It was 500 years ago today when a German monk publicly challenged the Roman Catholic Church, the most powerful religion in 16th century Europe.
Martin Luther, a Catholic, made public 95 theses, or statements, about shortcomings he perceived with his church and its pope, with an emphasis on what were called “indulgences,” a method of reducing punishment for sins that was being used as a revenue-raising initiative.
The 1517 event combined religious, political, cultural and intellectual upheaval that would split the power of the Catholic Church in Europe, and spawn “protestant,” or the protest movements that formed the Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist faiths.
The 500th anniversary has been widely celebrated around the Quad-Cities.
Luther’s act came on Oct. 31, the same day as All Hallows Eve, which had origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, and later came to be known as Halloween in the United States.
Some find that juxtaposition strange.
The Rev. Cory and Carla Gonyo, now of Bettendorf, were formerly missionaries with young children in Myanmar, also called Burma, in Southeast Asia. “When we lived overseas the context is different. You have to be on the outside, to see how odd it is to celebrate Halloween,” Carla Gonyo said.
The couple — Cory Gonyo now is pastor at Bettendorf’s First Baptist Church — decided, instead, to celebrate Reformation Day to honor Martin Luther. They subsequently brought that idea to Bettendorf.
Last weekend, First Baptist Church held its Renaissance Reformation, using costumes borrowed from Quad-City Music Guild. The focus was on fun and education, with games based on actual events during the Reformation.
Lutheran churches have noted the anniversary for months. One event, an area-wide ecumenical celebration, was at Augustana Lutheran Church in Andover, Illinois, on Sept. 24, and the other events continued into October in Bettendorf, Davenport and Moline.
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, hosted a concert and music event last Sunday. St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Davenport had a Luther Rose — a seal designed for Martin Luther to express his faith, now seen as a symbol of Lutheran faith — painted on the sidewalk in front of the church and held a special celebration of its German heritage on Oct. 22.
The connection to Germany was experienced by church member, Renee Wade, who traveled to Europe in June. She and her husband were in a tour group that walked the Luther Trail to see where Martin Luther lived and worked, studied and translated the Bible into German. “His story truly came alive for us, and it was an education of a lifetime,” Wade said.
Several dozen wooden replicas of the Luther rose were purchased in Germany for the Davenport event. In addition, St. Matthew put together an informational booklet that was passed out to guests at the anniversary celebration.
Church members shared thoughts on the Reformation as it translates to 2017. “It’s caused us to re-examine what our faith really is, and the tenants we base it on,” St. Matthew church member Nancy Napier said. “We never would have had this, perhaps, if not for Martin Luther.”
“He never realized the ramifications of what he did,” said Sally Morrow, a St. Matthew member.
The significance of the Reformation is recounted by the Rev. Edward Anglin, of New Life Church, Davenport. Luther’s influence was to show others that the way to salvation is not through good works, he said. “His contributions are invaluable and are central tenants to Protestantism,” Anglin said.
That Luther translated the Bible into German to make it accessible to the people is appreciated by Jim Welch, an elder at Trinity Lutheran Church, Davenport. Welch now owns translations in the Hebrew and Greek languages.
Sunday at Park View Lutheran Church, Nancy Schmidt of Long Grove participated in a Reformation Walk and the church service included some of Martin Luther’s favorite hymns and music. The Reformation to her means a time she reaffirmed her choice to become a Lutheran, she said.
The Rev. Peter Hoft, Park View’s minister, sees the pertinence of the 1517 Reformation to the world of 2017, especially through the freedom of expression. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always relevant,” he said.
Byrd Krumbholz of Davenport describes himself as a “cradle Lutheran” from St. Matthew church and he appreciates the celebration as wide-ranging and educational. “It’s a reawakening of the faith,” he said. “It’s been fun.”