The Wall Street Journal has published an excellent account by Joe Loconte on Luther, the Reformation, and its precursors. He ends up crediting Luther, who insisted that faith is not something that can be coerced, for the Western concept of religious freedom. He then wonders if Islam can ever have such a reform. Read it all, but I’ll quote some of his final paragraphs after the jump.
From Joe Loconte, When Luther Shook Up Christianity – WSJ:
Medieval Catholicism had reduced a vibrant faith to rituals and obligations, mediated by church authorities and performed under the threat of corporal punishment. Luther’s breakthrough was a spiritual achievement: a return to a gospel of grace that brought the believer into a relationship with Jesus. “What man is there whose heart, upon hearing these things, will not rejoice to its depth, and when receiving such comfort will not grow tender so that he will love Christ as he never could by means of any laws or works?” he wrote.Here is Luther’s contribution to the modern world: a doctrine of freedom of conscience, rooted in a religious view of human nature and the nature of belief. “For faith is a free work, to which no one can be forced. Nay, it is a divine work, done in the Spirit, certainly not a matter which outward authority should compel or create.”
For Luther, coercion produced hypocrisy, not piety. “Here God’s Word must strive,” he wrote. “If that does not accomplish the end it will remain unaccomplished through secular power, though it fill the world with blood.”