Friday, October 31, 2014

Reformation Day

Today is a very important day in history. Possibly the most important day in in the last 500 years.  

On this day, 497 years ago, in the town of Wittenberg, Germany, a German monk, Martin Luther, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church. 

Now, most people picture this angry man stomping up to the church door, pulling out a railroad spike, & nailing his letter to the door using a giant mallet. This couldn’t be further from the truth. At this time, it was customary to post writings on the door of the church almost like we would to a bulletin board these days. Using a nail was the method of doing so. I’m sure the local door maker loved this custom…maybe he even started the tradition. 

Martin Luther was a teacher at the university. He had been teaching through Paul’s letter to the Romans when God saved him. He wrote of his salvation: 

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement 'the just shall live by faith.' Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning...This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

I love that testimony so much. It is very similar to mine, as well, especially the “The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning.”

As Luther continued teaching through Romans, he began to see the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote his Ninety-Five Theses in a response to the errors that he saw in the Catholic church and theology. He nailed one copy to the door of the church, sent another copy to the archbishop Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg, and sent a third copy to the bishop of Brandenburg (his superior). He wasn’t intending to be disrespectful or challenge the church. His intention was to invite the scholars of the day to debate these ninety-five issues. 

None of what Luther believed was new. However, this particular paper really set fire to people. Martin Luther was condemned by the Pope and he and his followers were viewed as criminals deserving death by the Roman Catholic Church. 

In one of the most loved scenes of Luther’s life, he is brought to Worms, Germany to stand before an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire and either renounce or reaffirm his work. This is referred to as The Diet of Worms. I know it sounds hilarious, however it is pronounced “Deet of Vorms.” A diet is a council.

Johann von Eck asked Luther if the 25 writings Eck had presented were his and if he was ready to renounce them as heresies. At this point, movies have shown a confident Luther boom in a loud voice his reaffirmation of all he had written. However, that is Hollywood and no where near the truth. Luther’s response to Eck was to ask to consider the question over night. Luther no long resembles the brave hero but more like me…scared, intimidated, unsure if what I am doing it the right thing. 

That night, Luther prays. He had been promised safety but is not sure if that promise will be honored. He doesn’t know if he will be executed, imprisoned, or allowed to return home safely. His prayer that night is one of the most honest and beautiful prayers I have ever read outside of the Bible.

O God, Almighty God everlasting! how dreadful is the world! behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, and how small is my faith in Thee! . . . Oh! the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan! If I am to depend upon any strength of this world - all is over . . . The knell is struck . . . Sentence is gone forth . . . O God! O God! O thou, my God! help me against the wisdom of this world. Do this, I beseech thee; thou shouldst do this . . . by thy own mighty power . . . The work is not mine, but Thine. I have no business here . . . I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world! I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace. But the cause is Thine . . . And it is righteous and everlasting! O Lord! help me! O faithful and unchangeable God! I lean not upon man. It were vain! Whatever is of man is totering, whatever proceeds from him must fail. My God! my God! dost thou not hear? My God! art thou no longer living? Nay, thou canst not die. Thou dost but hide Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it! . . . Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will! Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well- beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defence, my buckler, and my stronghold. Lord - where art thou? . . . My God, where art thou? . . . Come! I pray thee, I am ready . . . Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth . . . suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy. It is thine own! . . . I will not let thee go! no, nor yet for all eternity! And though the world should be thronged with devils - and this body, which is the work of thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden under foot, cut in pieces, . . . consumed to ashes, my soul is thine. Yes, I have thine own word to assure me of it. My soul belongs to thee, and will abide with thee forever! Amen! O God send help! . . . Amen!

The next day, Luther was brought back to the assembly and, once again, asked to renounce his writings. Luther did respond and his speech is still talked about today and used as a battle cry of Christians being demanded to bow before man rather than God.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.

While the council were deliberating what to do with Luther, he fled. The Edict of Worms read:

For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.

People were also banned from reading or owning any of his writings. Many people were executed, including being burned at the stake, for supporting Luther.

So what is the big deal with these ninety-five concerns? What are they exactly? 

Luther’s biggest concern with the Catholic Church was the selling of indulgences. An indulgence is where you can pay the Roman Catholic Church an amount of money to have your time in Purgatory lessened. Purgatory is a fictional place the Catholic Church teaches a Christian will go to burn off sins until they are purified enough to enter Heaven. During Luther’s time, the Pope sent Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences in order to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tetzel is attributed with the creation of the slogan of indulgences, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Thus, the topic of selling indulgences is the main focus of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

Most Protestants have never read Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. They are essentially the Protestant birth certificate and I encourage you to read them. Some of the topics Luther references have long been rejected by Protestants (the papacy, Purgatory, indulgences, etc.) but are still important to know in the understanding of our history. 

You can read all ninety-five here but here are a few:

#5 The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.

#8 The penitential canons apply only to men who are still alive, and, according to the canons themselves, none applies to the dead.

#10 It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when priests retain the canonical penalties on the dead in purgatory.

#13 Death puts an end to all the claims of the Church; even the dying are already dead to the canon laws, and are no longer bound by them.

#21 Hence those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the pope's indulgences.

#22 Indeed, he cannot remit to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be suffered in the present life.

#27 There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.

#32 All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

#36 Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.

#40 A truly contrite sinner seeks out, and loves to pay, the penalties of his sins; whereas the very multitude of indulgences dulls men's consciences, and tends to make them hate the penalties.

#43 Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences.

#44 Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.

#45 Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope's pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.

#62 The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

#68 Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.

#72 On the other hand, let him be blessed who is on his guard against the wantonness and license of the pardon-merchant's words.

#76 We assert the contrary, and say that the pope's pardons are not able to remove the least venial of sins as far as their guilt is concerned.

#79 It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross with the papal arms are of equal value to the cross on which Christ died.

#82 They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter's church, a very minor purpose.

#86 Again: since the pope's income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?

#90 These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.

#94 Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.

#95 And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

In closing, I hope you remember Martin Luther's work and his humility when you sing the song he penned, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

No comments:

Post a Comment