Should We Celebrate Martin Luther?

ReformationWe have just reached the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door and the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Like many, I posted many links to my Facebook page of articles on Martin Luther. My observation is that articles on Martin Luther fell into two groups: those that praised him and called us to celebrate his achievements and those who called us to reject him because some of his unhealthy views.

Those that were critical of Luther were not just Roman Catholics that consider him a heretic who divided the church. Much of the criticism of Luther was aimed at his opinion of the Jews.

Luther had a complicated view of Judaism. He seemed to be rather sympathetic toward the Jews in his early years but became more critical over time. The clearest and ugliest statement was Luther’s The Jews and Their Lies.

I have no desire to defend Luther’s anti-semitism. I will say that we should be careful not to paint Luther as a radical bigot in an age of toleration. Luther was a man of his time and he shared these views with many others. That doesn’t make it right, but we do need to place Luther in proper context.

Without excusing Luther’s view of the Jews (or any of his other faults, as anti-semitism was not the only problem), that doesn’t negate the accomplishments that Luther did make.

Luther called the Roman Catholic Church on some pretty major problems. The selling of indulgences to fund building projects was wrong. Luther also had some good biblical insight on how one becomes right with God. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was an important step in developing biblical literacy.

Because Luther was wrong in certain areas does not make him wrong in every area. We do not have to label him as a complete hero or a complete villain. We can see Martin Luther as a fallible person who held some bad views but who was used to make a significant impact on the church and the world.

Can we celebrate Martin Luther? Without ignoring his faults, we can celebrate his accomplishments.

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