Luther Vs. The Most Powerful Institution Ever Created

think living overseas in second and third world countries helped me have an appreciation for Luther's struggle. Two days before Reformation Day I wanted to look at the unbelievable power difference between Luther and the Catholic church.

Because Luther was completely, overwhelmingly out matched here.

Today it is common to nuance Luther. Sometimes people will say, "Even if Luther hadn't done it, change was already coming."

Other people will point out that Luther had many opinions that were not good. And made many mistakes.

These things may be true to a degree, but let's take a look at the Catholic church at the time.

For starters, the Catholic church was THE only church in town. Yes, you may have had some Jewish pockets, but you couldn't just walk up and join those. You had some Hussites and Waldensians and groups like that. Whispers of Druids or pagan groups, but you wouldn't join those heathens anyway.

So for 99.9% of Europe, it was all the Catholic church.

Imagine, for a moment, your country has one political party. It has one religion. Every single church, mosque, synagogue you pass is all one church movement.

Years ago, my family and I visited Thailand. We were surprised to see as we entered the country a sign that said anything negative spoken about Buddha could end with us spending YEARS in jail. Same with speaking out against the King or getting a tattoo of Buddha. We pulled out our phones, and sure enough, to this day if you insult the King of Thailand online, you'll receive a summons to appear in a court in Thailand.

When we were in Cambodia someone did a dance at one of the temples there that was a tiktok style dance. But it was at a sacred temple, so she went to jail. And the people cheered that the government was protecting their sacred sites.

Now combine this with the idea of standing up to Stalin while he runs the Soviet Union. Imagine standing up to Mao. Imagine standing up in countries that are completely theocratic. When you think of how terrifying that is, then you start to get an idea of just what Luther was doing.

But the Catholic church in the 16th century may have even had more power than that. When you were born, your parents paid a fee to the church to have you christened. Without that you were not going to Heaven, and you had no standing in any part of Europe.

When you were married later, you paid another fee to the church to authenticate the marriage. Without that, your marriage had no legal standing and your children certainly could not have any inheritance.

Finally you die. Certainly you're free from paying for that, right? Wrong again! You had to be buried in holy ground by your local church, and you guessed it, that had to be paid for.

Then of course everyday of your life, 10% of your income was expected to go to God. And God sees if you lie even a little bit, as you know. Oh! And that was not all, either. You also were often expected to volunteer for upkeep of the church. Fixing things, maintaining the gardens and farms, etc.

And if you could do a few pilgrimages, and of course add a few coins to the coffers to pay penance, that'd be great, too.

Money in this world is power. Think of how powerful Tesla or Meta is. Now imagine just how much money is coming into the Catholic Church's coffers in a world like this, and you get an idea of just HOW powerful they are, just from a fiscal perspective.

And we didn't even include the infamous selling of indulgences. Or the fact that rich families often paid big amounts to have their kids become bishops to help them with business and ensure heaven for their family. This led to really weird situations, too. One town near where John Calvin was had a child that was only 4 years old acting as priest. One of my kids is 5, and let me tell you, he is not ready to be a priest.

This shows just how powerful they are. They can do something like that, which is patently ridiculous, and they expect no blowback for it.

Oh and one more aspect of their wealth: Spain and Portugal are getting tons of gold from the New World and other resources. And guess who is getting a sizeable chunk of that money? I mean the Pope literally divided the New World for Spain and Portugal. Brazil speaks Portuguese today because of the Pope's decision.

And of course priests often handed over their inheritances, too. And because of this system, powerful families were often intertwined with the Catholic system. And that included royal families. Catholic bishops had access to kings as advisers and as accountability for power. There are multiple cases of kings going to Rome to grovel before the Pope for forgiveness.

Charlemagne and many others had the Pope crown them, showing who was ultimately in charge of their kingdoms.

And we have the pope himself. A man whose words are the voice of God. A man who goes to God and brings back his decisions. You are going against him when you challenge this institution.

Your entire life you have been told he speaks to God. He is a holy, perfect man almost.

And he can deny you access to Heaven. That the entire church can deny you access to Heaven.

Imagine growing up in that! You've been told this your whole life. All the great scholars believe and support it. All the colleges and educational systems teach it. Don't forget, too, the schools were founded by the Catholic church and run by them as well.

How many of you would stand up to all of your professors and tell them they're wrong on a basic doctrine of their faith? How many of you would stand up to all the doctors in the world? All your fellow pastors?

And not just those people, but all church history, at least that you've been taught, is against you. You were standing up not only the Catholic church's unbelievable coffers, not just to a man who can deny you Heaven, not just to the ruling religious system, and not just to all your professors and colleges, but you were also saying that history as you knew it was wrong. That 1000 years of Christendom had gotten it wrong. At a time when tradition was EVERYTHING.

Augustine? He's a catholic. Gregory the great? A catholic. Charlemagne? A catholic. Basil? A catholic. You've been told that everyone you could possibly look up to was a catholic your whole life. And now you were going to break away from that?

How sure do you have to be about something to stand by it? What if there is a 1% chance that the guy you're standing up to can deny you Heaven? Are you willing to bet HEAVEN on that 1% chance? You have to be 100% certain.

And guess what? You have a high chance of failure. John Huss' name was so dirt that Luther getting called that troubled him. Until he read Huss and realized it was a completely false story that Huss was a heretic.

They could not only deny you Heaven, but they could kill you in the here and now, as they'd done to many. And then rewrite history and make you another foolish heretic that stood up to "God's Kingdom." They'd have your books burned and your followers killed with the powers that be.

The Courts, the Kings, the Academics, the money, the history, the churches, everything was in their grasp. You would have been insane to stand up to this.

So how did this all become undone? How did it fall?

Not through armies. Not through man-made schemes. Not through any of the things we humans would turn to in a struggle.

Luther wrote books. And immense amounts of them, to be fair, but just books. And he challenged them by translating the Bible into the common language. And through faithfully preaching the Word of God.

These simple things that so often get scorned as the way forward toppled one of the greatest and most powerful institutions created in world history. God used such simple means to undo all that man-made power.

That is why we respect Luther and remember him. Not just because he nailed 95 Theses, but him and those who followed him changed world history not through the power of blood and steel but through the power of prayer and preaching.