It was on this day 490 years ago that a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses Against the Sale of Indulgences on the Door of Wittenberg (pronounced Vittenberg) Castle. Indulgences were those pieces of paper you purchased at your local parrish when you were promised protection against divine wrath for your future sin. So, if you knew you were going to sin (or 'indulge' yourself), you bought an indulgence from the church and you could sin without guilt. Other indulgences were purchased for family members who had already died with an abundance of sin in their lives, and you paid the church to in essence bribe God to remove your loved one from 'purgatory' where your loved one was being 'purged' by God for his sins on earth. The money you gave to the church in the purchase of indulgences for your loved ones, according to the Catholic priests of the day, would not only be used to finish the magnificent St Peter's Basilica in Rome, it would remove your loved one from Purgatory. As the monk Tetsel used to sing in his little village ditty (translated from German):
"As soon the coin in the coffer does ring,
the soul from Purgatory it shall spring."
Luther's 95 Theses explained why the Roman Catholic doctrine of indulgences contained no real power or efficacy. Luther explained patiently that the very concept of indulgences was a denial of the gospel of the atonement of Jesus Christ. He urged his fellow Catholics to return to the gospel, the love for the truth of God's Word, and to work together for the advancement of the kingdom. He nailed his Theses on the community internet bulletin board of his day (the door of the castle church), and the Reformation began. Western Civilization, including the United States, is composed of hundreds of vibrant evangelical denominations and tens of thousands of evangelical (gospel or 'good news') churches because of the Reformation. Martin Luther was eventually put on trial by the Pope at the Diet (German word for 'meeting) of Worms (pronounced Vurms; a city in Germany) and convicted as a heretic. It was at this meeting at Worms (January 28 - May 25, 1521) that Luther concluded his defense of his actions by making this famous statement:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.
People forget that Luther had no intention of leaving the Roman Catholic Church. He considered himself a reformer, and thus the title of his movement was known as 'The Reformation' of the Roman Catholic Church.
Of course, those who were in control and held the power considered Luther a heretic, a liberal, a trouble-maker - nothing but a 'Protestor.' Thus, the word 'Protestants' was coined by the Roman Catholic church to label Luther's followers and they were eventually banished. I wonder what would have happened had Luther not been thrown out - 'ex-communicated' - from the Roman Catholic Church? What would the world look like today had his reforms actually worked during the end of the Middle Ages? We will never know, and in God's Providence it was not meant to be, but Luther's attempt at Reform were noble - even if not successful. Reformation toward a more gospel oriented belief that the Scripture is sufficient in themselves for Christian doctrine and practice should be the goal of every true child of God.
Have a great Reformation Day, and may you and I work toward reform in our churches and our convention that leads to our collective conscience held captive to the word of God - and nothing else. Man's rules, religious regulations or denominational traditions that pretend to be on par with Scripture and lead anyone away from faith in Christ alone, trust in Scripture alone, and rest in God's grace alone are to be resisted with as much energy as Luther resisted indulgences. Here we stand, we can do no other.
In His Grace,