This October 31st, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Chapel that started the Protestant Reformation. For many of you, this has a lot of significance, for others maybe not so much or you are not very familiar with the origins of the Reformation and its importance today. So I wanted to take just a brief moment to give you some bullet points on the context, and maybe give you a few tidbits you may not be aware of! This October I will be preaching a sermon series on the Five Solas (Alones) of the Reformation, so hopefully, this peaks your interest.
ALSO: This October I will be preaching a sermon series on the Five Solas (Alones) of the Reformation, so hopefully, this peaks your interest!
– Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a Catholic monk who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. It was in his own study of the book of Romans that he began to change his views about God’s grace, Christ, and faith. Instead of seeing salvation as something that he had to work toward, he found that the Bible clearly taught it was by God’s mercy in Christ that we are saved.
– He did not see himself as a revolutionary, but he wanted the church to be corrected and uphold good, Biblical practices. Hence the movement that resulted is referred to as the ‘reformation’ rather than the ‘revolution’ because Luther (Calvin and others) saw themselves trying to correct the church universal rather than starting a new one.
– The ’95 Theses’ were 95 sentences that were up for academic debate at the university. Pinning articles of debate on the chapel doors was not all that unusual. It was similar to maybe an academic blog of today. Luther wanted to debate the points, but it was quickly taken and printed by unknown printers who distributed the work.
– The ’95 Theses’ were not full-fledged Luther in the sense that he was very much still reflecting many Roman Catholic doctrines. The issue that caused Luther to write the 95 Theses was the sale of indulgences.**
– At the time, the Roman Catholic Church taught that Christians who had not done their best to live righteous lives had to ‘burn off’ their impurities in Purgatory after death. This process could take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years, according to church tradition. But the extra merits from the good works of Jesus and the saints were stored in heaven, and the Pope could distribute these merits as ‘indulgences’ for a person’s sins or for a loved one who is stuck in Purgatory. Pope Leo X needed funds to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, and he began a campaign of selling indulgences to raise the funds. A man named Johann Tetzel had peddled indulgences throughout Germany with some pretty underhanded fear-mongering, which Luther took exception to.
– But remember, Luther still (at this point) had the belief the Roman Catholic Church could be reformed and returned to its original orthodoxy. In fact, he believed that if only the Pope knew the abuses that were taking place, he would denounce the sale of indulgences. Thesis #50, “Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” If anything, at that point, Luther was defending the Pope!
– Yet, in response to the 95 Theses, Roman Catholic officials, and the Pope refused any debate with Luther but told him to recant or be condemned. It was Luther’s refusal to recant because Scripture compelled him was the beginning of the Reformation, of which we are inheritors of.
Why preach on the Five Solas of the Reformation?
** The Council of Trent (1563) abolished the selling of indulgences for money, however, the council also stated the practice of printing and giving of indulgences was ‘most salutary to Christians’.