Laypeople were critical partners for Martin Luther in the Reformation. Five centuries on, read here about Luther’s league of ‘ordinary people’ who were extraordinary in the courage of their convictions.
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Luther was concerned about people – including the ordinary folk he preached to in the parish church of St Mary. He saw how people were being fleeced by the trade in indulgences, hence the 95 Theses.
When he discovered the gospel in its fullness, he proclaimed it in bold, clear and colourful language.
Luther wanted people to understand that life under the gospel is a new and wonderful way of life – not about trying to earn God’s favour, nor about serving yourself. This understanding was, and is, truly liberating and empowering.
For Luther, there are not two classes of Christians: a holy elite doing God’s holy work, and the ordinary people. No. In Christ we are all one holy people, justified by grace and servants of God in the priesthood of the baptised. In Christ we are all free and at the same time bound to serve one another.
It is no wonder laypeople in the Lutheran movement soon began to show the fruits of faith in notable ways. Let’s consider four examples.
First, there is Katherina von Bora, Luther’s dear wife. She escaped from the convent she lived in from childhood in a fish barrel, so the story goes. Coming to Wittenberg seeking a new life, she blossomed as wife, mother, and manager of the family home, garden and a farm. Not least, she had to care for her high-maintenance spouse. Luther praised her as ‘the morning star of Wittenberg’.
Our second example is Philip Melanchthon, the young scholar who came to Wittenberg and became a theologian and Luther’s right-hand man. He was a layperson and steadfastly refused theological degrees and honours. His greatest achievement was as principal author of the Augsburg Confession, the document that became the charter of the Lutheran church.
Then there were the seven Lutheran princes and two mayors who courageously signed the confession. In signing their names, they were risking their lives.
In the arts, there are some stand-outs too, most notably Luther’s friend Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach was a distinguished renaissance painter and printmaker in woodcut and engraving. His art adorned Luther’s German translation of the Bible. His work was important for communicating the faith in an age when many people could not read.
What wonderful encouragement for living the Christian life is given to us by Luther and his ‘Luther league’ of faithful lay people!
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