Saturday, January 28, 2017


Reformation 500 WEEK 5: Luther’s 95 Theses
     Now that Luther’s soul was finally filled with peace, having been set free from slavery of trying to earn his salvation, he began to see the many abuses in the Church and boldly spoke out against them. The first abuse he addressed was indulgences.

     To understand indulgences, we need to understand the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance. Those who commit a mortal sin and lose the saving grace they received in baptism can be restored to a state of justification through penance. When one confesses his sins to a priest, he receives absolution (pardoning of sins and release from eternal punishment only), after which he must perform works of satisfaction (e.g. prayers, fasting, giving alms, going on a pilgrimage) to remove the temporal punishments of sin and be restored to a state of justification. If the faithful die without satisfying all the temporal penalties of sin, before they can enter heaven they must satisfy those penalties by suffering the purifying fires of purgatory.

     To make penance easier for people, and as a way to raise more money for the Church, the Pope signed letters of indulgences, which the penitent could buy to give himself and his loved ones a shorter stay in purgatory. The granting of indulgences was based on the doctrine of works of supererogation – works done beyond the demands of God’s law – which earned extra-merits and were laid up in heaven. Christ by His perfect holiness had done more than was necessary for the salvation of man. The saints also had added much to this overflowing treasury of merits. By drawing upon this fund in heaven, the Pope, as the treasurer, dispensed indulgences for money.

     Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), a Dominican friar and preacher, was the Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany. He was in the neighborhood of Wittenberg, shamelessly selling indulgences to help raise the equivalent of millions of dollars needed for Pope Leo X’s project to rebuild Rome’s Cathedral of St. Peter. Luther could not be silent. As a preacher, a pastor, and a professor, he felt it to be his duty to protest such abuse, for the people were being deceived for eternity!

     On October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints’ Day (one of the most frequented feasts), Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the bulletin board on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg. Out of love for the truth, he was inviting his students and other professors to debate the virtues of indulgences.

     “The first Thesis strikes the keynote: ‘Our Lord and Master when he says, Repent, desires that the whole life of believers should be a repentance…. Luther distinguishes, in the second Thesis, true repentance from the sacramental penance and understands it to be an internal state…rather than isolated external acts…. [Thesis 62] ‘The true treasury of the church is the holy gospel of the glory and grace of God’” (Schaff, 7:159). “Why doesn’t the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?'' (Thesis 82).

     No one accepted Luther’s challenge, and no discussion took place. But the Theses, written in Latin, were copied, translated, and spread throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks. “They had a tremendous and immediate effect. They almost stopped the sale of indulgences” (Kuiper, The Church in History, 165).  Almost.

NOTE: These Posts were written and  designed as bulletin inserts by Pastor David Fagrey of the Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD .  

Here is a link to this blog entry as a bulletin insert:  Reformation500 Martin Luther's 95 Theses

For a double-sided PDF for easy printing: Reformation 500 Week 5

Official Seal of  the RCUS
This is the seal of the Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS).  As you can see its history goes back to 1748, when the RCUS began.  We celebrate with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we praise God for what is probably the most amazing spiritual revival in the history of the world.

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