It was the year when the Ottoman Empire was expanding its grasp into what’s known today as Egypt. The same decade when Leonardo da Vinci took his last breath in France and Ferdinand Magellan started the first trip around the world.
Five hundred years ago this month, 34-year-old Martin Luther sent a letter of 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church to Archbishop of Mainz. These theological transgressions would set off the Protestant Reformation, celebrated and studied in Lutheran churches today.
Two local Lutheran churches plan to commemorate in their own ways the event that birthed their ideology.
“There were several things going on in the Roman Catholic Church at the time that (Luther) disagreed with, and probably the one that’s the most prevalent and the thing that people have looked at is that there is nothing people can do to receive God’s grace or forgiveness,” said Pastor Rosemary Backer of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Holmes Beach. “It’s just a gift from God.”
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He didn’t like the idea that people could pay “indulgences” to go to heaven, Backer said, or that believers could only speak to God through a vessel like a priest.
This brought forth an earth- and heavens-shattering break from the Roman Catholic Church, and an extradition for Luther.
“I think reform is good, and we’re always reforming and churches always need to be brought back to what is the most important thing that we do, and the emphasis on who we are as the people of God and always God’s action of love coming down on us,” Backer said.
The island church, at 6608 Marina Drive, will be hosting multiple Luther-themed events — a “blessings of the animals” will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday as a donation drive for Manatee County Animal Services and Wildlife Inc.; a showing of a PBS documentary on Luther’s life will be shown alongside a potluck at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the church; and a “beer and hymns” event at Motorworks will be put on Oct. 23 and feature “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” written by Luther himself.
Bradenton Christian Reformation Church, at 4208 26th St. W., is taking a more traditional approach.
Each Sunday of October, the church’s services focus on the five solae, meaning “alone” in Latin, the foundational principals of the church: “by scripture alone,” “by faith alone,” “by grace alone,” “through Christ alone” and “glory to God alone.”
“We look at the Roman Catholic Church differently now than we did back then,” said Pastor Garrit Besteman.
A lot has changed since the 1500s — airplanes, telephones, the internet to name a few — but Besteman and Backer said the Lutheran and Catholic churches have been involved in decades of dialogue about recognizing each other’s differences and similarities. Last year, the churches’ leaders signed an agreement for cooperation.
“The emphasis is on what unites us.”