SALT LAKE CITY — This year, Christians of many denominations are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation — and this month, in particular, the faith and courage of one man: Martin Luther.
Utahns are honoring both the man and the movement. Choral music, sung in the original German, was the centerpiece of a recent concert titled "Martin Luther — the Reformation at 500."
Luther was a 16th-century German professor of theology, priest, monk, and composer who openly questioned the way the Catholic Church could forgive sin by indulgences, or payments. And he argued that all humans are sinners and God’s grace alone saves them.
From Germany, the Reformation spread through Europe to England, which is why this concert happened at the Cathedral Church of Saint Mark, Utah's Episcopal Cathedral.
"Properly speaking, there's not just one Reformation but many reformations. And the English version of that gave birth to what we now know as Anglicanism and the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is like 80 million people," said The Rev. Canon Tyler Doherty, from the Cathedral Church of St. Mark. "The Episcopal Church is the American expression of that Anglicanism that was really born of Martin Luther’s critique.”
Most people have learned Luther nailed a list of complaints to a church door in Wittenburg, Germany, which started the Reformation. But historians say it didn't happen quite that way.
"What he certainly did do on Oct. 31, 1517, was send them around to a few people and saying, 'These need to be fixed,'" said BYU professor Craig Harline, author of "A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation."
"He said, 'Only God can reform the church.' All we can do is improve it where we can," Harline said. "And we can improve the university curriculum, we can teach certain things better. We can improve certain things that have gone wrong like indulgences. But as far as reformation, only God could do that."
Eventually, Luther took on the Pope and was excommunicated. His life was in danger but he survived under the protection of Frederick I in Wartburg Castle. And Christianity in the 16th century changed: There are now 72 million Lutherans worldwide.
"Martin Luther stood before the powers that be and said, 'Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.' What it means is for us to stand before principalities and powers and witness what the Gospel means," said Pastor Steven Lemz, of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
We tend to think great people — especially people like Luther or people in the past — they saw the end, the beginning and the middle; and they didn't, just like we don't. So, for them, just like us, it's fundamentally an act of faith.
–Craig Harline, BYU professor and author
He and others say it is important to teach the next generation to remember the faith and courage of Luther and other men and women who brought about the Reformation.
Harline said we forget that people who lived centuries ago did not necessarily see life any differently than we do.
"We tend to think great people, especially people like Luther or people in the past, they saw the end, the beginning and the middle; and they didn't, just like we don't," Harline said. "So, for them, just like us, it's fundamentally an act of faith."
Gulla said, "It is very important to remember, especially these days. I think it is good to find common ground … and will reflect what this was all about."
We all worship as we choose, they say, because of the refomers.