Five centuries ago this week, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation by couragously hammering his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, an article appeared speaking of this historic event and its effects on the world. The title of the article, What 500 Years of Protestantism Teaches Us About Capitalism’s Future, indicates it is focusing on more than spiritual issues. Luther himself merely wanted to grow closer to God, but in doing so he released the power of individuals fueled by freedom.
The article spoke about how the Protestant Reformation led to an increase of individual freedom. Martin Luther mattered because of his huge cultural impact of confronting and challenging the Catholic Church’s iron grip (control) on society. It is said that Luther ushered in what is called the “the age of the individual,” and thus Luther laid the groundwork for capitalism, which is built around individual freedoms.
Freedom is one of Adam Smith’s three pillars of capitalism found is his book The Wealth of Nations. We don’t want to enslave others or control them, rather we want to help all mankind be free and at liberty. We want the gifts and talents God has given us to be used for His glory and the benefit of others. The Biblical principles of capitalism generally embrace individual freedom of choice and individual responsibility.
Capitalism should help us to embrace Jesus command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We love our neighbor so we seek to make a product or provide a service that will enhance people’s lives. Since we care about our neighbor we do not want to make an inferior product that we ourselves would not be delighted to use. Since we care about others we do not want to abuse them as employees. We don’t want to steal from others because we want to be a blessing to them.
Certainly Martin Luther could not have imagined the full spiritual and economic impact of his 95 theses that has resounded down through these centuries.