What is Luther’s Legacy?

This entire month we have been celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Tomorrow will be 500 years to the day when Martin Luther sparked the Reformation by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Many of us know him for that epic act. Yet, what is the lasting legacy of Luther’s life and ministry five centuries later? Dr. Stephen Nichols see at least five main points of Luther’s legacy:

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  1. The solas. When we remember Luther, we cannot forget these foundational tenets of his theology. There is sola Scriptura, the doctrine that Scripture alone has final authority, and that Scripture guides and governs us. Then there’s sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus, in which we learn that salvation indeed is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Finally, Luther teaches of soli Deo gloria, that all is for the glory of God alone.
  2. Reform of church practice. Although we talk about his reforming of theology, we also must acknowledge Luther’s reformation of church “methodology.” Imagine showing up at church and feeling the desire welling up within you to sing praises to God. But you can’t—you have no hymns in your language, and there is no congregational singing in the service. Before Luther, this was the norm. So, when you stand up and sing a hymn and you join your voice with the other voices of the congregation in lifting praise to God, you can thank Martin Luther for restoring congregational singing and hymns to the life of the church.
  3. Preaching. Before Luther, the church service consisted mostly of the Mass, that is, the Lord’s Supper. There was an occasional homily during Advent or Lent, but preaching of the Word was not of central importance. Luther introduced the weekly sermon, where the pastor studies the Word of God and then brings that teaching to the people of God so they can be nourished and can grow as Christians. Sounds familiar, right? But what is widely accepted as obvious now was not 500 years ago.
  4. Family. Before the Reformation, there was not a high view of the family within the church, and Luther helped to redeem marriage and the family and helped to bring marriage and the family to a prominent place. Through his own family, his relationship with his wife, Katie, and to his children, he modeled what a Christian family looks like.
  5. Vocation. Luther had what we would call a “high theology” of vocation. He believed that whether you have some high church office or you have the lowest menial job, every kind of work can be viewed as a calling. Before Luther, it was only the monks, the nuns, and the priests who had a calling; everyone else simply worked in apparently “unholy” jobs. Luther helped us realize that all that we do can be for the glory of God as we serve Him through our vocations.

Those are the five points of Luther’s legacy that Nichols outlines. However, he says that there is really one, true, fundamental, and underlying point to Luther’s legacy, and that concerns the Word of God. He says, “There is a statue in Eisenach of Luther holding a Bible and pointing to it. I think Luther would prefer that the statue be of the Bible holding Luther, pointing us beyond him to pay attention to the Word of God. That is Luther’s legacy, because it is the Word of God that abides forever.”

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