Happy Reformation Day
On this day, October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk and Professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg named Martin Luther went public with his Disputation for Making Known the Power of Indulgences. According to Luther’s friend and colleague Phillip Melanchthon, Luther nailed these “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of “Castle Church.” Within two months, this scholarly Latin document, originally intended for academic debate and the consideration of the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, was translated, printed, and transmitted throughout Europe, sparking what came to be called the Protestant Reformation.
The trigger for the “Ninety-Five Theses” was the sale of indulgences (i.e. the remission of the temporal punishment of a sin or sins that has already been forgiven), but this prompt led Luther to raise questions about clerical abuses, papal authority, the penitential system, and the nature of repentance. As Luther saw it, repentance was misunderstood if it was taken to refer “to the sacrament of penance, that is confession and satisfaction” (Thesis 2). Rather, repentance, which Luther would later define as “sorrow [for sin] caused by the law … and a good intention [caused by the gospel]” (First Disputation Against the Antinomians, Thesis 1; 1537), is something that defines “the entire life of the believer” (Thesis 1). Ultimately, “the pope himself cannot remit guilt” because God alone can forgive sin (Thesis 6; cf. Mark 2:7). But the good news is that the God who alone can forgive sins has acted in Jesus to do just that. And so, as “Thesis 62” puts it, “the true treasure of the church is the holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Luther’s 95 Theses, watch this.