This article gives some brief background to the circumstances leading up to Albert’s selling of indulgences near Wittenburg in 1517. This is a catalyst which led to Luther writing his 95 theses.
“Archbishop Albert of Mainz was a prince aged twenty-seven, brother of the Elector of Brandenburg. He was also Archbishop of Magdeburg (in which diocese lay Wittenburg) and administrator of the see of Halberstadt.
To combine these high offices he needed dispensations from Rome. The fees for dispensation on this gargantuan scale being vast, Albert borrowed money from the great banking house of Germany, the Fugger of Augsburg.
As security for the debt, he undertook to arrange the proclamation through Germany of the Indulgence which the Pope had recently declared for the purpose of building St. Peter’s at Rome. The money from the sale of this Indulgence (or phrased less crudely, from the gifts of the faithful seeking the remission of pains in purgatory) went in part to the Pope’s building and in part to the bankers in payment of Albert’s debt.
“He was never an infidel, nor a wicked man, but a pious Catholic from early youth; but he now became overwhelmed with a sense of the vanity of this world and the absorbing importance of saving his soul, which, according to the prevailing notion of his age, he could best secure in the quiet retreat of a cloister.
He afterward underwent as it were a second conversion, from the monastic and legalistic piety of mediæval Catholicism to the free evangelical piety of Protestantism, when he awoke to an experimental knowledge of justification by free grace through faith alone.”1
The True Confession (1596) was the work of an English-Separatist congregation of Baptists in exile in Amsterdam. This excerpt is from William L. Lumpkins, Baptist Confessions of Faith, revised ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1969). The spelling was updated where necessary.
A TRUE CONFESSION OF THE FAITH, AND HUMBLE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE ALLEGIANCE, which we her Majesty’s Subjects, falsely called Brownists, do hold towards God, and yield to her Majesty and all other that are over us in the Lord. Set down in Articles or Positions, for the better and more easy understanding of those that shall read it. And published for the clearing of ourselves from those unchristian slanders of heresy, schism, pride, obstinate, disloyalty, sedition, etc. which by our adversaries are in all places given out against us.
That God is a Spirit, whose being is of himself, and giveth being, moving, and preservation to all other things being himself eternal, most holy, every way infinite, in greatness, wisdom, power, goodness, justice, truth, etc.
And that in this Godhead there be three distinct persons, co-eternal, co-equal, and co-essential, being every one of the one and same God, and therefore not divided but distinguished one from another by their several and peculiar properties: The Father of none, the Son begotten of the Father from everlasting, the holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son before all beginnings.
The same conflict we saw in the Reformation can be seen in contemporary Christianity in North America and the rest of the world. Pastors in Baptist circles today (or heads of institutions or agencies) have choices to make when trying to expand and extend the influence of their church in the community or the constituency of their organizations. Aiming for unity (lowest common denominator of beliefs and/or holy living) will most often result in larger numbers of people, but it does not produce the fruit one might desire.
Martin Bucer typifies this struggle from the Reformation. He not only tried to achieve unity (reaching as many people as possible), but he also retained a passion for the purity of his church members. As he discovered, he could not have both. In trying to reach greater numbers, he had to dilute his message. Under Bucer’s leadership (and the other Reformers), churches were little different from the world. Church membership was granted at birth, and requirements to keep it were not enforced. Holy living was not essential.