October 31, 2021

Learning from Luther’s 95 Theses

Passage: Ephesians 2:1-10

Today, Oct 31, 2021, is the 504th anniversary of the event that sparked the Protestant Reformation. On this day in 1517, an obscure monk and scholar named Martin Luther attached a document titled Disputation on the Power of Indulgences to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. Most historians see this act as the birth of the Reformation. Luther became one of the great champions of the Reformation, along with other leaders such as John Calvin, John Hus, Huldrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, and John Knox.

We should review briefly what the Reformation was all about. As one writer put it—

The Protestant Reformation stands as the most far-reaching, world-changing display of God’s grace since the birth and early expansion of the church. … The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. … The Reformation was, at its heart, a recovery of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and this restoration had an unparalleled influence on churches, nations, and the flow of Western civilization.[1]

What about the church needed to be reformed back in the 16th century? Just about every part of it. The RCC had been the reigning power in western civilization for about 1000 years in Luther’s day. But the theology of the church had strayed far from the Bible, its leadership in many cases was corrupt, and its greed and materialism were evident for all to see. The Reformation was essentially a “back to the Bible” movement, and several reformers rose up to cleanse the church of its corruption and align it more closely to the Bible.

We are the beneficiaries of the Reformation. The way that we understand and worship God is directly linked to men like Martin Luther. The profound truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone was rediscovered during the Reformation by men like Luther. Were it not for the reformers, we would not be here today.

Luther’s Disputation is now referred to as his 95 Theses, and it is recognized as one of the primary triggers of the Reformation. Here’s part of the preface to this great work:

“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. …

Luther’s intent was to begin a friendly academic discussion of the 95 statements/theses that he proposed. His plan was not to break away from the RCC but to reform it—just a little bit and on this one particular issue. Had the RCC been sensitive to these problems and been willing to reform, the Protestant Reformation never would have happened. But the RCC was stubbornly unwilling to reform, and eventually Luther began his own branch of the Christian church, and that led to many other branches of the church beginning.

Luther saw great evidence of corruption within the church, and he hoped he could influence reform through his 95 Theses. Today I want to consider several of the problems Luther addresses in his 95 Theses. I’ve tried to state the biblical response to these issues in positive terms.

[1] Steve Lawson, “The Reformation and the Men Behind It.” http://www.ligonier.org/blog/reformation-and-men-behind-it/

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