Today is Halloween, a day when we loved to be scared, but there is something far more terrifying than ghosts and goblins. It was the condition of the Roman Catholic Church on and before October 31, 1517. This was the day, 489 years ago, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in the German town of Wittenberg. Luther’s 95 Theses was a protest of the Church’s practice of selling indulgences. Pope Leo X had endorsed the selling of indulgences, which would pardon people from the punishment that their sins deserved, in order to raise money for construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Catholic theology at this time acknowledged that the sins of a repentant, baptized person where forgiven, but that some kind of temporary punishment had to be endured. By purchasing an indulgence, people could buy their way out of punishment for sin. Scary stuff. Obviously, this fueled Luther’s theological anger. Johann Tetzel who was selling indulgences in Luther’s homeland of German was said to have a catch phrase in his sales pitch: “Soon a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”
You can read Luther’s 95 Theses here. But let me share just 6 of his 95 points, which highlight some of Luther’s main thoughts.
36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
There was a time, when Christian people walked around with guilt even after their sins had been forgiven. I am thankful that we have come to a place where we understand that there is now no condemnation for those who in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
“True Christians” can receive blessings from God without getting official letters of pardon from the Church. This is what we call the priesthood of all believers. We can all go to God without any earthly mediator.
53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
Luther was sadden that “pardons for purchase” was being preached more than God’s word. At this time in Church History, the translation of the Bible in indigenous languages was still controversial. Luther believed that the preaching of the Bible should be a primary component in Christian worship.
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
The “gospel” for Luther was the biblical message that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through Christ received by faith alone. What is now called “justification by faith.”
79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
Luther did not deny the legitimacy of the pope, but felt that his role in worship and salvation were secondary to the cross of Christ.
86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”
Luther did not hide he offence in theological arguments. He gets right to the point and tells the pope to build the church with his own money!