95 Theses

  • 20
    Even the pope – who can offer forgiveness – cannot totally forgive sins held within.

    The best way to describe this argument is that Luther is making the case for "Truth or Tradition". He acknowledges that the Pope has certain powers, such as to punish, but by what authority? He accuses the church leaders of his time of ignoring Paul's advice, "But test everything; hold fast to what good." (I Thess. 5:21)

    A revolution in the church is taking place. There's a subtle message beginning to emerge. It's time to get back to the bible. Relying on the opinions of men is dangerous. Men are sinful, weak, and human. As good and sincere as they might be, they have the potential to err. The only safe course of action is to put trust and faith in the inspired Word of God, holy scripture. Luther has yet to suggest this explicitly, but it's there, knitted into the argument.

  • 18
    A sinful soul does not have to be always sinful. It can be cleansed.

    "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18)

    In the well-known "Conflict of the Ages", series of books by Ellen White, the story is about how God and his government has been challenged, but as a result, the nature of His character. It is no coincidence that the first volume, "Patriarchs and Prophets" begins with the words, "God is love". Neither is it coincidence that the closing words of the fifth volume, "The Great Controversy", ends with the words, "God is love".   

    As a young friar, practising the prayers and fasts with zeal, Luther believed that God loved everyone but him. Interesting to see that that Luther is now comfortable using John 4:18 to argue his case. He has experienced life change, and his faith is growing.  

  • 17
    Souls in Purgatory need to find love – the more love the less their sin.

    In consideration of three types of dying souls, this argument about the character of God shines bright:

    "Consider, for example, a soul with perfect faith and love in the hour of death, which may still be obliged to keep a seven-day fast or satisfy some other canonical punishment. Is God so cruel that the soul which thirsts for him with the greatest love, and loves him most fervently above everything else, which has fully forgiven its neighbour all things, and desires most fervently that it itself may be forgiven all things, which because of these things has deserved forgiveness before God and men (for such is the soul of one who dies with pure love), here, I say, is God so cruel that he does not remit those seven days for the sake of the greatest love and humility toward Him and his neighbour, which is the greatest charity of all?

  • 16
    Purgatory = Hell. Heaven = Assurance.

    Yo-yo's have been around for literally thousands of years. I used to play with one at school. During break time with friends, we'd meet up in the playground to see who was the best at controlling this little object. 
    The yo-yo "Loves me – loves me not" experience, was a serious emotion during teenage years. 

    The Gospel does not tolerate yo-yo theology! With Jesus, there is no theology of, "Am I in, out, or not sure?" The devilish yo-yo experience has destroyed the joy and freedom the Gospel offers, in many a person, including some in our own community of faith in times past, and with great regret, still today.    

    "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so."

  • 15
    This fear is so bad that it is enough to cleanse the soul.

    The idea of purgatory is evil. Let Luther speak for himself.
    "To use an example: If a ball crosses a straight line, any point of the line which is touched bears the whole weight of the ball, yet it does not embrace the whole ball. Just so the soul, at the point where it is touched by a passing eternal flood, feels, and imbibes nothing except eternal punishment. Yet the punishment does not remain, for it passes over again. Therefore, if that punishment of hell, that is, that unbearable and inconsolable trembling, takes hold of the living, punishment of the souls in purgatory seems to be so much greater. Moreover, that punishment for them is constant. And in this instance the inner fire is much more terrible than the outer fire." 

Reflecting on each of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is a challenge. Not least, because they are statements by a theologian -  designed to be considered by theologians. It may surprise that there’s no mention of the doctrine of justification by faith. For sure, it is there, quietly hovering over each statement, evidence enough of the continual ‘holy stirrings’ in his life, gradually re-shaping his worldview. That Luther wrote for reaction, to create a debate is certain. But what he shares is not an indulgent game for the local university debating society. We see head and heart are working together, deep passion and concern. Things must change, for these are matters of life and death.

He introduces his 95 with the following brief statement:

“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. Therefore, he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”

The core of Luther’s concern is about, “The Indulgence”. It is wrong. It is unbiblical, and Rome is misleading and exploiting simple souls. As Owen Chadwick explains:

“He saw it as an external and damnable symptom of so much that was inwardly wrong with the Christian teaching of his generation, a teaching which asserted or suggested that God could be placated by external acts, by forms, by payments, by ‘good works’. Luther did not attack indulgences and thereby reach a doctrine of justification by faith alone. He applied an already appropriated doctrine of justification to judge a particular indulgence.” (Owen Chadwick, The Reformation p.46)

As we go on a journey, and consider the 95 from a devotional & reflective perspective, far removed from a forensic examination of his theology, we will get just a glimpse of Luther’s protest. What will we see of Luther’s wish for Christian teaching to be biblical? What will we see of the Gospel? Will his argument create triggers in our mind, leading to a greater understanding of the Gospel? Will he overstate a point - to make a point?

Carefully and prayerfully, let’s hope our journey is not just for understanding. With open hearts and minds, could the words of a 15th century monk stir and re-kindle the grace and goodness of God in us?

To help us all as we progress, we’ll be using a modern translation of his propositions by C N Trueman (they were originally posted in Latin), taken from the History Learning Site. But we’ll also reference Luther’s own explanation, showing, not least, how difficult it was for him to change from the past.


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