Acton Institute Powerblog

Luther’s challenge to the conscience of the West

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Yesterday was Reformation Day, the 501st anniversary of Martin Luther’s issuing the 95 Theses. Luther’s 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation and changed Christianity forever. But the theses has also had an effect on just about every religion in the world.

Joseph Loconte explains what the 95 Theses did for religious freedom and how they have contributed to the formation of the ideal of religious liberty in the West:

The papal bull of 1520 excommunicating Martin Luther from the Catholic Church accused him of promoting forty-one heresies and “pestiferous errors.” One of the alleged errors was his view that “the burning of heretics is against the will of the Holy Spirit.” The point must not be missed: Luther’s challenge to the Church involved not only a disagreement about the gospel and the authority of the Bible. It instigated a profound debate in the West about the rights of conscience in matters of faith.

Luther did not address the issue of freedom of conscience in his Ninety-Five Theses, nor did he ever construct a political theory supporting religious pluralism. But his letters and major works leave no doubt that the man who launched the Reformation hoped to revolutionize the entire medieval approach to religious belief—and the responsibilities of individual believers in society.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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