There was nothing remarkable about that day in October, 1517, when a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Martin Luther fastened his now famous ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. He certainly did not expect to ignite a religious revolution. As a loyal son of the established church, Luther merely wished to engage his university town in theological discussion about certain church doctrines that troubled him. His goal was to try to rein in some of the most grievous abuses of the Church by discussing them openly.
Little did he know that his theses would be copied, printed, and distributed across Europe within days. In the providence of God, Luther’s modest debate propositions ignited a fire that is still burning today. On this five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is fitting to remember how it all began, and more importantly, why.
There are some today who question the validity of this great schism with Rome. They believe that the Reformation, though probably warranted in its day, is no longer necessary. They assure us that the abuses of Luther’s day have been addressed, and it’s time to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and join hands as fellow members of Christ’s body.
Below is the actual text of most of Martin Luther’s infamous 95 theses. Many people have heard of them; fewer have actually read them. Here they are:1
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
"Some 8,500 people -- including a significant contingent of Southern Baptists -- celebrated the Protestant Reformation's 500th anniversary at The Gospel Coalition's National Conference April 3-5 in Indianapolis."
Albert of Brandenburg was deeply in debt, after purchasing two church offices. Pope Leo X, desperate to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter’s, agreed to allow Albert to sell indulgences to both repay his own debt and help finance St. Peter’s. Thus, Tetzel came upon the scene.
“At that time a Dominican monk named Johann Tetzel was the great mouthpiece, commissioner, and preacher of indulgence in Germany. His preaching sent enormous amounts of money which were sent to Rome. This was particularly the case in the new mining town St. Annaberg, where I, Friedrich Myconius, listened to him for over two years.
“The claims of this uneducated and shameful monk were unbelievable. Thus he said that even if someone had slept with Christ’s dear Mother, the Pope had power in heaven and on earth to forgive as long as money was put into the indulgence coffer. And if the Pope would forgive, God also had power to forgive. He furthermore said if they would put money quickly into the coffer to obtain grace and indulgence, all the mountains near St Annaberg would turn into pure silver. He claimed that in the very moment the coin rang in the coffer, the soul rose up to heaven. Such a marvelous thing was his indulgence!