‘Reformation 500’ Examines Martin Luther’s Impact on the Church, the World

September 6, 2017 at 2:07 pm

500 years ago, Martin Luther – without meaning to – changed the world forever.

“Oct. 31 is the 500th anniversary of his posting of the 95 Theses which people mark as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation,” said Carol Loar, chair of the Department of History, Political Science, Philosophy and American Studies at USC Upstate. “It wasn’t his intent in 1517 to break with the Catholic church but that’s what ended up happening.”

Scholars and religious leaders from the Spartanburg community have planned “Reformation 500” a slate of events, both on and off campus, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. All of the events are free and open to the public.

“We tried to cover the major issues in the Reformation, starting out with what Luther was doing and why,” she continued. “Looking at what it meant for women, looking at what it meant for the Jewish community, looking at what it meant for America, the Revolution and all of that.”

The first event will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7 in the Sansbury Campus Life Center Ballroom. Guest lecturer Tim Fehler, a professor at Furman University, will speak on “Piety, Politics and Print: The Early Protestant Reformation.”

“What’s going on in Western Europe at this point that encourages Luther to post the 95 Theses and allows Protestantism to essentially take off,” Loar said. “Luther wasn’t the first person to question the power of the Church … but this is the first time it’s not put down or squelched.”

The posting of the 95 Theses and the Reformation that followed was “one of the most significant events certainly in European history,” she said.

“It’s really hard to overstate the importance of it,” Loar said. “It ended the unity of Christendom in Western Europe,” Loar said. “It led to numerous wars – over several centuries in some cases. It gave rise to the Baroque period in art. It does all sorts of things. It changes the course of English history.”

Luther’s intent was to reform the church from within, not break from it.

“He was trying to go back to the original version of Christianity,” Loar said. “When the Church tried to shut him up … then he started to question more and more of the Church’s ideas. He was aware by 1521 that this was something new.”

Even though the Reformation led to the formation of a new denomination, with many people converting away from Catholicism, in many ways it strengthened the Catholic Church itself, Loar said.

“The Catholic Church had to respond, and in responding, made their doctrine clearer, made it much more obvious what it meant to be a Catholic versus a Protestant,” she said.

On Oct. 23, Loar will present on “Luther and the Question of Women.” Her lecture will take place at 6:30pm at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

“There’s a debate among historians about was the Protestant Reformation a step forward for women or not?” she said. “Luther talks about the ‘priesthood of all believers’ and the equality of women in terms of salvation. In many of the new denominations, there was an early period in which women had more freedom. And this was true of the early years of the Christian church as well. Women were sometimes in leadership positions. Women were able to speak out about the direction of the church. Some of the denominations that allowed women a bigger public role early on then cracked down and shut them out again.”

On Oct. 27, USC Upstate history professor Rob McCormick will present “Martin Luther, Judaism and the Holocaust” at Temple B’nei Israel.

“What’s Next for the Reformation?” a panel discussion among area religious leaders will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

“The story’s not over,” Loar said. “What have been the biggest changes in the last 100 years, perhaps, and the biggest issues your denominations have faced? What kinds of ecumenical movements are going on? There’s more efforts to look at what unites the denominations rather than what divides them – and then what’s next.”

The series concludes at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 with a Reformation Concert featuring the Spartanburg Festival Chorus and the Converse Symphony Orchestra at Twichell Auditorium at Converse College.

“It’s exciting,” Loar said, of the events. “I think we’ve put together a good series. It brings people to campus who may never have been here before, who don’t know much about us.”

For more information on “Reformation 500,” including a complete calendar of events, visit www.uscupstate.edu/reformation.