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The 95

01 Nov

Today is October 31st. Halloween gets all the attention today, but there is a far more important event to recognize on Oct. 31st…the nailing of “the 95 Theses” by Martin Luther on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The document which is popularly known as “the 95 Theses” was originally titled, The Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. The nailing of “the 95” on October 31, 1517 is the symbolic beginning of the reformation; the single greatest event in the second millennium of the Christian church.

I am beginning to form an annual habit of reading “the 95” on October 31st. Click here to read last year’s blog on Oct 31st. I am growing more and more passionate that the voices of the past need to be the teachers of today. As pastors, teachers, leaders and Christian people, we need to engage culture, understand culture and communicate God’s embodied truth to our generation. Engaging culture and “doing church” today requires reading, watching and listening to books, visual media and music produced today, but a steady diet of “the lastest,” “the best selling,” “the hottest…,” etc., leads us away from the depth of God’s truth.

I digress.

I read “the 95” today. It only took me about 25 minutes. (You can read the 95 Theses here.) It reminded me of the leadership principle I saw in 1 Corinthians 9 –Every Christian has the right to respectfully question Christian leaders and every Christian leader has the right to respectfully defend his/her leadership. “The 95” is Luther’s questioning of the authority of the pope and the selling of indulgences. At that time during the church, you could buy an indulgence, a piece a paper from the pope that said you were pardoned from the penalty of your sins. It is a long story. Check out the link above, but indulgences were bad news. It was a essentially a money-maker for the Church. It was bad…ugly bad.

Luther was questioning Church leaders on the issue and his questioning lead to the reformation of the Church and in essence, saved the Church from moral collapse. Church leaders are never above questioning. It is good to respectfully question church leadership. Leaders can sin and get the church of course. Church leaders can’t hide. I was listening to this, while reading “the 95.”

Now the preacher looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines
Stapled to his chest.
But he cursed me when I proved it to him,
Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide.
You see, you’re just like me,
I hope you’re satisfied.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Bob Dylan
“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”
Blonde on Blonde (1966)

I digress, again.

Last year, I included a few quotes from “the 95,” but this year I have just one…the first of the ninety-five: 1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “repent.” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

There are two words that Christians need to keep forefront in their Christian vocabulary – “confession and repentance.” It is easy to replace those words with other words like “counseling and therapy” or “legalism and religion,” but confession and repentance is what Christians are called to do. Confession and repentance is where Christians are called to live; it is where they are called to live. Confession and repentance is one area where we cannot follow Jesus’ example. Jesus had no need for confession and repentance, because he never sinned. This is why Paul says, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We need Christian leaders to follow and immolate, because they can (and should!) emulate a life of confession and repentance.


Confession is agreeing with God that sin in our actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, or motivations are indeed sins. It is say, “God you say this is a sin and I say it is a sin.” Confession is not easy, but is the easier of the two. Repentance is more difficult. Repentance is a rethinking and reliving. It is rethinking your actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, and motivations and then living different in light of confession.

What Luther reminded me of as I was reading “the 95” is the necessary of penitence, that is the feeling of remorse or sorrow over sin. Penitence is a process of repentance. I don’t think we have to waller around in sorrow like a pig in mud, but neither do we need to treat our sins, the wrath of God or the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus lightly. Penitence is spiritual sobriety. It is a seriousness and acknowledgement that our actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, and motivations hurt God and other people.

Penitence.

Re-penitence.

Repentance.

We need a healthy dose of this. We don’t need to walk around long-faced and depressed. There is hope. There is redemption. There is pardon. Haven’t you been listening to Joel Osteen…there is victory over sin. This is true. But the road to hope begins with steps of confession and repentance.

One more quote from Luther’s 95… 44. Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.

Have a great fall festival or whatever else you do on October 31st!

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Posted by on November 1, 2007 in Theology

 

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