500 Years Ago Today the Church & World Forever Changed
500 years ago today in Germany one man had the courage to stand up to the establishment of his day with courage, clarity and conviction. And it forever changed our lives and all of history. I am talking of course about Martin Luther and the 95 theses he nailed to the door of a church in 1517 in the town of Wittenberg, Germany, renouncing the abuses and misdeeds of the Catholic Church, specifically the sale of indulgences.
In the Catholic Church, indulgences were part of the "economy of salvation" stating that when Christians sin and confess, they are forgiven and will no longer receive eternal punishment in hell, but may be liable to temporal punishment. The man made doctrine was said to be satisfied by the penitent performing works of mercy and thus the sale of indulgences to lessen the punishment. The made up teaching continued that if the temporal punishment is not satisfied during life, it would need to be satisfied in purgatory.
Today we celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation and the truth Luther restored to the church that in Christ alone do we hope for salvation on the finished work of the cross, not by any other merit before him. We are justified and declared righteous before God on the basis of faith, not our works of the law.
Luther's message and protest of the Catholic Church's sale of indulgences was not without it's controversy. Christianity Today recounts,
Luther questioned the church's trafficking in indulgences and called for a public debate of 95 theses he had written. Instead, his 95 Theses spread across Germany as a call to reform, and the issue quickly became not indulgences but the authority of the church: Did the pope have the right to issue indulgences?
Events quickly accelerated. At a public debate in Leipzig in 1519, when Luther declared that "a simple layman armed with the Scriptures" was superior to both pope and councils without them, he was threatened with excommunication.
Luther replied to the threat with his three most important treatises: The Address to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. In the first, he argued that all Christians were priests, and he urged rulers to take up the cause of church reform. In the second, he reduced the seven sacraments to two (baptism and the Lord's Supper). In the third, he told Christians they were free from the law (especially church laws) but bound in love to their neighbors.
Luther served as a professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg and town preacher at the time when he wrote the Ninety-five Theses.