Luther’s reformation: The stand

At the heart of this Protestant faith were, and are, three beliefs resting on the Latin word for “alone”: sola fide(that people are saved by faith in Jesus alone, not by anything they do); sola gratia (that this faith is given by grace alone, and cannot be earned); and sola scriptura (that it is based on the authority of the Bible alone, and not on tradition or the church). In a way that complemented the broader themes of the Renaissance, Luther wanted Christianity to go back to the “pristine Gospel”: the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This return offered a new sort of freedom, one centred on the individual, which helped pave the way for modernity. “The separation of powers, toleration, freedom of conscience, they are all Protestant ideas,”

.. Nigeria has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany. More than 80m Chinese have embraced the faith in the past 40 years.

.. There are many ways to be a Protestant, from the quietist to the ecstatic. The fastest-growing varieties tend to be the evangelical ones, which emphasise the need for spiritual rebirth and Biblical authority.

.. K.M. Panikkar, an Indian journalist, spoke for many when he predicted in the 1950s that Christianity would struggle in a post-colonial world. What might survive, he suggested, in both Protestant and Catholic forms, would be a more modern, liberal form of the faith.

.. To some extent, this growth of Pentecostalism among the global poor marks a loss of faith in political and secular creeds.

.. Their emphasis on personal experience makes Pentecostalism and similar beliefs culturally malleable; their simplicity and ability to dispense with clergy gives them a nimbleness that suits people on the move. They tend to erode distinctions of faith based on ethnicity or birthplace. To Berger, that made this sort of Protestantism a modernising force.

.. Churches provide migrants in their congregations with employment, support and the possibility of advancement.

.. “In Guatemala the Pentecostal church is just about the only functioning organisation of civil society,”

.. Almost all the drug-rehabilitation centres in Guatemala City, of which there are more than 200, are run by Pentecostal volunteers.

.. LUTHER was an accidental revolutionary. He was not trying to modernise his world but to save it.

.. It was change from within that Luther wanted.

.. Luther was responsible for more than a fifth of the entire output of pamphlets from the empire’s newfangled printing presses during the 1520s. “Every day it rains Luther books,” sighed one churchman. “Nothing else sells.”

.. Keeping the state out of the church’s business meant clerics lost the power to suppress heretics by force. But Luther was content with that. He insisted that heresy should be fought from pulpits and in pamphlets, not by coercion.

.. The German Peasants’ Revolt in 1524-25 was led by men who denounced serfdom as incompatible with Christian liberty and said they would desist only if they could be proved wrong on Biblical grounds.

.. Milton’s “Areopagitica” of 1644 urged freedom of thought and freedom to publish. Uncensored printing offered the possibility of choice, ending the state church’s monopoly on opinion-forming.

.. Protestant toleration was good for business, too. The Calvinist Netherlands of the late 16th century became the world’s richest society as Huguenots, Jews and other hard-working refugees from Catholic lands flooded in.

.. in the aftermath of the English civil war when religious groups such as the Diggers and the Levellers demanded universal male suffrage and common ownership of the land. In 1647 one of them, Thomas Rainsborough, said in the Putney debates with Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan who had led parliament, that “The poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.” The Diggers were dispersed, but the idea that equality before God implied full democracy took root.

.. The resistance of dissenters impressed John Locke, an English philosopher with strong Protestant roots. Their stand influenced his writings on freedom of conscience, which were to form the foundation for English liberalism, and the Toleration Act of 1689, which formalised the legal acceptance of nonconformist sects.

.. If people were to find Bible-based salvation independent of the clergy, literacy was indispensable. By 1760 about 60% of England’s men, and 40% of its women, were able to read. Protestant education provided opportunities for social mobility, improved the status of women and fostered economic growth.

.. Elie Halévy, an influential early 20th-century French historian, believed that Methodism helped 18th-century England avoid a revolution of the sort that later befell France by educating the lower classes and bringing about social reform.

.. That America became the fullest example of limited government enshrined in law is in large part a consequence of its Protestant settlement. The truths the Founding Fathers held to be self-evident had not seemed so to anyone before the Reformation.

.. During the Thirty Years War, fought mainly between Protestant and Catholic states, 8m people died.

.. The otherworldly nature of Pentecostalism does not help. Believing in imminent apocalypse militates against strong social engagement. The ship is sinking; rather than try to fix it, Pentecostals want to get as many people as possible into the lifeboats. “What Guatemala needs is tax reform, voter registration, microloans, community organising,” says Mr O’Neill. But “people are just sitting there praying.”

.. apartheid was underpinned by the Dutch Reformed Church. ..

.. Their leaders, including Desmond Tutu, a South African clergyman and theologian, have admitted that they have not adapted as well as the less hierarchical Pentecostal churches to the post-apartheid order. “We knew what we were against,” says Mr Tutu. “It is not nearly so easy to say what we are for.

.. In future, churches “that disdain the corruption of public life and offer spiritual rather than political power may find that their message resonates most,” predicts Mr Ryrie. But the faith will no doubt continue to be used as a weapon in the culture wars.

.. Some Protestants have understood that when they become the dominant religion, their faith’s power—its here-I-stand refusal to accept orders from any source but God or conscience—tends to seep away.