When you wake in the morning, you never know how your day may end. Your day may be very ordinary and then find out later that something you did, something you thought was customary, turns out to have made a huge impact on life for many people. Most of us will never have anything like this happen to us. It makes for good time-travel or alternate universe movies and books. But this was the reality for Martin Luther on October 31, 1517.
Martin Luther was a monk, a very devout and well-educated monk. He was so obsessed with having his sin forgiven, he was famous for spending an excessive amount of time in confession. After a visit to Rome, Luther returned to his life in the monastery even more distraught by the state of the Catholic church. He witnessed so much corruption and debauchery within the church and among the leaders of the church that he dove into even deeper study of the Scripture and the writings of the church fathers.
Due to the excessive spending on the elaborate building, remodeling, and decorating of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Leo X agreed to the sale of indulgences. Indulgences are a way to purchase time out of purgatory for yourself or others. These indulgences can be bought to cover both past and future sins. This was the final “nail in the coffin” for Luther.
On the morning of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther took a document referred to as his “95 Theses” and nailed it to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Now this may sound very dramatic or maybe even damaging property but it was not. This was a typical practice in this time. The door was like a bulletin board. Luther sent copies of his theses to a few other men as well. This was the way of calling for a debate. Debates were common in this time and were not to be thought of as sparking a revolution. Within a couple of months, his 95 Theses had spread throughout much of Europe.
In the end, Martin Luther would be excommunicated from the Catholic church, had a price on his head, and had sparked the Protestant Reformation. This was never Luther’s intention. His desire was to bring the Roman Catholic Church back to the original teachings of the Bible, however, God had other plans.
Here is Luther’s introduction to his 95 Theses:
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.
Luther’s 95 Theses were topics of which he hoped to debate and reorient the Catholic church on. Here are a few of the 95. If you would like to read all 95, you may do so here.
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
Luther had no idea that his 95 Theses would spark such controversy. The real reason for Luther’s excommunication was due to his teaching on justification and not his 95 Theses alone.
Luther taught that justification (declared “not guilty” before God) is by faith alone through God’s grace alone and not of works. Works were only to show evidence of justification, not to earn or keep justification.
What seemed like an ordinary day changed the course of Christianity. October 31 is most often remembered as Halloween but for Protestants this day means so much more.
There is a long line of men who preached truths of the Reformation before Luther but this moment in history is recognized as the major turning point.
- “Luther’s 95 Theses”. 2016. Bible Study Tools. http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/creeds-confessions/luther-95-theses.html.
- Nichols, Stephen. 2016. “What Is Reformation Day?”. Ligonier Ministries. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-is-reformation-day/.
- Nichols, Stephen. 2016. “The Reformation”. Ligonier Ministries Store. http://www.ligonier.org/store/the-reformation-paperback/.
- Nichols, Stephen. 2016. “Martin Luther: A Guided Tour Of His Life And Thought”. Ligonier Ministries Store. http://www.ligonier.org/store/martin-luther-a-guided-tour-of-his-life-and-thought-paperback/.
- Schlehr, Karisa. 2016. “Reformation Day Resources, Plus 4 Free MP3 Downloads”. Ligonier Ministries. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/reformation-day-resources-plus-free-mp3-downloads/.
- Sproul, RC. 2016. “Luther And The Reformation”. Ligonier Ministries Store. http://www.ligonier.org/store/luther-and-the-reformation-dvd/.
- “What Are The 95 Theses Of Martin Luther?”. 2016. Got Questions. https://gotquestions.org/95-theses.html.
- “What Is Reformation Day?”. 2016. Got Questions. https://gotquestions.org/Reformation-Day.html.
- “What Was The Protestant Reformation?”. 2016. Got Questions. https://gotquestions.org/Protestant-Reformation.html.