His name was Martin Luther, and after October 31, 1517 everyone would come to know who he is.
Welcome to a special episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. This week we celebrate Reformation Day. In the church calendar, November 1 was known as “All Saints’ Day.” That makes October 31 the eve of All Saints’ Day, or “All Hallowed Eve.” We know it by its short name, Halloween.
Let’s go back to the year 1517, for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1517, a display of newly acquired relics was scheduled for the church at Wittenberg. These practices had troubled a monk and a standout professor there at Wittenberg—the aforementioned Martin Luther. So, Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 drew up a list of points for debate and he had 95 in total. Of course, we’re talking about the 95 Theses. This is the document that started it all. This is the document that’s at the beginning of Protestantism; and this is the document that we celebrate Reformation Day week.
I thought for Reformation Day this year we would talk about the Top 5 of the 95. So here it goes, the Top 5:
In the first Thesis Luther says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent’ He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Now after Luther wrote the 95 Theses, he also wrote a document called “Explanation of the 95 Theses,” and in that text he explains that this word “repent” in the Latin Vulgate was translated as paenitentiam agite, which means, translated, as “Go, and do penance.”
The year before 1517, in 1516, Erasmus published the Greek text and Luther had a copy of that Greek text. And he saw that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is not even close to the idea of paenitentiam agite. So this return to Scripture had an immediate impact on the very first of Luther’s 95 Theses.
Our second in the Top 5 is number 27. Now we need a little background for this one as well. In Thesis number 27, Luther says, “They preach man made doctrines who say that it’s so soon as the coin jingles into the money box, the soul flies out of purgatory.” Now this is a reference to Tetzel. Tetzel was an enterprising monk who was selling indulgences, and he even came up with an advertising jingle, and in German it had a rhyme to it. The jingle went something like this:
As soon as the money in the chest rings, a soul from purgatory springs.
And in German, “rings,” the word Tetzel used, was klingt, and for “springs,” the German word is springt. So Luther is picking up on that to say this is a man made doctrine.
Our third in our Top 5 list is number 50. In Thesis 50 Luther says, “Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” Now we’re getting to the real reason behind Tetzel’s indulgence sale. The purpose of the indulgence sale was to raise money for the church. And the church needed the money because Pope Leo X back in Rome was literally bankrupting the church by building St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the time of Michelangelo; this is the painting of the Sistine Chapel. And Michelangelo is not a cheap ceiling painter. So, the church needed to get money from somewhere, and out went Tetzel. And Luther saw right through this, and he said, “This is coming on the backs of the poor German peasants.”
Our fourth is number 62. And number 62 doesn’t need any exposition. I’ll just plainly state it. Luther says this: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
Well that leaves our last of our Top 5. And for this I’m going to cheat a little bit. I’m going to pull two together. And this is Theses number 92 & 93. “Away then with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Cross, cross,’ and there is no cross.”
So, I hope you enjoy celebrating Reformation Day this year. And as you do, remember Luther and his 95 Theses.