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A dialogue and 95 new ideas

By Joseph L. Bass

Public dialogue is an important element in any successful society. Without it, a society can be led down a false and unproductive path.

Suppression of dialogue by the powerful is nothing new. Wealthy people often benefit from society going down the wrong way. This is an age-old problem that we experience today. Consider the potential for impact on false ideas when correct ones are brought to light.

Tuesday was the 500th anniversary of a call to dialogue that changed the world. Ninety-five very different ideas were proposed for public discussion. The beginning of the challenge, nailed on the door of a church, read as follows:

“Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Luther defended his ideas before the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521. The diet was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire. The purpose of the meeting was to determine if Luther was a heretic. If he were declared a heretic, he would be sentenced to be burned at the stake for expressing ideas contrary to the accepted religious ideas of the time.

Luther was, indeed, declared a heretic and would have been executed for his beliefs. But Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, spirited him away and hid him in the Wartburg Castle.

How were Luther’s ideas different, and how could they be so threatening?

Before Luther, there existed in western Europe one church seen as supreme over all people and nations. The leader of this church considered himself God’s representative on earth and had the power to determine all religious truths. Only the pope and his representatives in the person of priests could forgive people of their sins and provide salvation.

The Pope crowned kings, allowing them to govern over the people. Part of kings’ responsibilities included ensuring that all individuals adhered to the Pope’s religious beliefs. Those identified as heretics were burned at the stake.

Luther’s 95 theses undermined these beliefs. He believed each individual was responsible for reading the Bible and determining his or her own religious beliefs. Salvation was achieved through grace without the help of another human. No human on earth could be placed between the individual, God, and salvation.

Today we know the movement Luther started 500 years ago this Tuesday as the Reformation. From it, Protestant churches were formed; widespread literacy resulted from the importance of individuals reading the Bible; separation of church and state was placed in our Bill of Rights; and political self-determination developed that we know as democracy.

Today our society is going down the wrong path, but sometimes it seems more difficult than even in Luther’s time for new ideas to be expressed.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.