Key Figures in the Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther (Part 6)


OCTOBER 31, 1517

Sometime on October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints day, 33 year old Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany.  The Door was like a 16th Century bulletin board for announcements (Kind of like Facebook). The announcements varied, from academic to announcements of church affairs.

Luther’s post was a call for a “disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light.” He did so as a faithful monk and priest who had been appointed professor of biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg.

I need to pause before we look at a number of the 95 Theses and explain what was meant by “indulgences.”  “Indulgences” (from the Latin indulgentia—permit) had become the complex instruments for granting forgiveness of sins. In short, the sale of indulgences was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption or time out of purgatory. (It is a bit more complex, but this is the gist of it). Indulgences were used to build the Basilica of St. Peter

I am not going to comment or even restate all of Luther’s theses. There are numerous sites where you can go and read them for yourselves: This is the most concise with scripture references – I simply want to introduce you to a number of the more profound ones: (Remember at the time of the posting Luther was still a Catholic in good standing with no real thought of separating from the church. As you read them you see a man in turmoil. Struggling with God’s truth and church tradition.)

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
  3. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
  4. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  5. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  6. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
  7. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  8. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
  9. To say that the cross-emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  10. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
  11. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  12. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses are often considered a charter, a bold declaration of independence for the Protestant church. This was the spark that became the Protestant Reformation

See You Sunday,

Pastor Byron