On this day, four hundred and ninety years ago, Martin Luther, so Melanchthon later claimed, nailed his ’95 Theses on the Power of Indulgences’ to the door of the Wittenberg Church, and so struck the spark that lit the fire of the Reformation.
Here are some of those initial theses. The full text can be read here.
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in
all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
Not the snappiest of presentations, but the focus on divine grace, the theologia crucis, and the concern for some form of social justice – well these are some of the things that should remain central to the Protestant tradition. So happy birthday to one part of the Christian church and perhaps today is a good day to reflect on the words of a modern Lutheran theologian (HT to Halden for the quotation):
Indeed, that the church is ontologically the risen
Christ’s human body is the very possibility of the churchly reform for
which Protestantism is concerned. We cannot reform the church, any
more than we could create it. But every living person can and
sometimes must discipline his or her own body. If there is to be
churchly reform, the Spirit must do it; it must be done by the triune
person who frees the church to be the own [sic] body of Christ. And
that is to say, it must be an event within the reality of the living
Christ, an act – we may go so far as to say – of his own asceticism.
Churchly reform is the risen Christ’s self-discipline in the Spirit.
–Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 2: The Works of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 213.