Many factors led Martin Luther to pen his 95 Theses in 1517, leading to the Protestant Reformation, and one scholar sees many parallels between Luther’s time and the current one.
Dr. John Kuykendall, president emeritus and professor of religion at Davidson College, spoke at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church on Sunday about the historical vantage point for the Protestant Reformation and the current global climate.
“In 1517, there were a myriad of different revolutions going on,” he said.
Kuykendall outlined seven revolutions.
There was a geographic one. Until the mid-15th century, Europeans headed to the East, but when the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Silk Road was closed, causing the Europeans to travel westward.
There was an economic revolution occurring with the emergence of a money-based economy and things were also changing socially with the rise of a middle class, he said.
Other factors included a political shift with governments becoming more stable. Spain gained strength with the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. Under Henry VI, England saw the War of the Roses end, bringing a more stable political system.
Intellectually, there was the Renaissance, with artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and there was a rediscovery of ancient texts in their original languages and a recovery of literacy, he said. In communications, there was the invention of the printing press.
And within the religious world, there were corrupt practices within the Catholic church, he said.
This, combined with Martin Luther’s own study of the Bible, led him to speak out against what he’d seen as non-scriptural teachings as well as corruption in the church.
Within four years of that first act of presenting his 95 Theses, Luther printed more than 300,000 tracts that laid out his grievances. They were widely circulated and many latched onto his teachings.
Kuykendall said many of these same types of revolutions are taking place 500 years later.
There are geographic shifts with emerging nations that didn’t exist 100 years ago.
Economically, we live in a global market place, he said.
Socially, there’s a “polarization of wealth with rich nations and poor nations, and there’s a great gap,” he said.
Politically, we live in an era of “adversarial politics,” he said.
Intellectually, there’s a literacy gap, especially when it comes to technology. Within the communications sphere, we are constantly communicating, but rarely interacting.
And within the world of religion, there are fewer and fewer who claim to be Protestant Christians, he said.
“There are alarming changes in statistics with the emergence of the ‘nones,’’’ he said.
The “nones” being those with no religious affiliation.
He then posed a question to those gathered.
“If we have another Reformation, will we like it any more than Pope Leo X liked the first one?” he asked.
And he asked the congregation to think about what they’d do to bridge some of these gaps between Protestants and those with other ideas.