Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31,1517 a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was protesting what he considered to be the unscriptural practice of selling “indulgences”. In order to raise the money needed to build St. Peter’s basilica in Rome the church had taken to selling forgiveness. For enough money you could buy forgiveness even for sins not yet committed. You could even free the soul of a loved one who had already died from purgatory simply by giving some money. Rome’s most egregious fundraiser, Johann Tetzel was fond of saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Tetzel would have had a great career in marketing.
Luther saw the error and danger in such practices and expressed them plainly in his 95 Theses or “objectors to the selling of indulgences.” Due to the advent of the printing press within two weeks translated copies of Luther’s 95 Theses were distributed throughout Germany and within two months through Europe [not quite as effective as YouTube, but close].
Eventually Luther would be summoned to the Diet of Worms to defend his views. But the Diet was not interested in debating theology. Instead they demanded that Luther recant. He requested 24 hours to reflect and pray, knowing his answer could result in excommunication or death. The next day he appeared before a hushed audience. When the interrogator asked, “will you recant!” Luther responded:
Here is it, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture, or by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word. I cannot and will not recant anything. For to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
The Edict of Worms was a death warrant for Luther, designed to silence him for good, although he supposedly enjoyed political protection from Frederick of Saxony. As he left the famous Diet, his coach was abducted and he was held hostage for eight months in Wartburg Castle. However, it was not his enemies but his friends who whisked him off the road that night, in order to protect his life. During this eight-month period Luther translated the Bible into German which helped fuel the reformation and the eventual break with Rome.
Though there would be many rifts between Protestant Reformers leading to numerous denominations, like Lutherans and Calvinists, Anabaptists and eventually Methodists, we owe a great deal to Luther. He established five solas that are the foundations of our Protestant theology.
- Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
- Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
- Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior and King.
- Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
Give thanks today for a man who had the courage to stand up for his convictions even in the face of threats and opposition. Without him we would not be here this morning. May we be willing to be men and women of conviction in our day and age. To God be the Glory!
Have a great week!
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