As we celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, I teach on the roots, a bit on Luther, and then what does the Reformation mean for us today. The message?

You get to be with God…

  • From the 500 Year Anniversary celebration on November 5, 2017

81) This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.

Luther tries to show the pope that indulgences actually make him look bad and will bring mistaken impressions from the people.

82) Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

Luther gives his own examples of shrewd questions that might be asked and seems to be saying, “How am I supposed to answer these question, your eminence?”

83) Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?’’

Funerals and anniversary masses on the date of the death of loved ones are supposed to bring forgiveness of penalty from purgatory, but the dead who are already redeemed by Christ need no “help.”

84) Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?’’

The pope is even helping out enemies of God who try to get their friends out purgatory. Why not just honor the dead man’s legacy and declare him free because of love?

85) Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?’’

Certain sections of the laws that the Roman Catholic Church had used for forgiving the penalties of those in purgatory had not been used for a long time, so why all of a sudden use them again?

86) Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?’’

Crassus is Marcus Licinius Crassus, Roman general and politician, said to be the richest man in Roman history. This is an especially shrewd question since the pope had lost so much money by taking out loans and gambling debt, not be helping those in need.

87) Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?’’

Not everyone needs release from purgatory. Some of those who people are buying indulgences for are already in heaven.

88) Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?’’

The papal indulgence is a one time thing. Why not pray for the souls of people all the time, and if your prayers are considered so effective, this would release everyone from purgatory, anyway.

89) “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?’’

According to Luther, the pope is saying former indulgences and other acts of penance are no longer valid for this period of time.

90) To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.

This is the theme Luther will keep coming back to. In 1302, Pope Boniface VIII sent out a papal decree, Unam Sanctam, which basically says the pope has absolute authority in all matters of faith and life because he said so. Luther is beginning to question this from a biblical and logical perspective. This puts the Church and pope in a bad light, both from their enemies and from Christians.

91) If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.

Luther, once again, is giving the pope the benefit of the doubt. Obviously the pope doesn’t want indulgences being sold like this.

92) Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)

Luther is blaming the indulgence preachers who are saying buying forgiveness brings peace when it does no such thing.

93) Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

Luther is supporting those, like himself, who are teaching that the forgiveness of sin is given freely through the death of Jesus on the cross to all who receive it. It appears the cross isn’t necessary if you can buy your way out.

94) Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.

Christ alone is the supreme authority and he has already freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

95) And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

We are in a battle with the forces of evil, but Jesus is already victorious and so, while in this life we have suffering and sorrow, we will someday receive a hero’s welcome in heaven!

Well, as has been said, “That’s all she wrote.”

These Ninety-Five Theses take on a life of their own and Luther, the obscure, solitary monk, will spend the rest of his life expanding his teaching and leadership, which will in turn, be used to transform the Church and the world.

Happy 500!

71) Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.

Here Luther is cursing  you if you disagree with him about the indulgences (He is the “one who speaks the truth”)

72) But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.

Luther pronounces a blessing on those resisting the temptation of buying indulgences from these indulgence preachers.

73) Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.

Luther is giving the pope the benefit of the doubt of these indulgences. He is almost saying the pope is not aware of  the indulgence preachers’ messages concerning them.

74) Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.

Luther is saying the pope will see the way they are selling his indulgences is wrong.

75) To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.

One of the indulgence preachers’ favorite hyperboles is to say indulgences will even pardon the sin of raping Mary!

76) We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.

Indulgences can’t forgive sin, period, even very tiny ones.

77) To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.

Peter is supposed to be the pope above all popes. But, these current indulgences are better than any he could grant. Again, ridiculous.

78) We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12[:28])

This is only the third time Luther quotes scripture. It just shows the lack of respect the church hierarchy has for the Bible that Luther can’t use it more to in the debate. He is saying the gifts of God are already greater than any indulgence.

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.

When the indulgence preachers come into town, they have a banner of the pope’s coat of arms to show they represent the pope. They also carry a cross on which they post an indulgence, instead of a body of Jesus like a normal crucifix, signifying the indulgence has equal power as Christ on the cross.

80) The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.

The church leaders are wrong and they will be judged by God.

61) For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.

The pope can dismiss the penalty of standards he sets, not the standards God sets.

62) The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

The gospel alone is the true treasure which is available to all for free.

63) But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

A bit of sarcasm from Luther saying in the ways of Jesus those who are most “holy” are actually those who are last in the hierarchy. The pope and others in the upper hierarchy don’t like this.

64) On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

Those who buy forgiveness love indulgences because they aren’t following Christ, but get to end up ahead.

65) Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.

Sharing the gospel with wealthy people is for the sake of their souls not their gold.

66) The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.

With indulgences it doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor. The idea is to go after everybody’s money.

67) The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.

Indulgences are awesome not because of what they supposedly do, pay off penalty of sin, but because of what they really do, raise money for the pope.

68) They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.

Indulgences don’t compare to real forgiveness.

69) Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.

The church hierarchy treats indulgences as all-holy.

70) But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.

The effectiveness of the indulgence correlates to the wishes of the pope. They are not sold for the dreams of others.

51) Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

A church campus can be the lifeblood of the community in so many ways. At the same time, rather than building to the glory of God, if you are simply building a vanity project, your money is better used to serve the needs of those in the community.

52) It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.

Trust in Christ alone who already pardons our sins on the cross. Our ultimate allegiance is to our Savior.

53) They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

This is a strong statement because Luther is basically saying the pope condemns himself as he well knows it is the pope who is encouraging these sales in the first place.

54) Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.

Forgiveness through indulgences=forgiveness through Jesus? Not on your life. Preach the right message.

55) It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

Luther is putting the emphasis in the right place.

56) The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.

If God’s people know about forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, they won’t be interested in indulgences. Luther is already alluding to a theme he will address with the Small Catechism. The total lack of knowledge about who Jesus is and what he does.

57) That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.

The indulgence sellers don’t have a corner on the market of what the indulgences are suppose to represent, forgiveness.

58) Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.

We don’t need indulgences, we need Jesus. And we have him already. Luther will dismiss the idea that the saints have merits for us very soon.

59) St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

Luther takes a side trip to speak of how the word “treasure” is used in different way by St. Lawrence.

60) Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.

Forgiveness of sin comes through Christ and it is every Christians privilege to declare that forgiveness is available for everyone.

41) Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

Luther still has the Roman Catholic understanding of good works helping knock years off of purgatory. But, he is growing in his understanding that simply buying pardon is worst of all.

42) Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.

Christians should be taught that, but this is not what the pope believed. You don’t get money for your building project by emphasizing works of mercy, which, of course, are free.

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.

This would seem to go without saying, but Luther had to say it because the pope was alluding to the opposite.

44) Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.

Buying forgiveness has nothing to do with relationships between people, where acts of love and mercy build up relationships.

45) Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.

To ignore the needs of others by paying for forgiveness is unrepentant sin.

46) Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

In Luther’s day giving to the church is not voluntary. The people are already required to pay the 10% tithe tax up front. Squandering on indulgences is considered an extravagance by Luther.

47) Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.

Because almost no one is able to read the Bible, the people don’t know that the Bible has nothing to say about indulgences.

48) Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.

The pope needs prayer to change his heart on selling forgiveness of sin. So he needs prayer more than money.

49) Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.

By buying indulgences they are putting their trust in God’s forgiveness. It is trust misspent.

50) Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.

Luther is talking the high road and assuming the pope doesn’t know about the selling of forgiveness through indulgences being done in his name. If he did he surely wouldn’t permit it. In actuality it is the pope doing the encouraging of their sales.

31) The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.

Indulgences will fare no better than being truly penitent…Don’t waste your money.

32) Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

Luther is already showing his “Christ alone” attitude and he rightfully warns those who would lead others astray.

33) Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.

I remember Loyd Bentsen reminding Dan Quayle in the 1988 VP debate, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Well, Luther has his spin. “Mr. Pope, you’re no Jesus Christ.”

34) For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.

How can manmade religious rules bring eternal blessing? They can’t…

35) They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.

Luther still thinks indulgences may be possible with the right attitude. This will soon change.

36) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

All of our sins are already forgiven on the cross of Jesus. It is just receiving this forgiveness as our own that matters.

37) Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

With God, “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards are not necessary.

38) Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.

When the pope pronounces blessing he is being an ambassador for God, as any Christian can do.

39) It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.

Here we see Luther doing some deep thinking himself on the whole indulgence controversy.

40) A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.

“Getting off easy” skews the whole meaning of repentance.

21) Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

Only God can forgive the penalty for sin.

22) As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.

You can’t add penalties in purgatory.

23) If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.

If worthiness for forgiveness was an issue, who would be saved from penalty? Luther is getting close…

24) For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.

A money making scheme sounds too good to be true. Go figure…

25) That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.

A bishop oversees a diocese, a collection of Catholic churches. A curate is a priest.

26) The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.

The power of the keys is the ability to forgive sin granted to all Christians. Luther is saying this power has no effect in purgatory and the pope is better off praying for the dead.

27) They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

One of the branding statements of the indulgence salesmen is false.

28) It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

Money for forgiveness is sinful. Prayer is fine, as long as you realize God is going to do what he is going to do.

29) Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.

Maybe some people want to hang in purgatory to get greater glory once they reach heaven. That is what the legend is all about.

30) No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.

It is up to God to judge a man or woman’s heart. so it is impossible to know if indulgences have any effect whatsoever.

Luther is talking about purgatory quite often in the Ninety-Five Theses. Let’s consider what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching concerning purgatory.

The idea that purgatory is a physical place of fiery punishment where you must “purge” any results of your sin before you go to heaven is developed in the Roman Catholic Church by the 11th century. The Catholic Church believed that the living can help those whose purification from their sins is not yet completed not only by praying for them but also by gaining indulgences for them as an act of intercession.

There is no biblical support for the doctrine of Purgatory. The Roman Catholic Church added books to their Bible that are between the Old and New Testaments, called, “The Apocrypha,” where there is an example pf praying for the dead that they may have sins forgiven after they are dead (2 Maccabees 12:41-46). ” Luther included these books in his Bible translation separately but did not consider them Scripture. He said “these are books which are not consider equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.”

The Nine-Five Theses are written in 1517 and Luther still thinks there is a purgatory. He will change his thinking within the next ten years. In the 1522 version of Luther’s Personal Prayer Book he has this petition: “Have mercy upon all poor souls in purgatory.” In his 1524 edition of the same book this petition is taken out.  Formally, Luther rejects purgatory in 1528 in his writing, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper. 

OK, now let’s look at Theses 11-20

11) Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).

The parable of the wheat and tares concerns an enemy of a farmer who plants weeds (tares) amongst the good seed (wheat). Luther is saying there is no basis for teaching punishment for sin after death. It must have become Catholic teaching while those who oversee the teaching were sleeping (a bit of Luther’s sarcasm).

12) In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13) The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.

The dead can’t be held to earthly ways of dealing with punishment for sin once they are dead.

14) Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.

15) This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

It is penalty enough for those who dying that they are in despair concerning the torment of purgatory. You don’t need to add other penalties on top of this.

16) Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.

Hell brings despair, purgatory brings fear, and heaven brings assurance. You can see where this way of thinking is going to lead Luther when he no longer holds to the doctrine of purgatory. In dying there is pure grace and assurance.

17) It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.

Why would those in purgatory have an increase in fear when supposedly they are being “purged” of their sin?

18) Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.

It is not proven in Scripture that there is a purgatory, but if there is then love ought to increase during people’s in-between time.

19) Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.

How do those in purgatory know the penalty for their sins are being lessened or purged clean by the action of the living who are praying for them and using indulgences?

20) Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.

If God is imposing penalties after death, only God can redeem people from these penalties. The pope can’t.

(My comments are in parentheses)

(Introduction)

Out of love and zeal for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publicly discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend father Martin Lutther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and regularly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who cannot be present to debate orally with us will do so by letter.

 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

(Notice how Luther spells his name.)

(No one actually responded to his invitation. Of course with this being the first viral best seller there would be plenty of feedback. 14 K copies sent out in 12 different languages- in one month!)

Theses 1-10

1) When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

(To “repent” is to think at a higher level or think again, so it is always related to sin. For Luther this means always being honest before God with our whole life and think deeply.)

2) This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy. 

(Luther couldn’t stand the practice of confession he is put through as a monk. Jesus and his disciples didn’t practice this kind of repentance so why should he?)

3) Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

(Luther wants to see action as a result of repentance and so he mentions mortification of the flesh.  How about whipping yourself, sleeping naked on the freezing brick floor or, even worse, out in the snow? Luther did all of those things in the past,  but now that he is clear on the gospel of grace I wonder if Luther is still doing these things?)

4) The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

(In Catholic teaching there is a difference between the penalty of sin and the guilt of sin.)

5) The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.

(The canons are the laws of Catholicism and are level with the Bible. Not for Luther!)

6) The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.

(To “remit” guilt is to cancel it.)

7) God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.

(A vicar is a representative to the bishop.)

8) The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

(No confession after you are dead.)

9) Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

(Luther speaks kindly about the pope.)

10) Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.

(Confession after you are dead and in purgatory? Not for Luther.)