As we kick off the year of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Living Lutheran begins a series in which we’ll highlight 500 items about the Reformation and its spirit and impact. Over the course of the next 10 issues, we’ll explore 500 unique aspects of the Reformation, beginning this month with 50 wide-ranging quotes.

This list is not meant as an all-encompassing compendium of everything essential to the Reformation and its theology, but rather as a glimpse of the variety of ways the movement that Martin Luther sparked in 1517 would influence the history of the world.


“In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp and Amsdorf, the Word … did everything.”

—Martin Luther (1483-1546)


“One man, Martin Luther, took a stand that literally shredded the fabric of Europe. It changed theology, it changed politics, it changed society and it changed political boundaries. It gave us a revolution in education, in literacy. There are many, many manifestations of the Reformation.”

—Tom Rassieur, curator, “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation”


“[Luther’s] Reformation neither transformed the church, nor was crushed by it. Instead, a de facto partition took shape. One by one, a series of German and Scandinavian cities and territories abolished the Catholic Mass, repudiated the church’s hierarchy, and required preachers to proclaim Luther’s doctrines. A new form of Christianity was starting to come into being. … Like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.”

—Alec Ryrie, author, Protestants


“The Reformation is a much broader event than that singular day. To be sure, the Reformation began on that day. The Reformation, however, spanned two centuries and encompassed a cast of characters from a variety of nations. Luther may very well be at the center of the Reformation, but he does not stand alone.”

—Stephen J. Nichols, author, The Reformation


“The Protestant Reformation had a lot to do with the printing press, where Martin Luther’s theses were reproduced about 250,000 times, and so you had widespread dissemination of ideas that hadn’t circulated in the mainstream before.”

—Nate Silver, author and statistician


“The recently published Atlas of World Christianity enumerates about 500,000,000 adherents to churches and denominations that trace their descent directly or indirectly from 16th-century Protestant beginnings and several hundred millions more in ‘independent’ churches with Protestant origins or strongly Protestant characteristics.”

—Mark Noll, professor


“… the Reformation as such, liberated from its early modern political constraints, remains alive and well in the United States. Anyone who doubts this need only open the Yellow Pages of a local phone book from anywhere in the United States and look under ‘Churches.’”

—Brad S. Gregory, professor


“The now almost universally acknowledged principles of religious freedom, liberty of conscience, the rule of law, separation of powers and constitutionally limited republics were unthinkable before the Reformation.”

—The Reformation Society, Cape Town, South Africa


“The Protestant Reformation was one of the most far-reaching events of the last millennium. It ended the millennium-old hegemony of the Catholic Church in Western Europe and altered political and economic fortunes wherever it reached.”

—Sascha O. Becker, Steven Pfaff and Jared Rubin, professors


“It is impossible to understand modern history apart from the Reformation. We cannot understand the history of Europe, England or America without studying the Reformation. For example, in America there would never have been Pilgrim Fathers if there had not first been a Protestant Reformation.”

—Jack Arnold, church history professor, IIIM Magazine


“I have a hard time picturing several aspects of the modern world without Luther.”

—Martin E. Marty, ELCA pastor and professor


“The Reformation inspired a mood of anti-authoritarianism, which led to backlash against the feudal system and, by extension, to the democratic movement around the world. In the centuries following the Reformation, movements like women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery traced their roots back to Reformation-era principles.”



“The Reformation was fundamentally a struggle for the backing of secular governments. Without their support, no religious dissidents could last for long. With it, the old church was at their mercy.”

—Alec Ryrie, author, Protestants


“Luther used humor to express his theological ideas in all sorts of ways. Perhaps it’s because he struggled with melancholy as well as profoundest opposition to his passionately held ideas; his humor served as a life raft keeping his spirits and Spirit buoyed.”

—Jane Voigts, pastor, comedian, writer


“The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace
of God.”

—Martin Luther, thesis 62


“Luther was the man who, guided by experience in the life of his own soul, again made people understand the original and true meaning of the gospel of Christ.”

—Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), theologian


“The mainstream Reformation was not concerned with establishing a new Christian tradition, but with the renewal and correction of an existing tradition. On the basis of their assertion that Christian theology was ultimately grounded in Scripture, reformers such as Luther and Calvin argued for the need to return to Scripture as the primary and critical source of Christian theology.”

—Robert Kennerson, author, “The theological agenda of the Reformation”


“Prior to the Reformation, worship was largely done for the people. The music was performed by professional musicians and sung in an unfamiliar language (Latin). The Reformation gave worship back to the people. … Worship once again became participatory.”

—Kenny Lamm, Renewing Worship NC


“All that matters is that God’s Word be given free course to encourage and enliven hearts so that they do not become burdened.”

—Martin Luther


“Luther knew what it felt like for the law to convict him, accuse him, leave him with nowhere to rest. And if you want to know what really sparked the Protestant Reformation it is the fact that feeling this way, Luther … believed that God’s grace is a gift, [and] no longer accepted what the church had for so long taught: that we are really saved by the works of the law. The medieval church had pawned off law as gospel, and Luther dared to know the difference, and then he became a preacher of grace, and that changed everything.”

—Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor, House for All Sinners and Saints, Denver


“For the reality of grace is not severable form that web and bundle of life out of which the human emerges and is defined, with in which the negatives of need and anguish and death, as well as the affirmative vitalities of beauty and joy burst forth, to which the Incarnation of grace came, and which, in the numberless occasions of experience, constitutes the theater of man’s redemption by grace.”

–Joseph Sittler (1904-87), theologian


“He [Luther] rejected the emphasis on internal experience as the basis for faith because, for him, human beings encountered God through the means outside themselves (extra nos), through the scripture, the word of preaching and the sacraments.”

—Rev. Kenneth Mtata, author, “The Holy Spirit in the Lutheran and Reformation History: An African Perspective”


“[Christ] is everywhere, but he does not wish that you grope for him everywhere. Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of him in the right way.”

—Martin Luther


“Perhaps Luther’s greatest achievement was the German Bible. No other work has had as strong an impact on a nation’s development and heritage as has this Book.”

—Henry Zecher in Christianity Today


“The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became naturalized, and hence far more clear and dear to the common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his daily guide in spiritual life. This inestimable blessing of an open Bible for all … marks an immense advance in church history, and can never be lost.”

—Philip Schaff (1819-93), theologian and church historian


“A Christian congregation should never gather together [in worship] without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly.”

—Martin Luther


“With no ‘spiritual license’ to teach and preach and write in public, with no recognized official role to do so, the most important stimulus for Protestant women to write theologically came from their understanding of the Word and external reasons: a necessity to defend others, to intervene on behalf of others, to show care for ‘theirs’ as well as others, to teach those they cared about, and to speak the word of truth when it was needed, and to respond to the call of the gospel as they
saw it.”

—Kirsi Stjerna, ELCA pastor and professor


“Because churches today—both Protestant and Catholic, as well as Jewish, Muslim and other religions—are still wrestling with the balance between men’s and women’s spiritual equality and social difference, [Luther’s] words, like those of other authoritative religious writers, are not simply matters of historical interest.”

—Susan Karant-Nunn and Merry Wiesner-Hanks, professors


“When he asked why he got married, Luther responded that “his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.”

—Terry Lindvall, author, God Mocks


“In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; in all things, charity.”

—Attributed to Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), reformer and theologian


“What have Luther and Melanchthon taught save the Word of God? You have condemned them. You have not refuted them. Where do you read in the Bible that Christ, the apostles, and the prophets imprisoned, banished, burned, or murdered anyone?”
—Argula von Grumbach (1492-1568), reformer and author


“The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”

—Martin Luther


“[Luther’s] ultimate message was that if one wanted to compare Christianity to a ship, then one must know that all Christians—whether monk or farmer, nun or housewife—were granted a place on board, and no one place was better than another. Moreover, a ride aboard this ship of grace came only by way of faith.”

—David C. Mayes, professor


“The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not tolerate Christians calling themselves Pauls or Peters, but only Christians. How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?”

—Martin Luther


“Reformation ends not in contemplation, but in action.”

—George Gillespie (1613-48), theologian


“God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in His Church, even to the reforming of the Reformation itself.”

—John Milton (1608-74), author


“If we Protestants are ‘reformed and always reforming,’ then commemorating the Reformation should cause us not so much to celebrate the past as to renew our mission and ministry in the present.”

—Christopher Gehrz, professor


“It was a sad and unexpected consequence of the Reformation attack in monasticism that the immediate effects on education were negative. As persons left religious orders, and as their property was seized by nobles with evident greed, the traditional role that these institutions played in educating the young disappeared.”

—Timothy Lull (1943-2003), author, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings


“The anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 becomes the focus for a multiyear global process of reflection, repentance, and celebration in all congregations and expressions of the communion. As one part of this emphasis, the [Lutheran World Federation] Assembly in 2017 will be planned as an occasion for the joyful celebration of the power of the Lutheran witness to the gospel and at the same time a space for the self-critical acknowledgement of failures in faithfulness and of the continuing pain of division among Christians.”

—Lutheran World Federation strategic plan


“If Luther were to rise from the dead he would be shocked at the strange things, which are done, under the cover of his name.”

—Bishop Manas Buthelezi (1935-2016), theologian, activist and first bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa’s Central Diocese


“In commemorating the Reformation, we cannot just see it as a jubilee, but should also admit our guilt for past errors and repent on both sides for the past 500 years.”

—Heinz Josef Algermissen, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fulda in Germany


“The ecumenical movement has altered the orientation of the churches’ perceptions of the Reformation: ecumenical theologians have decided not to pursue their confessional self-assertions at the expense of their dialogue partners but rather to search for that which is common within the differences, even within the oppositions, and thus work toward overcoming church-dividing differences.”

—The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity


“If, unfortunately, there are things in Rome which cannot be improved, there is not—nor can there be! —any reason for tearing oneself away from the church in schism. Rather, the worse things become, the more one should help her and stand by her, for by schism and contempt nothing can be mended.”

—Martin Luther


“He [Luther] took his shots at the system, yet he also lived up to all the reforms he pushed through. The people listened to him because they could see Luther laboring to bring Christianity back to the point where Christ had established it—a simple faith in God, a direct relationship with Christ, contentment with the calling God gives each individual, and living righteously in the midst of the world.”

—David C. Mayes, professor


“The Reformers did not seem themselves as inventors, discoverers, or creators. Instead they saw their efforts as rediscovery. They weren’t making something from scratch but were reviving what had become dead. They looked back to the Bible and to the apostolic era, as well as to early church fathers such as Augustine for the mold by which they could shape the church and re-form it.”

—Stephen J. Nichols, author, The Reformation


“In particular, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. It will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human ‘example’ (which has its origin in the human of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings!); the church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), theologian


“The time is ripe to acknowledge that translating Luther to new contexts involves a process of transfiguration by which the old, relevant as it is in its reappearance, also passes away. … The contours of the Reformation now are to be defined over against this new background in which powers and principalities exert control now as they did when the Reformation erupted as a cry for freedom and a call for the gospel. The Reformation defined them then; it is left for us to name them today, yet the spirit is the same.”

—Vítor Westhelle, author, Transfiguring Luther


“The radical gospel of justification by faith alone does not allow for a middle-of-the-road position. Either one must proclaim it as unconditionally as possible, or forget it. We must somehow muster up the nerve to preach the gospel in such fashion as to put the old to death and call forth the new. … If Lutheranism is to recover a sense of its identity and mission today, it must begin to consider what it means to preach the gospel in radical fashion.”

—Gerhard Forde (1927-2005), theologian


“In our day, we emphasize the gospel of self-esteem, marketing the church based on people’s needs, saying, ‘I found it!’ and ‘I’m the little engine that could.’ Our culture promotes human ability and human will, as did the indulgence culture in Luther’s day, as a way to bring salvation. So I have a hunch Luther would still feel compelled to speak his central message.”

—Martin E. Marty, ELCA pastor and professor


“The church needs a reformation which is not the work of man, namely the pope, or of many men, namely the cardinals, both of which the most recent council has demonstrated, but it is the work of the whole world, indeed it is the work of God alone. However, only God who has created time knows the time for this reformation.”

—Martin Luther

John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.
Rod Boriack
Boriack is a writer and editor living in Des Plaines, Ill.

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