It was the eve of All Saints Day— October 31st. The year was 1517, and a man named Martin Luther was about to release something that would light the world on fire.
What was it? The 95 Theses.
Martin Luther, on that October 31st night, was unaware of exactly how great a fire he had lit. In fact, at the time, Martin Luther did not yet seem to have a desire to break with the Roman Catholic Church, stating the following:
I offer it with a most faithful heart, and one most devoted to your [Lord Albert] most reverend Fatherhood, since I too am part of your flock. May the Lord Jesus keep your most reverend Fatherhood for ever and ever. Amen. (Introductory Letter To The 95 Theses, emphasis added)However, that's not to say that Martin Luther's 95 Theses were uncritical— because they were. Luther writes midway through his Introductory Letter To The 95 Theses:
Lastly, works of piety and charity are infinitely better than indulgences, and yet they do not preach these with such display or so much zeal; nay, they keep silence about them for the sake of preaching pardons. And yet it is the first and sole duty of all bishops, that the people should learn the Gospel and Christian charity: for Christ nowhere commands that indulgences should be preached. What a dreadful thing it is then, what peril to a bishop, if, while the Gospel is passed over in silence, he permits nothing but the noisy outcry of indulgences to be spread among his people, and bestows more care on these than on the Gospel! (Introductory Letter To The 95 Theses)If you know anything about Martin Luther and his boldness in preaching justification "by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone", but have never read the Ninety-Five Theses, you will probably be a little surprised when you read through them for the first time. Why? Because that famous doctrine is not even mentioned in them.
It is important to remember that Martin Luther did not instantly become "reformed" when he wrote the 95 Theses. For the most part, the 95 Theses primarily consisted of objections concerning the sale of indulgences in the church. Luther states:
32. Those who believe that, through letters of pardon [indulgences], they are made sure of their own salvation, will be eternally damned along with their teachers. (95 Theses)The sale of indulgences was was a source of funds for the Roman Catholic Church. Those funds were being used to build a lavish new church building: Saint Peter's Basilica. Luther boldly writes concerning this pricey construction project:
51. Christians should be taught that, as it would be the duty, so it would be the wish of the Pope, even to sell, if necessary, the Basilica of St. Peter, and to give of his own money to very many of those from whom the preachers of pardons [indulgences] extract money. (95 Theses)Luther later states:
86. Again; why does not the Pope, whose riches are at this day more ample than those of the wealthiest of the wealthy, build the one Basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with that of poor believers? (95 Theses)Such critical objections directly pointed at the Pope did not go unnoticed. Martin Luther was sure to make clear how indulgences were to be considered:
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.If you have never read through Martin Luther's 95 Theses, I would encourage you to do so. It is important to be aware of your spiritual ancestors for a few reasons: (1) You can learn from their successes. (2) You can learn from their errors. (3) You can come to a greater understanding of why you believe what you believe today.
63. This treasure, however, is deservedly most hateful, because it makes the first to be last.
64. While the treasure of indulgences is deservedly most acceptable, because it makes the last to be first. (95 Theses)
To read Martin Luther's 95 Theses online for free, click here.
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