Martin Luther has profoundly impacted more lives than can actually be counted. Few people have had the impact on Western history that this monk can claim to have had. He brought the holy bible to the common folk of Germany and the German speaking world. He helped to sunder the secular power of Roman Catholic Church. It can even with out too much of a stretch be argued that he planted the seeds of some enlightenment political theories like the separation of church and state. This influence and impact was even recognized in his own time, with accolades and curses beyond our capacity for numbers.
In my life Martin Luther has had a mostly moral impact. I am from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. They pride themselves on scrutinizing Luther’s teachings thoroughly and testing them all against the bible. A person’s moral beliefs provide a framework that every other set of ideas and personally endorsed theories must fit with in, so this becomes quite important. I learned quite a bit from Luther. I learned how flawed that I am and that all of humanity is. I learned that human want to never has been, and never will be enough to morally and ethically improve the world or save ourselves. I learned that we need to strive to love each other as Christ loved us, completely and peacefully. I learned that justice is very real and that there is real punishment but also forgiveness always triumphs over it. From Luther also came my first introduction to the theory of natural law and this can’t be overstated because it is a moral concept that very directly helped form and inform my political values. Moral and theological contributions will always be Luther’s greatest contributions to humanity and its not even close.
He did also have a fairly weighty amount of impact on me politically as a youth. Luther politically was quite a statist. This never sat perfectly well with me but I more or less accepted it and saw the state as necessary. This has matured over time and with understanding in to a deep and abiding respect for institutions. It has also become an omnipresence of law and order. A person need not like the law to understand that it is the law and it is important for us to adhere to it. If we don’t like it then we have been blessed with a system in which we can work to change it. Finally natural law comes up here again. Natural law is supreme because we know instinctively whether we like it or not that this is how we are to behave. Scripture tells us that it has been written on our hearts so that even “gentiles” or unbelievers may know the law. This is important because it establishes that the laws God has given us are the most important and that if we were capable of better as a species we would not need government. Natural law says we already have inside us what we need to form society, and we need the state only because we are imperfect flawed beings.