Tomorrow, Halloween, is the ironic date the world typically marks as the anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that shattered the Roman Universalist Church’s 1,000-year-long spiritual monopoly over Western Christianity. The man who launched that spiritual revolution is the fascinating, but not always loveable Martin Luther. Luther was courageous, intellectually energetic and sometimes even humorous. But he was also pig-headed, argumentative, egotistical, and an infamous anti-Semite. Luther ’s greatest theological legacy to Protestantism is his teaching that justification, being made right before a righteous God, is through faith alone. To Luther, salvation was an open-and-shut case: Believe and you are justified. Once justified you are saved. Once you are saved, you remain saved without any influence of works—good or bad.
Five hundred years on, the painful, unintended consequences of Luther’s justification theology include the failure of the Protestant Church—including most “born-again” evangelical organizations— to make a significant moral and ethical difference in the lives of those attending its worship services.