. I supremely value the Reformation. I also supremely value practicing what we preach and asking if we need a new reformation even better than the old one. Now what church will let me nail that to their door today?