6 Ways the Reformation Changed Church (and Life) as We Know It

Among the people influenced by Luther’s translation was the English reformer William Tyndale, who likewise wanted to produce a Bible in his people’s language. Tyndale’s efforts ultimately led to his martyrdom, but not before he completed the translation that would help shape the Geneva Bible used by William Shakespeare, the Pilgrims and the translators of the King James Version.

Luther’s impact is felt whenever people encounter the Bible in words they can understand.

New Ways of Worship

Luther did not stop with Scripture. He also translated the Latin Mass into everyday language.

That in turn influenced the creation of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which John Wesley would later adapt for his Methodist movement.

United Methodists also can thank Luther for making congregational singing a regular part of worship, said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources at Discipleship Ministries.

“The priesthood of the believers means the congregation needs not just to watch the whole service but to participate actively in the whole service,” Burton-Edwards said.

Luther also encouraged Christians to pray together in daily services, said Lucy Lind Hogan, the Hugh Latimer Elderdice professor of preaching at United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. She is teaching a special course this semester titled “Luther at 500.”

“He believed gathering frequently for prayer was important in encouraging people’s understanding of themselves as part of the priesthood of God,” Hogan said.

Luther’s love of singing lingers in the choral works of Lutheran composers Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Felix Mendelssohn.

Mass Education

The Reformation benefited from rising literacy that began in the 1440s with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. But reformers broadened literacy and educational opportunities still further.

After all, if you want to understand the Bible or join in a hymn, you need to know how to read.

“Protestants built new schools and wrote new catechisms, ushering in an era of lay education,” said Anna M. Johnson, a professor of Reformation Church History at United Methodist Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago.

Some Christians criticized this emphasis on theological education as privileging book learning over rituals, emotions and good works, Johnson said. The Methodist movement, with its emphasis on social holiness, helped correct this imbalance.

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Heather Hahn, who grew up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.