Tweeting Martin Luther
Martin Luther’s 95 concerns were distributed in printed form and essentially went viral
Martin Luther lived five hundred years ago. He was born at the dawn of the modern era. He became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation. A key technology in birthing the modern era was the printing press.
The printing press also helped drive the Reformation. It propelled the spread of information. This moved a premodern society into the modern era. (A similar change occurs today, as the internet helps us move from the modern era into the postmodern era.)
This printing technology broadcast a message of spiritual enlightenment to a people poised for religious change. We politely refer to the transformation that emerged as the Protestant Reformation, but the word revolution might better describe the spiritual rebellion that followed.
The fuse that ignited this came from a list of ninety-five concerns that this German monk had about the abuse of one specific church practice: the sale of indulgences, which, at the risk of oversimplification, allowed people to buy their salvation. We call Luther’s talking points ninety-five theses. He wrote it in Latin, so the masses wouldn’t know about his concerns.
However, without Luther’s knowledge, well-meaning followers translated his ninety-five theses into German and printed copies for the people to read. This turned his handwritten list into a printable tract, which saw wide distribution throughout the country and spread his concerns to a much larger audience.
Though not all Germans could read German, they could understand it as others read to them. What they heard disturbed them, likely in part because many of them had paid for full indulgences, which Martin essentially outed as a scam.
Then others translated his ninety-five points into other European languages. This spread his message across the continent. Though five centuries prior to the internet, his list of ninety-five theses went viral—long before the information super highway and Twitter existed.The private discussion Martin Luther sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead... Click To Tweet
Outrage ensued. The private, internal discussion he sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead, a revolution resulted.
But Martin never wanted to lead a rebellion or become its figurehead, he didn’t intend his ninety-five points to attack the Roman Catholic Church, and he certainly didn’t mean to spark a revolt.
Martin wanted to work for change within the system. But the laity, now aware of his concerns, were poised to rebel against what they saw as an unsympathetic Church that exploited them and didn’t care about them or their plight. The people wanted a religious revolt, and that’s what they got.
Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book 95 Tweets: Celebrating Martin Luther in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.