How the Reformation Changed the World


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How Luther Reformed Marriage and the Family

Martin Luther, the German Reformer, is generally remembered as the theological professor, the Bible translator, the writer, even as the composer of hymns. However, Martin Luther was also a husband and a father of six children. He provided the church its first and most prominent example of a pastoral family.

While still a celibate priest, Luther wrote extensively on marriage. He saw marriage as an institution in as much crisis as the church - and no less in need of reform.

Martin Luther was a leading defender of the dignity of women and the foundational importance of marriage. Luther placed the home "at the centre of the universe." His teaching on marriage and the family (and his personal example) were so radical and so long-lasting that it profoundly and permanently altered the home.

If his innovations don't seem so radical to us, it is because of his success in establishing these principles as Christian ideals.

For a thousand years, the single, celibate life had been upheld as the Christian ideal. Sex, though grudgingly permitted inside marriage, was not to be enjoyed. As the Church father, Jerome, declared in the 4th century: "Anyone who is too passionate a lover with his own wife is himself an adulterer."Augustine advocated sexual relations within marriage to be without emotion and primarily for procreation. A catechism of the Catholic Church written in 1494, applies the third deadly sin (impurity) to married people enjoying sex within marriage.
Martin Luther, however, declared war on Greek philosopher Aristotle's depiction on women as "botched males". Luther also criticised Jerome, Cyprian, Augustine, Gregory and other Church fathers for "never having written anything good about marriage."

Luther and the first generation of Protestant Reformers rejected this tradition of over a thousand years, of ascetic sexuality - in both their theology and their lives. The Reformers rejection of the celibate ideal of the Middle Ages was as great a revolution in the home as their teachings were in the Church. Luther literally transferred the praises and esteem that Christians had traditionally heaped upon the celibate monks and nuns, to marriage and the home.

Luther described marriage as the only institution where a chaste life could be maintained. He insisted that "one cannot be unmarried without sin."

"Marriage pervades the whole of nature". Luther taught that nothing was more natural and necessary than marriage, "for all creatures are divided into male and female."

Luther actively encouraged fathers to remove their daughters from convents.

Protestant towns and territories dissolved the cloisters and nunneries and freed women from the sexual repression, cultural depravity, dominance by male clergy and Catholic practices. Wherever the Reformation succeeded monks and nuns who wished to marry received automatic permission to do so.

Luther had a high regard for the ability of women to shape society by moulding its youth and civilising its men through the institution of marriage.

"A companionable woman brings joy to life" Luther wrote. "Women tend to and rear their young, administer the household and are inclined to compassion. God has made them compassionate by nature, so that by their example men may be moved to compassion also."
Luther also wrote: "People who do not like children are swine, dunces and blockheads, not worthy to be called men and women, because they despise the blessings of God, the Creator and Author of marriage."

"Love begins when we wish to serve others." There is no better school for humility and for loving sacrificial service than marriage and parenthood.

Luther wrote that his entrance into the monastery was "a cowardly act". He saw marriage and fatherhood as an essential requirement for effective pastors. Luther had six children (Hans, Elizabeth, Magdalene, Martin, Paul and Margaretha).

Luther urged parents to always discipline their children with forethought and caution, taking into account the unique personality of each. He taught that: "no power on earth is so noble and so great as that of parents."

Luther also wrote: " There is no bond on earth so sweet nor any separation so bitter as that which occurs in a good marriage."

"A wife is easily taken, but to have abiding love, that is the challenge. One who finds it in his marriage, should thank the Lord God for it. Therefore, approach marriage earnestly and ask God to give you a good, pious girl, with whom you spend your life in mutual love. For sex alone establishes nothing in this regard; there must also be agreement in values and character."

Because of the importance attached to companionship in marriage the Reformers endorsed, for the first time in the Western Christendom, genuine divorce and remarriage. Although they viewed marriage as a spiritual bond transcending all other human relationships, a marriage could definitely end this side of eternity and a new one begin for separated spouses. "Christ permits divorce for adultery and compels none to remain unmarried thereafter; and St. Paul would rather have us remarry than burn now with lust and later in hell."

The Protestants, in contrast to the Catholics, generally permitted divorce and remarriage on five grounds: adultery, willful abandonment, chronic impotence, life-threatening hostility and willful deceit. The Strasbourg Reformer, Martin Bucer, declared that no proper marriage exists where affection is not regularly shared and where all conversation has ceased.

Protestant marriage courts did not permit divorce and remarriage to occur without first making every effort to re-unite the estranged couple and to revive the dead marriage.

However, the Reformers held that the community formed by husband and wife was so fundamental to society, that when all conversation, affection and respect between a husband and wife had irretrievably broken down, it could not be allowed to continue.

The marriage bond was so important that one had to fight to save it, and failing success in genuine restoration, the marriage should be recognised to have come to an end.

Never before had women been empowered to divorce abusive husbands. Women from all over Europe fled to Protestant areas, particularly Geneva, to find protection and freedom from abuse.

Luther wrote: "Women have narrow shoulders and wide hips. Therefore they ought to be domestic. Their very physique is a sign from the Creator that He intended them for the home." Luther also wrote: "In domestic affairs, I defer to Katie, otherwise I'm led by the Holy Spirit!"

Luther's wife, Katherine, was smuggled out of a cloister, hidden in an empty herring barrel.

She became a model housewife and an accomplished businesswoman. Luther dubbed her: "the morning star of Wittenberg" as her day began at 4:00am. Even in his last will and testament, Luther revolutionised the home by ignoring the prevalent practice of appointing a male trustee to administer the estate. Luther directly designated his wife Katherine "heir to everything."

Luther wrote: "It is impossible to keep peace between man and woman in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other's faults, but watch everything to the smallest point. For who does not at times offend?"

Luther's home was described as "half home, half hotel". The Luthers housed up to 30 people in their home at a time - students, orphans, the sick and former monks and nuns. Even on his wedding night, Luther couldn't refuse a person in need. At 11:00pm, after all the guests had left, the radical Reformer and critic of Luther, Andreas Karlstadt, knocked at the door. Karlstadt was fleeing the Peasants' War and needed shelter. Luther took him in.

Luther not only made the Bible part of the daily routine in the home, but he also made the singing of hymns central. He played the flute and the lute, and led his children in singing hymns of praise.

He also introduced the Catechism to explain the faith to children, incorporating Scripture memorisation in the daily routine.
Perhaps it is time for us to recognise Martin Luther as the true and original founder of Focus on the Family.

Reforming Worship

Congregational singing remains one of Martin Luther's most enduring legacies.

"Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise," wrote Luther. "I am not of the opinion that all arts are to be cast down and destroyed on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics suggest. On the other hand, I would gladly see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him Who has given and created them."

Luther himself was a well-trained musician with a fine voice. He played the lute, composed intricate hymns and was well acquainted with the work of the leading composers of his day.

"I always love music; who so has skill in this art, is of a good temperament, fitted for all things.

We must teach music in schools; a schoolmaster ought to have skill in music, or I would not regard him. Neither should we ordain young men as preachers, unless they have been well exercised in music."

Luther insisted that we are to "praise God with both word and music." "God has preached the Gospel through music." The common people need to hear and sing the Word of God in their own language, so that they might be edified. (Before the Reformation such singing as had been done in Churches was in Latin and sung by choirs).

"Let everything be done so that the Word of God may have free course." Luther loved to cite examples like Moses who praised God in song following the crossing of the Red Sea, and David who composed many of the Psalms. "Music is a vehicle for proclaiming the Word of God" declared Luther.

Urging pastors to write German hymns based on the Psalms, Luther advised "use the simplest and most common words, preserve the pure teaching of God's Word, and keep the meaning as close to the Psalm as possible."

Luther wrote a variety of hymns, intended for Church services and for devotions at home. To teach the Catechism, he wrote two hymns on the Ten Commandments, a hymn for the Apostles' Creed, one for the Lord's Prayer and others for baptism and the Lord's Supper. Through these hymns, Luther demonstrated his on-going desire to teach the Faith, especially to children.

In 1527, during one of the most trying times of Luther's life, (he suffered severe illness for 8 months of that year) with his entire body in pain, the plague had erupted in Wittenberg and he watched many friends die.

Then his own son became ill. Even though his wife was pregnant, Luther's house was transformed into a hospital. During that horrific year, surrounded by sickness and death, Luther took time to remember the 10th anniversary of his publication against indulgences.

A Mighty Fortress is our God, based on Psalm 46, was composed during this time of severe trial. It has endured as one of the most popular and most translated hymns in history: "And though this world with devils filled, should threatened to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed, His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim? We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure, one little Word shall fell him."

Luther made singing a central part of Protestant worship. He dispensed with the choir and assigned all singing to the congregation. Luther would often call the whole congregation into the church during the week for congregational rehearsals so that the people could learn new hymns.

"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." Psalm 150:6

The Reformation and Science

Modern Science as a discipline is a fruit of the Reformation. As Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method, once put it: "There are two books laid before us to study; to prevent us falling into error; first, the volume of the Scriptures which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power."

Historian Robert G. Frank points out: "The predominant forms of scientific activity can be shown to be a direct outgrowth of a Puritan ideology."

The great astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630), the founder of Celestial Mechanics declared: "My wish is that I may perceive the God whom I find everywhere in the external world in like manner within me." Kepler was a "brilliant mathematician and astronomer, he contributed to the scientific revolution with his work on the planetary orbits, laws of motion and the scientific method. Kepler's accomplishments formed the foundation of modern theoretical astronomy."

Kepler saw astronomy as a glimpse of God's glory. Kepler argued: "Truth in religion is based on the Word of God in Scripture, while truth in natural science is based on evidence and reason."

Kepler viewed all of science as man attempting to "think God's thoughts after Him." Kepler was the father of the modern satellite, and of modern space travel.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the father of calculus and dynamics, was a scientific genius and a dedicated Christian. Newton formulated the theory of gravitation and the laws of motion. He discovered that white light is composed of the colours of the spectrum. He made vital contributions to mathematics, astronomy and physics.

Newton maintained that there were two key sources of knowledge - one revealed in the Bible and the other revealed in nature. Newton believed that in order to "truly know the Creator, one must study the natural order of things." Newton dedicated his life to know the Word of God (the Bible) and to know the works of God (creation).

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) made vital contributions to mathematics and technology that helped with the development of the computer. Pascal invented the first adding machine. In his honour, a computer language is named after Pascal.

Charles Babbage (1792-1871), the father of modern day computer science, described the world as a great computer, and God as the programmer. Babbage was essentially a mathematician and regarded mathematics as the best preliminary preparation for all other branches of human knowledge. He believed that the study of the works of nature, with scientific precision, was a necessary and indispensable preparation for the understanding and interpreting their testimony of the wisdom and goodness of the Divine Author.
Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872) was the man responsible for the development of the modern telegraph and the Morse Code. This was one of the greatest innovations in the world of communication. Samuel deeply absorbed his family's Calvinism, which he eventually translated and applied to all his scientific work. In 1844, he astonished the US Congress, gathered in the Supreme Court chamber, by sending words from Numbers 23:23: "What hath God wrought?" The first inter-city telegraph line in the world communicated these Words of Scripture to inaugurate this great invention. Morse, as an inventor, saw his work as a service to the Lord. He laid the foundations for the development of modern communications.

In the realm of physics, Sir Michael Faraday is acknowledged as one of the greatest scientists of all times. He discovered electro-magnetic induction, without which we could have no motors or engines. He invented the generator. Faraday was a devout Christian who declared: "The Bible, and it alone, with nothing added to it nor taken away from it by man, is the sole and sufficient guide for each individual, at all times and in all circumstances. Faith in the Divinity and work of Christ is the gift of God and the evidence of this faith is obedience to the commandments of Christ."

Lord Kelvin, one of the greatest scientists of all times, formulated the metric temperature scale. He formulated the science of thermodynamics, giving us the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Lord Kelvin was the first scientist who used the concept of energy. He declared: "With regard to the origin of life, science positively affirms Creative power."

Joseph Lister, the English surgeon who developed antiseptic surgery and the use of chemical disinfectants, stated: "I am a believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity."

Karl von Linnaeus (1707-1778) was the pioneer of modern botany. He laid the foundation of natural history by devising a system of classification whereby any plant or animal could be identified and related to an overall plan. He introduced the method of naming each type of living being with universal terms that could be recognised in any language. He used the Bible to provide the framework for scientific classification of plants and animals.

James Simpson (1811-1870), the founder of gynaecology and anaesthetics, was inspired by the Scriptural passage that God had made Adam fall into a deep sleep before taking the rib from him, to develop chloroform, and pioneer the beginnings of modern surgical anaesthetics. Before this, operations were conducted on conscious patients.

Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), the father of modern oceanography and hydrology, derived many of his ideas from the Bible. He was the first person to chart shipping routes throughout the world, pioneered the establishment of sea-lanes and made possible the laying of electric cables across the ocean floor. Maury was inspired by a verse from the Bible (Psalm 8:8, which speaks of the fish that passed through "the paths of the seas"). Maury declared that: "The Bible is true and science is true … the Bible is authority for everything it touches … God is the Great Architect Who planned it all."

It has been pointed out that science could not have developed amongst those who worship Allah, because of Islam's fatalism. Nor could science have been birthed from Hinduism or Buddhism, because of their belief that the world is an illusion. Neither could modern science have risen in our modern humanistic culture, because of the humanist's belief that life is irrational and illogical. By rejecting the notion of absolutes, humanists reject the very foundation of science. If there are no absolutes in nature, then results in experimentation can only be relative. If everything is relative, then engineering, and other branches of science, becomes impossible.

A proper, philosophical base for investigating the universe was needed, and only the Christian doctrine of Creation has provided that base. The Creator established Laws for people and Laws for the natural world. A created universe was expected to have design, order and purpose. Man using his created, rational mind, could study this ordered universe in a rational way and seek to discover its laws. Modern science is based upon this assumption of scientific law. In addition, the moral laws given by the Creator established the ethical basis for science. Scientists must be honest and truthful. If this universe were not created, if it is merely the product of chance, then no intelligence would be involved. There could be no reason to expect such a universe to operate in a rational or consistent way. Man's mind would also be the product of chance and would not be capable of reason or logic. Hence, a materialistic philosophy could not provide any foundation for science. Many ardent atheists dominate science today, but they are working off the foundations and pre-suppositions of Christianity.
The irrefutable fact is that Christianity gave birth to modern science. The scientific revolution began in the Protestant Reformation and the Bible played a vital part in the development of scientific discovery. Every major branch of science was developed by a Bible-believing Christian. The Bible essentially created science.

When we get into a car, start the engine, turn on the lights, drive to hospital, receive an anaesthetic before an operation, and have an effective operation done in a germ-free environment, we need to remember that we owe it to the Reformation. As Isaac Watts declared in his great Christmas carol: "Joy to the World", Jesus makes His blessings flow "far as the curse is found."

"No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as, the curse is found."

The Reformation and Education

The phenomenon of education for the masses has its roots in Christianity. Christianity is a teaching religion. The greatest universities worldwide were started by Christians in fulfilment of the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The roots of education for the common person goes back to the Reformation, and, especially, to John Calvin.

"The modern idea of popular education - that is, education for everyone - first arose in Europe during the Protestant Reformation." (Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld - Is Public Education necessary?)

American educator, Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, came to Christ through reading Calvin's Institutes of the Christian religion. As Blumenfeld did his research on education, he found that, when it came to the concept of education for the common man, all roads led to Calvin. It was as he read the primary documents, that he came to place his faith in Christ.

"Wherever Calvinism has gone, it has carried the school with it and has given a powerful impulse to popular education. It is a system which demands intellectual manhood. In fact, we say that its very existence is tied up with education of the people." (Dr. Loraine Boettner - The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination).

Calvin's Academy at Geneva was the model for many of the early colleges and universities established by the Puritans and their successors in America.

Calvin advocated that the purpose of education is for people to know God and to glorify Him as God - that in our vocation and in our life we might know "the knowledge of God, the Creator and Redeemer." The content of education must begin with the Scriptures, and continue into God's Creation.

In Geneva, Calvin promoted education for everyone, which has become the pattern for our day. When John Knox fled from Scotland and sought freedom from persecution in Geneva, he declared that Geneva had become the greatest school of Christ since the time of the Apostles.

Calvin emphasised the importance of education having moral relevance. Calvin also was insistent that it was the parents' responsibility to educate their children. Therefore the control of education should remain with the parents.

Of America's first 126 universities, 123 were Christian. This included Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

The Reformation also produced some of the greatest works of literature. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was one of the world's greatest writers. Scriptural quotes and Biblical images from the Geneva Bible permeate Shakespeare's writings.

Similarly, John Bunyan (1628-1688) gave the world one of the greatest novels ever written - Pilgrim's Progress. This parable of the Christian life is one of the all-time most published and widely read books in the history of the world.

John Milton (1608-1674) author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained was the secretary to Oliver Cromwell, and also a Puritan.
Many music critics declare that Bach was the greatest musician that ever lived. J.S. Bach was an unsurpassed genius, and is acknowledged as the father of modern music. He left no musical form as he found it, says one critic. On the other hand, with every form he touched, he seemed to have said the last word. Bach's teaching notebooks and violin books have been the basis for music theory and practice ever since. Johan Sebastian Bach was a Protestant Christian, a Lutheran. Most of his library consisted of Protestant writings, including all of Luther's writings. Bach taught his pupils that music is an act of worship and all musicians need to commit their talents to the Lord Jesus Christ.

As one critic said: "Bach is to music what Shakespeare is to literature. They are both the greatest." And they were both Protestant Christians.

Free Enterprise and the Work Ethic

Along with some of the greatest art and literature, the Reformation brought about the greatest industrial advances and prosperity ever experienced in history.

The Protestant work ethic, which helped to bring about great prosperity in Western Europe and North America, arose mostly through the Protestant Reformers - particularly John Calvin.

"The most dynamic businessmen were to be found in Protestant Holland and the most vigorous industrial growth in Protestant England, both states heavily tinctured with Calvinism." (Historian Richard Dunn).

Max Webber, in his famous book: "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1905), attributed the Capitalist Revolution to Calvinism, its worldly asceticism and Protestant work ethic.

Calvin upheld the right of private ownership of property, taught the Biblical concept of stewardship, promoted free enterprise and freed money from the bondage to which it had been held for centuries by the forbidding of interest being charged. By allowing interest and promoting the work ethic, Calvin unleashed all the powers that capitalism has produced. As a result, the free enterprise system has generated the highest standards of living, the longest life expectancy and the greatest advances in industry and medicine ever experienced in history.

For these and so many other reasons, the Reformation in Europe during the 16th century has to be seen as one of the most important epochs in the history of the world. The Reformation gave us the Bible - now freely available in our own languages. The Reformation also pioneered the now-almost universally acknowledged principles of religious freedom, liberty of conscience, the rule of law, separation of powers and constitutionally limited Republics. All of these foundational principles were unthinkable before the Reformation. The Reformers emphasis on God's sovereignty, that Scripture alone is the final authority, that Christ alone is the head of the Church, that justification is by God's grace, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, received by grace alone.

Their teachings on the depravity of man, the Covenant and Church government has influenced law and liberty throughout the Western world and beyond. All of us are beneficiaries of this tremendous movement for Faith and Freedom. It is time that we re-examined the history and the principles of the Reformation.

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point." Martin Luther

Dr. Peter Hammond

This was one of the presentations at the Reformation Conference held in Cape Town 31 October. A full set of 6 lectures on audio tapes from the Reformation Conference can be ordered from Christian Liberty Books ( or tel: 021-689-7478).
For further reading:

Christian History, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188, USA
Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton
The Reformation Conference Manual by Dr. Peter Hammond (audio tapes of the Reformation Conference are also available)
What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? By Dr. D.J. Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe
What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? by Dr. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe
Men of Science - Men of God by Henry M. Morris

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