When people hear the phrase "Lutheran Reformation," they usually think of October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted 95 Theses against indulgences on the door of St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg. While this event began Luther's public career, the Theses themselves have almost nothing to do with the Reformation. However, they are a point to look at what a very faithful Christian in the early 16th century believed and see how the Reformation that would follow after him has evolved.
In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I prepared statements concerning each of the 95 Theses. Below are those comments for each thesis.
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"Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."
To begin his list of debate theses, Luther calls attention to Jesus' first sermon in St. Matthew's Gospel: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (4:17). This sermon is given not long after Jesus' temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Luther places this verse strategically at the beginning of his theses to drive home the point.
Jesus had just gone through every temptation Satan could muster against Him. Jesus had prevailed against all of them. Now, He goes into the world to preach repentance. He takes up the slack of the Baptizer's ministry (Matthew 4:12) and begins to increase in His ministry, as the Baptizer had prophesied (John 3:30). With this initial sermon, Jesus calls everyone to a lifetime of repentance because "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." It is not here yet, but it is very close.
This closeness continues today. Even as Christians are members of Christ's body, the Kingdom of Heaven is still something we pray to come to us in the Lord's Prayer. The Kingdom of Heaven remains at hand. Therefore, every Christian's life should be a life of repentance.
"This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests."
Each of the ninety-four theses following the first build off of the previous theses. In this second petition, Luther picks up on the word "repentance". In Scripture, repentance is the sacramental penance that involves both the confession of sins and the reception of absolution.
Both of these parts of the sacrament are necessary to call it repentance. If there is no confession of sin, there is nothing to be repented of. Without the forgiveness of sins, repentance is no greater than Judas' "repentance" over Jesus' condemnation (Matthew 27:3). According to the KJV, Judas "repented himself," but this repentance had no absolution. Judas goes to the chief priests and confesses his sin: "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." The chief priests, those who had set the bounty on Jesus' head, refuse to grant him absolution (Matthew 27:4). Not receiving forgiveness, Judas goes out and hangs himself in remorse (Matthew 27:5).
Repentance is both confession and absolution. This has been given to the pastors and priests of the Church by her Savior (John 20:23). The Apostles, as the pastors of the early Church, were given the authority to hear the confession of the penitent. To offer the Gospel of Jesus' forgiveness of sins to those broken by their sin. This is true repentance.
"Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh."
Repentance is not only a change of mind against sin. Repentance is also the outward change of attitude against sin. Repentance is not just lip service. Repentance is a way of life. The Didache, a first-century Christian text, tells us that repentance is THE way of life.
In this life of repentance, Christians strive to cease from sinning. Not that we will be sinless in this life. We will never become sinless in this life. In repentance, we struggle to mortify our sinful flesh. We strive to kill the sin within us by our internal and external struggles with sin.
In this repentance, we strive to imitate the example Jesus gave us in His life, death and resurrection.
"The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven."
First of all, this thesis reminds us that this is early Luther writing these theses for discussion. The self-loathing monk who never thought himself good enough for a righteous God writes these words. Therefore, he desires Christians in their life of repentance to hate themselves.
From his ascetic life, Luther sought pity from God, not mercy. In this thinking, the monk or nun believed that they could remove some of the punishment to be purged in purgatory by punishing themselves with various different and typically violent punishments.
However, the penalty of sin is gone in the forgiving Word in Baptism and in Absolution. The Christian does not have to hate themselves or punish themselves in this life. All punishment has been taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Through His death and our Baptism into His death, our entrance into Heaven is secure. Therefore, the Christian simply needs to repent when they fall into sin.
"The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons."
In the Lutheran Reformation, the issue of papal authority was a secondary issue. But it was directly based upon the primary issue: the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.
The Pope, based on his own ex cathedra proclamations or the authority given to him by the ecumenical councils, demanded that all of Christendom believe that the authority to forgive and retain sins solely belonged to his office. However, Jesus gave the authority to forgive and retain sins to the whole Church.
The sins the Pope intended to remit in the sixteenth century are the same as those he intends to remit in the twenty-first century. These sins are those which violate what he has said and imposed upon the Roman Catholic Church.
His demanded authority gave him the great following that continues to listen and hang on every word that comes from his mouth, firmly believing (though vainly) that his every word is straight from God's mouth.
The Reformers discounted the Pope's inherent authority over the whole Church on earth throughout the Lutheran Confessions (AC/Ap XXVIII; Ap V 257-279; VII 23-28; SA II IV; Treatise). While they were willing to accept him as the head of the Church by human right (SA II IV 7; "Signers" 7), they would not submit to his office being given as divine right. There is no biblical foundation for his office and authority. Reading through history, everything about the Bishop of Rome becoming the head of the whole Christian Church is entirely man-made and man-oriented.
"The Pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven."
The Pope, like every other Christian, only has the authority to forgive sins through the forgiveness that God has given to each of us. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). Later in the same passage, Jesus says, "If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). Our forgiveness flows from Christ's forgiveness.
One of Lutherans' major problems with the Pope is his demand for submisstion to his authority by divine right. It is by this usurped authority that the Pope claims to forgive all sins. But this authority is nonexistent. The Pope is a bishop just like any other bishop. A priest like any other priest. A Christian like any other Christian. He serves in the office of the physical and political head of the Roman Catholic Church and all other congregations/communions that submit to his authority.
However, like any other Christian, the Pope can specifically grant the forgiveness of sins to those who seek Absolution from him. Any Christian can forgive sins. Jesus gives this authority to the whole Church: "And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld'" (John 20:22-23).
Forgiveness can be pronounced by any Christian. Every Christian is a royal priest (1 Peter 2:9). In this vocation, those who come seeking forgiveness are able to receive it but only because of Christ's authority and merit.
"God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest."
Forgiveness, repentance and humility go hand in hand. There can be no forgiveness if there is no repentance. No one can repent if their heart is not first humbled by God's Law.
In this humiliation, God brings the sinner to repentance and also into subjection to his priest. From this priest, the penitent hopes to receive Absolution. As stated with previous theses, this priest can be any Christian because every Christian is a royal priest (1 Peter 2:9).
This humiliation comes from the proclamation of God's Law that condemns sin. Hearing the condemnation, the Holy Spirit draws the sinner into an understanding of their sinfulness. Then the humbled sinner repents and seeks forgiveness from the person(s) he has wronged. Since each sin is primarily against God (Psalm 51:4), we can seek forgiveness from any Christian but most especially from our parish pastor.
The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
The penitential canons were rules laid down by councils or bishops concerning the penances necessary to be done for various sins. Although indulgences were available for both the living and the dead, the penances were only for the living. There was no imposition of further satisfactions upon the dead.
This seems from both sides of the question to be "a given," to use a geometric term. Neither side would say that the dead should be given penances to complete their forgiveness. From the medieval Roman church's perspective, the righteous dead were already in purgatory. They were already being purged for their sins. Nothing new needed to be added. From the Reformation perspective, death ends a person's accountability for the Law (Romans 7:1). When one dies, their eternal destiny is revealed to them.
Should the Church continue the penitential canons? Absolutely not. There should be no list of things to do to earn forgiveness. There is only one thing for a repentant sinner to do: confess. Once confession has been made, the pastor should immediately give them the Absolution. Nothing else is necessary for the forgiveness of sin.
Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
The Pope's decrees were always making exceptions. Even now, papal decrees have exceptions due to "more advanced knowledge." This is seen in the many exceptions as you look at fasting from meat on Fridays in Lent. This is now only applicable if you are physically able to fast.
Because these decrees are from man, there are always exceptions that need to be made. In this early stage of his thought, Luther attributed these exceptions to the mediation of the Holy Spirit in the Pope's messages.
Every rule of man has at least one exception. Many times we're told that the exceptions make the rules. This is especially true when we speak of Jesus. He was like us in every way except sin (Hebrews 4:15), but He was made to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is the exception that makes us righteous before God.
Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
Apparently Luther knew of instances where "last rites" weren't administered to people. The priests involved simply handed them over to purgatory like Paul handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan (1 Timothy 1:20). This thesis could also be in response to priests who said there was no need to do penance in this life because purgatory was reserved for these penances.
This first idea is inexcusable in pastors and priests. The Christian's deathbed is the one place where the Gospel needs to be spoken boldly and confidently. The Law is taking it's toll on the Christian as the end of life nears. The Gospel needs to be clearly heard.
Having said that, the Roman practice of penance is not the Gospel. It is only piling on more Law on top of a person already crushed by it.
The second idea depends on the existence of purgatory. But purgatory takes away from Christ's glory. It takes away from His perfect satisfaction of God's Law. It continues the pagan idea that man must make himself acceptable to God. Purgatory is the place where the sins that couldn't be purged in life were eventually purged out, allowing the person to enter God's presence.
Anything that takes away from Christ's glory and satisfaction is definitely ignorant and wicked. These doings should be done away with. Jesus did everything necessary for salvation. Nothing keeps you out of God's presence except unconfessed sin.
This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
Luther calls purgatory the devil's weed, referencing Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30). The faithful bishops of the Church were resting after multiple battles with heretics. In this time, minor errors were able to creep into the Church. And these minor errors took root and grew into major errors. Errors that bind the conscience unnecessarily. When Luther begins his Reformation in earnest, the doctrine of purgatory is one of his initial targets. Jesus' forgiveness of your sins eliminates the need for purgatory and shows that purgatory is one of the many tares in God's field that will be burned up on the Last Day.
In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
Luther digs back into Church history to show the proper place for satisfactions in penance. While the Small Catechism tells us there are two parts to Confession, the medieval Church has three.
The early Church saw satisfactions as necessary to prove the sincerity of the penitent. Taking from Jesus' own words, reparations needed to be made as a sign of good faith before Absolution would bind the sin forever.
The medieval Church began to see satisfactions as ways to help pay off the debt you owe for your sin. In this way, the satisfactions do not prove repentance. The satisfactions are works that you need to do to become righteous. This is not something that the Gospel can or will tolerate.
The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
"You can't take it with you when you go." That doesn't only apply to your material possessions in this life. It also applies to your sin. Your sin doesn't follow you through death. Yes, your unrepentance for sin may see you spending eternity in Hell; but you're not having to finish your punishments. There's no escape from Hell.
Likewise, for the Christian who doesn't have unrepentant sin, the guilt of your sin is done when you draw your last breath. Even the guilt of horrible sins are done when death takes you. "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Once you die, your judgment is sealed. There is no second chance. There is no temporary state of purging of old sins. The righteous are raised to everlasting life. The unrighteous are raised to everlasting death.
The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
Death is scary. Christians fear death because we are sinners. We have sin in our lives. We question God's love for us because our love is so faulty. We fear death more if we are convicted of our lovelessness. However, Jesus shows love to the loveless so they might lovely be (LSB #430.1).
Taking away the free Gospel of Jesus leaves people with too many questions about the health of their soul. Your soul is sick. It's terminal. And there is only one cure. Jesus' death and resurrection. It is the only medicine that will heal the soul. Clothed in Jesus' death, you need not fear death when it comes. His love overwhelms our fear because we know Heaven is on the other side of death.
This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
The fear and horror of mortality is punishment enough in this life. Adding the punishment of purgatory on top of the fear and horror increases the punishment of mortality exponentially.
Purgatory is the epitome of despair. It is the fear of not having done enough. Not having been punished enough in this life. This cycle continues to swirl into a whirlpool of fear, despair and desperation. And this can only make things worse as you head into the last days and moments of your life.
Jesus is the answer for fear, despair and desperation. He gives faith, hope and love. These three remain after everything else is gone (1 Corinthians 13:13). These three prevail against fear, despair and desperation.
Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
Luther issues a grievance against the three destinations the Roman Church declares for the soul after death. In medieval theology, there was the idea of differing levels of grace and wrath dependant on the life lived or mortal sins committed. This is most vividly illustrated in Dante's Divine Comedy.
But is this a true statement? We can't say for sure. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "And we all, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." It can be questioned whether St. Paul is speaking about Christian sanctification here on earth or our situation in Heaven.
Fifth-century archheretic Pelagius took this to its logical conclusion. He taught that people were born without sin. He also taught that people are just as likely to refrain from sinning and become perfect as they are likely to sin. He would take this passage from 2 Corinthians to prove his point.
However, there are only two destinations for the soul: Heaven and Hell. Those washed in Jesus' blood and forgiven all their sins go to Heaven. Those not washed in Jesus' blood go to Hell. These are the two places. Despair or hope. Blood-bought Christians have hope. All others do not.
With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
In this early stage of Luther's faith journey, the existence of purgatory still weighed heavily on his mind. By this point in time, purgatory was the only destination for the laity. Only those who had taken on the spiritual orders of the monks or nuns were considered holy enough to enter Heaven.
But Luther asks the question, "Shouldn't our horror grow less for the souls in purgatory?" After all, they were being purged of their sins. Every day they spent in purgatory was one day closer to Heaven. Therefore we should not fear for them. Love should increase for them as with all the saints.
Purgatory was invented to monger fear among the laypeople. To combat this fear, we increase our love for all people--those departed souls and those still living among us. All people need to be shown Christ's love. Christ's love should be shown to all. And this love eliminates the horrors we see in our lives.
It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
Regarding the souls in purgatory, there is nothing in human reason or in the Scriptures to say that they are outside God's love. In fact, there is nothing in human reason or the Scriptures that speaks of the existence of purgatory.
No one is outside of God's love. Even the souls of the damned in Hell are not outside God's love. They have rejected God's love, but God still loves them.
No one can merit God's love. It is unconditional. And it is given to everyone. Those who believe in Christ see its increase in their lives.
Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, everyone who enters purgatory when they die are "in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified" (section 1030). However, there is no Scriptural reference to support that souls in purgatory are certain of their blessedness.
The problem with purgatory for non-Catholic Christians is that Baptism (according to traditional Catholic teaching) does not purify the soul from all sin. Baptism washes away all previous sins. But a Christian must undergo the Sacraments of the Lord's Supper and Penance to cover sins after Baptism. Therefore some may die "imperfectly purified."
However, Luther was beginning to understand what he would later proclaim: Baptism covers all sins without exception. No one will never perfectly purify himself before God. Only God's grace, given through Baptism, can do that. Luther came to see one important fact from this: Purgatory doesn't exist. Jesus has perfectly purified every baptized Christian through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.
As stated before (Theses 5-7), the Pope can and will only offer forgiveness for those sins which he has declared. The plenary indulgences, offering complete and absolute forgiveness of all sins, only forgive those sins which have been imposed by the Pope through his own papal bulls or the Councils of the Church. Any other sins are only forgiven in response to proper repentance and contrition.
The major issue with the Pope's offer of "full remission of all penalties" is that he does this in reference to his office as Christ's vicar on earth, sitting in St. Peter's seat. Any true Gospel preacher makes the same claim. At the beginning of every Divine Service, this same offer of "full remission of all penalties" is given. However, the offer in the Lutheran Divine Service has nothing to do with the pastor proclaiming the forgiveness except that he is "a called and ordained servant of Christ." And he forgives sins "in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ" (LSB p. 151).
If the "full remission" is offered in Christ's name and by His authority, believe it. If it is offered in any other name, dismiss it. "There is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is free from every penalty, and saved."
Johann Tetzel is the primary figure in Luther's scope as he fires this shot against papal indulgences. Tetzel had come into Wittenberg's precincts selling indulgences so that the Pope might build St. Peter's basilica in Rome (commonly known as the Vatican).
The indulgence preachers' primary focus and attention was greed. How much could they receive to give to the building of this great basilica? They cared nothing for the actual comfort or salvation of the souls of those who bought their indulgences. After all, most of the indulgence preachers were priests and monks. They already had a superiority complex because of the Church's great esteem put on the monastic life as being holier than common life.
However, Luther also returns to the pope's error that he, by divine right, is able to forgive every sin. This both is and isn't true (as has been said in previous weeks). However, the pope had taken it to such an extreme that he alone had the ability and authority to forgive sins. Salvation does not depent upon faith in the pope. Salvation depends on faith in Christ.
"Whereas he [the pope] remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life."
Luther speaks the absolute truth about indulgences in this thesis. The Pope's indulgences remitted no penalty in purgatory that exists in this life. Indulgences remit absolutely no penalty because every penalty can only be paid by Jesus' blood on the cross. No piece of paper can save you. Not even your baptismal certificate. Jesus dead on the cross is the only thing that can save you. The only thing that can pay the penalty for your sin.
"If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest."
Humanly speaking, remission of sins can only be given to those who aren't really considered all that sinful. The very fewest of people would qualify for us. We confess with our lips the remission of all sins, but our minds tend to wonder about those who are habitual sinners. We often wonder whether these people really deserve remission of sin. What every Christian needs to remember is that YOU don't deserve the remission of sin. Remission only comes through Jesus' grace and mercy.
"It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty."
The Pope can gain the upper hand over the mostly illiterate laity by simply making the promise of penal remittance. Since most people could not read, they believed whatever the Pope, bishop or priest said with a simple faith. From this simple faith, many of the great abuses of the Church came into being.
This is why Christians of all stripes clamor for Bible study, both individual and group settings. Today, there is still a great amount of biblical illiteracy. Although most people can read, they choose not to read their Bible. With this illiteracy, people believe whatever soundbites or snippets they see. We need to know what the Bible truly says so that we can proclaim God's Word better and not fall into great errors by having too simplistic a faith.
"The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish."
What power does the Pope truly have? This was one of the great questions of the Reformation. The Pope's power is limited to those who have placed themselves under him for ecclesiastical supervision. Therefore the Protestant denominations are not under the Pope's power. Neither are the Eastern Orthodox denominations.
Luther places the Pope in an even tighter box in this thesis. Luther places the Pope on the same level as the bishop of a diocese. The Pope has elevated himself into a position over the entire Roman Catholic Church. However, his position began simply as the Bishop of the Church in Rome. Others put him on a pedestal because his diocese was the imperial capital. And the rest is history.
"The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession."
Luther equates the Pope's power over any soul that has left this life with any other Christian. The Pope does not hold the power of the keys by himself. The locking and unlocking keys are available for any Christian to use.
In regards the souls in the supposed purgatory, any Christian could intercede for God's mercy upon a fallen family member, neighbor, friend or stranger. We do this every week as we pray for God to deliver everyone out of every distress. We intercede for people we don't know and likely won't meet this side of Heaven all the time. Every time we see Christians being persecuted on television. This is the power every Christian has. The Pope does not have a monopoly on intercession.
"They preach man to say, 'As soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].'"
This is one of the most well-known sayings of the early sixteenth century. Many wrongly attribute this saying to Luther, but it originates with the indulgence preachers (particularly Johann Tetzel). This phrase became prevalent especially when Pope Leo X offered plenary (complete) indulgences so that he might rebuild St. Peter's Basilica (the central chapel of the Vatican) in Rome. These plenary indulgences would bring the soul in purgatory straight into Heaven, regardless of whether their sins had been completely purged or not. The "penny" would remove the rest of the sins. How little the Roman theologians think about the cost of sin!
"It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone."
In response to the previous thesis, Luther continues to speak about the Roman Church's avarice in regards to indulgences. Indulgences have been one of the greatest fundraisers in the history of the Christian Church. But that has been the best it could be.
The intercession of the Church is only done through prayer for God's grace. Prayer for the dead is often an issue for Lutherans. Many cringe at it, but the Lutheran Confessions say that they are acceptable for us (Ap XXIV 92-99). It is even found in our prayers in the funeral service: "Give to Your whole Church in Heaven and on earth Your light and Your peace"; and "Grant that all who have been nourished by the holy body and blood of Your Son may be raised to immortality and incorruption to be seated with Him at Your heavenly banquet."
Prayers for the dead are not in order that God would change one's eternal reward from Hell to Heaven. That cannot be done. Prayers for the dead are for the sake of the departed soul's peace as well as our own. This is the Church's intercession for the departed soul.
"Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal."
Luther makes a good point here. If there were such a place as Purgatory, how do we know that everyone would want to leave? Scripture doesn't say that the souls in Purgatory want out. There may be some souls who are just grateful not to be in Hell that they like where they are.
On the other hand, those in Purgatory would likely believe the lie that they have to work their way out. After all, that's the meaning of Purgatory: a place where unforgiven sins are purged. What honest worker wants to be paid for something he didn't do? So we have some that might be offended if someone bought their way out.
As far as the legends are concerned, these two saints of the Catholic Church were willing to go to Purgatory and endure the pains to benefit the faithful. However, any believer in Christ's atoning work on the cross would never volunteer for this because it slaps Jesus in the face as He hangs on the cross. Again, Purgatory tells Jesus that His sacrifice wasn't enough.
"No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission."
Luther points against decision theology. No one can be sure that their repentance is sincere enough. You can't be sure it's good enough. It is one of the most doubtful items of the Christian faith: "Have I done enough?" You can never answer the question with a resounding "Yes!"
Jesus Himself responds to this idea when He says, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10). We have been commanded to believe. We cannot believe enough even to save ourselves. Justifying faith comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).
If you are worried if anything within you being good enough for God, you'll never have God's peace. The only way to have God's peace is to lean on His everlasting arms.
"Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare."
People are very rarely truly penitent. Many are penitent to a point. Pet sins abound in our culture. Whether it's something private or public, a pet sin is one that isn't repented of. Or if one repents of it, they don't truly repent. They have their spiritual fingers crossed behind their back.
So also Luther thought of those who truly bought the indulgences to receive the forgiveness of sins of themselves or someone else. Luther believed that even the simplest of lay people could see through the Pope's fundraising scheme. Those who bought the indulgences intended to support the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
"They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon."
Whose word do you believe for your eternal salvation? Do you believe the Pope's word of your forgiveness on a piece of paper? Or do you believe Jesus' Word, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:22-23).
Jesus tells you, through your pastor's voice, that you are forgiven of all your sins. This is all you need to know about your eternal salvation. Anyone who tells you otherwise is in the fast lane on the highway to Hell.
"Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him."
Again, as said last time, anyone who says you need to look at a piece of paper with the Pope's or a pastor's signature is in the fast lane on the highway to Hell. The signature you need to look for is the signature of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is no other authority on the efficacy of your Baptism and salvation.
The pastor's character who administered the Baptism is also not involved in the salvation question. Even if he has been defrocked as a blatant sinner, as long as he performed the Baptism according to the Lord's commandment you are saved. It is still signed with the Lord's signature.
"For these 'graces of pardon' concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man."
Luther points out again that the indulgences only forgive those sins which are against the Pope and the traditions he has established. These are the only sins applicable against the laity. Luther and the other Reformers were anathematized primarily because of their disagreement with the Pope's authority over the Church by divine right.
"They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia."
Luther later says in his Small Catechism:
"Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven."
Contrition is absolutely necessary to receive forgiveness. If we don't accept the apology of others when we know they aren't contrite, why should we expect God to accept our apology without contrition?
"Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon."
In this thesis, Luther begins to understand the idea of full remission found in the Gospel. There is no need for a Christian to go looking for an indulgence. All that is needed is repentance. Having repented and receiving absolution, full remission of penalty and guilt is available. The only requirement is faith that the sins have been truly and fully forgiven.
This assurance cannot be found outside the Lutheran Church. This is a bold statement, but it is quite accurate. The Roman Catholic priest will point the penitent to the satisfactions that are to be completed in hopes of forgiveness. The Reformed hold that this assurance is only for the elect, but the elect aren't even sure if they are the elect or not. Almost every other Christian denomination leaves forgiveness completely in God's hands. No human being can pronounce absolution. No one can be absolutely certain that his or her sins have been forgiven. Outside the Lutheran Church, there is no assurance of God's forgiveness.
Even though they preach God's forgiveness and mercy, there is no application to the Christian until Judgment Day. At that point, it's too late for forgiveness because judgment happens at the end of this life (Hebrews 9:27). There is no second chance, but that is precisely why purgatory was devised.
"Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon."
Once again, Luther has a firm grasp on the truth of God's Word. He understands the Bible's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. One does not lose "the blessings of Christ and the Church" when they sin. One loses the blessings when he or she forsakes Christ and the Church. Everyone sins. God does not revoke the blessings for transgressions. We can be assured of this because He calls us to repent. If He revoked blessings from sinners, He wouldn't call them to return to Him (Joel 2:13). Jesus came in the flesh to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). This seeking is the basis for all of God's blessings because He wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). So He gives the blessings of Christ and the Church to both the living and the dead.
"Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission."
This would be later expounded by Melanchthon in the seventh and eighth articles of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. The Church and its blessings are given through Christ's institution, even if it is given through scoundrels. The Sacraments are not effective based on the character of the pastor who administers them. Though the pastor may succumb to some sin that should even force him out of the office, the Sacraments he administered while in office were as effective as if Jesus Himself had administered them.
Anyone who has received the remission and blessings of the Church has no need to worry about the effectiveness of these gifts. They are just as effective if you received them from St. Peter or Judas Iscariot. The remission of sins is the same when done in Christ's name.
"It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition."
Even the greatest theologian has to walk the line between expounding Jesus' universal grace and remission of all sins and giving the Christian free license to sin. Every Christian should have contrition over their sins. It is most unchristian to sin in order to be forgiven (Romans 6:1-2). This would be the same error as those who wrongly believe that they can achieve a level of sinlessness in this life (Romans 3:23).
Christ's mercy is abundant. Our propensity for sin is abundant. Every Christian must understand both these things. God forgives every sin. But the sins of the contrite heart are repented of and receive pardon.
"True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them]."
The heart who is contrite and broken of heart (Psalm 51:17) seeks the punishment of the sins having been committed. The Christian seeks these penalties because he or she knows that the penalties have already been paid. They were paid by Jesus on the cross. His suffering has paid for all the sins of the world.
The Christian takes comfort in this faithful knowledge. With this knowledge, the truly contrite Christian seeks the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins because he or she hates them so much. This is the great understanding of Psalm 51 as David writes about his own sin.
"Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love."
Luther warns against the willy-nilly distribution of pardons where there is no Confession. He believes, as is manifested in our lives, that such liberal pardoning would lead to a notion of having a license to sin.
St. Paul also fought against this when he wrote (Romans 5:20-6:2):
Moreover the Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Luther also seeks to withhold the idea that we can sin with the assurance that we will receive forgiveness later. God doesn't promised you your next breath. Premeditated sin relies on the idea that there is a chance in the future to repent. But we're not promised that future chance. And there is no chance to repent after death.
"Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy."
In medieval Catholicism, the greatest work a Christian could do was an act of mercy. The Popes would quote Tobit 4:10, "For almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness." Repeatedly, this verse would be pounded into the laity's head that almsgiving, literally "acts of mercy," gave salvation. Therefore the monastics were praised for their acts of mercy.
Luther points out that the plenary indulgences that Leo X is selling are not on the same par as being merciful. Going back to last week's thesis, however, Luther has already spoken against a license to sin. The typical understanding of a plenary indulgence was a complete and irrevocable forgiveness of all sins. Therefore the purchaser would be considered sinless in God's eyes. But one is only sinless in God's eyes because of Christ.
Still entrenched in medieval Catholicism, Luther does stress the need for good works, especially those which show mercy. This stress doesn't change in Luther or the Confessions, but it transforms away from works righteousness and into sanctification. Yes, Lutherans teach good works and sanctification.
"Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons."
For Luther and for all the Reformers after him, whether they followed his teachings or not, the idea of the forgiveness of sins simply by giving to the Church was absurd. It was definitely not to be thought of as a good work, a fruit "worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8).
A good work is something done for your neighbor. Good works are not selfish. However, the indulgence preachers could say that the indulgence could be purchased for anyone. It did not have to be purchased for one's self.
While encouraging all good works, giving alms to the poor was considered one of the great good works for the laity. Examples of this are given from Jesus' word to the Rich Young Ruler: "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven" (Luke 18:22); and Tobit's example: "I would carry the firstfruits and the tithes of my harvest and the first-shearing. THese I would give to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar. I would offer the tenth of all the harvest to the sons of Levi who served at Jerusalem. I would also sell off the second tenth and go and spend it at Jerusalem each year. The third tenth I would give to whom it was fitting" (Tobit 1:6-8).
Giving to the poor is a very good work. Luther's point is that it is a better work in God's eyes than buying an indulgence.
"Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty."
Everyone seeks to experience the virtue of love. As psychology will tell us, to be loved you must be loving. Showing love brings about a return of love. Receiving this love, we are driven to show more love. Therefore we become better.
Buying or receiving an indulgence doesn't make a person better. It proclaims pardon from ecclesiastical sins. It doesn't make anyone better. More often than not, they are considered a "license to sin" because they can come back and purchase another pardon. But Jesus bought the one and only pardon for sin when He died on the cross.
Pardons by themselves do not change people. Love changes people. Love prompts repentance, which is the true receiving of the pardon.
"Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God."
Luther equates those who put their trust in indulgences to the Pharisee and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Shepherd (Luke 10:30-36). Those who should have known better and passed by on the other side.
Christians should be taught that the Christian life is based on charity. Charity given to others who need help. For those who refuse to show charity, they bring on themselves God's indignation.
St. Paul has a similar note in regards to those who do not discern Jesus' body and blood in the Lord's Supper: "Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29).
"Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons."
Luther's ideas of stewardship are ideas that need to be considered today. Like the rich who were throwing great amounts of money into the Temple's treasury, we're supposed to give out of our abundance (Mark 12:41-44). Our gifts are to be given in faith, however.
God asks us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). However, this does not mean that we subject our families to abject poverty so that we can put some predetermined amount in the offering plate. We are to be good stewards of our material possessions. Squandering the little that we have on indulgences, especially if we have less than what we need to survive, is complete foolishness.
"Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment."
Luther is not here condoning the buying and selling of indulgences. He is speaking to the binding of consciences that this is necessary for salvation. Luther wants to show that indulgences are, at best, adiaphora (something neither commanded nor forbidden).
However, Luther would eventually see that the indulgences aren't adiaphora. Adiaphora indicates that it is neutral toward salvation. These things can be done or abandoned with no great consequence. An example of adiaphora would be whether the congregation uses Divine Service 1, 3 or 4 when we celebrate the Lord's Supper. Another example would be if we stand or sit during the prayers. The different choices have no bearing on salvation.
However, indulgences have a strong influence on salvation. For many in the sixteenth century, indulgences became idols. They placed more faith in the piece of paper that said Pope Leo X forgave their sins than in the Lord Jesus Christ who died to forgive sins. Therefore, Luther sought to move the idea of indulgences in the area of free will instead of papal commandment.
"Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring."
The author to the Hebrews writes, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account" (13:17). As the acknowleged head of the Church, the pope would need more prayers than anyone. As the bishop of the bishops, he would humbly be more desirous of the prayers of the faithful than anything else.
This desire is answered today in every parish as they pray the Roman Canon during the Mass. The pope is the first person for whom intercession is sought. From that point, intercessions are then made for the Bishop and then the parish priest.
It is the duty of every Christian to offer prayers for their pastor. He is truly in need of them (Hebrews 13:17). Luther continued with this idea when he assembled the Table of Duties. In the first section, he placed passages to the bishops, pastors and preachers. Immediately following, as of almost equal importance, he placed passages regarding "what the hearers owe their pastors." Most important among these passages are the passages commending the Christian faithful to prayu for their pastors.
"Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God."
Luther believed heavily in the usefulness of Confession & Absolution. As the head of the Church, the Pope's forgiveness is great. However, the Pope's forgiveness isn't truly forgiveness.
When a Christian comes to Confession, he should expect to receive forgiveness. Absolution should be pronounced. But the Pope, like every Catholic priest, will not announce forgiveness. Instead, he will point the penitent inward. He will give a list of things for the penitent to do in the hope of receiving forgiveness.
The Pope can only point a penitent to the Law. He has no Gospel to give because his office has turned the Gospel into a new Law. This was the thrust of Luther's Reformation. He sought to re-establish the Gospel's predominance in the Christian's life. Therefore he tells those who have been forgiven by the Pope not to trust in his forgiveness because it is no real forgiveness.
"Christians are to be taught that if the Pope knew the exactions of the pardon-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."
Through his interactions with Johann Tetzel, Luther saw that the indulgence preachers were of a sort that would probably make the Roman tax collectors ashamed. He believed that, would the Pope know what was truly going on with the indulgence preachers, that he would rather not build St. Peter's Basilica with the proceeds. The "blood money" of the plenary indulgences would prick his conscience.
The Pope sought to have the great basilica built in the ancient imperial capital. The greatest cathedral should be built in the greatest city. This is the earthly portion of the Church's struggle. This has been seen throughout history, especially among the cults. They sought to build the great palace for God's glory.
But God's glory does not need the great palace. His glory fills both Heaven and earth. God doesn't need this house. However, His people need a place where they can congregate together to hear His Word and praise His glory.
This house is to be the place of grace. The place where His sacrifice is the cornerstone. Not the sacrifices of His people. Luther believed that Pope Leo X also held this view. However, he was unable or unwilling to stop those who were abusing the indulgence system.
"Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold."
If the Pope really wanted to forgive sins through indulgences, Luther says that he would pay for indulgences for the poor out of his own money. This would be a great outreach for the Pope. He could use some of the abundance that is given to him through the indulgence preachers.
However, Luther also indicates that the Pope could just sell St. Peter's Basilica to pay for indulgences for even more Christians. There are still people who wonder why the Pope has to have such a large complex. This could be--and has been--seen by many people as greed on the Pope's part. But the Catholic faith, especially after the Council of Trent, seek to have the Church centralized in Rome with the largest cathedral being the center of the center.
"The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it."
Every sinner seeks assurance of salvation. We want to know for certain that we have been forgiven. But a letter of pardon based solely on the Pope's proclamation does not give this assurance. Even the Pope's staunchest defender seeks Christ's help and not the Pope's when he or she undergoes a trial. In the midst of trial, the Christian knows neither anything nor anyone in this world can be counted upon for deliverance. We need Christ's deliverance. Deliverance that comes from the outside. Only Christ's Word of forgiveness, even through the sinful pastor's mouth, can assure anyone that their sins are forgiven. No other assurance is available in this life.
"They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others."
Luther calls the indulgence preachers enemies of Christ and the pope. They are followers of themselves. Their god is their belly (Philippians 3:19). They want to silence God's Word in Church so they can peddle their wares.
Unfortunately, we still have these preachers today. They aren't peddling indulgences. They are peddling self-help and psycho-babble. Many don't speak of sin or the devil. They speak about the works you need to do in order to make God like you better.
This substitution of our word for God's Word makes us enemies of Christ. Anything that takes Jesus out of His Church makes us His enemy. And those who die as Christ's enemies will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
"Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word."
One of the greatest debates in the history of Christianity is the length and composition of a sermon. How long should a sermon be? What about the balance between Law and Gospel? Everyone has an opinion on these questions, whether clergy or laity.
However, the one problem Luther faced was the indulgence preachers focusing all their attention on the purchase of indulgences and their supposed pardons. The focus of every sermon should be the pardon Jesus Christ has offered the world in His cross and resurrection. Without this focus, those who hear the sermon leave injured because they have been taken somewhere other than Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
"It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies."
Luther posits the truth that the proclamation of the Gospel message is of much greater importance than an individual pardon. However, the Pope doesn't seem concerned with the Gospel's proclamation.
This brings a point of divergence in the practice of reading the Gospel in Catholic churches and Reformation churches. The Catholic church has the practice of reading the Gospel strictly from the security of the chancel, away from the people. In many Lutheran and Anglican churches, the Gospel reading for high feasts (t.g., Christmas and Easter) takes place in the midst of the congregation. What does this show about the importance of the Gospel reading in these churches?
"The 'treasures of the Church,' out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ."
Luther seeks to define the ambiguous phrase used by the Pope, the indulgence preachers and the parish priests. What are the "treasures of the Church"? Luther seeks a definition. A definition that alludes the laity. A definition that morphs from one person to the next.
To the Pope, the "treasures of the Church" are the contents of the supposed repository of extra good works and merits of the saints. Works and merits over and above what they needed to get into Heaven. And there's the greatest problem with this phrase as it is used in the Roman Catholic Church.
"That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them."
Luther supports the etherealness of the Church's treasures. Forgiveness is one such treasure. Forgiveness is not tangible. However, that does not make it less real.
But the forgiveness promised by the Pope's indulgences is even less tangible. As stated in the previous theses, the Pope's forgiveness in these matters are only binding where there has been sin against one of his decrees. With the substance removed, the promised forgiveness is merely a shell of God's forgiveness. With it being just a shell, Luther says the Pope is more than willing to spread them around as treasures, because it has no substance, instead of the human tendancy to hoard treasures.
"Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for even without the Pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and Hell for the outward man."
The treasures of the Church are not the merits of Christ or the saints. These work grace for Christians but torment for non-Christians. Everything works on account of faith. Faith in Christ works grace. Disbelief works Hell.
This reality is most clearly seen in the Christian as simul iustis et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV). God's Word, presented through the merits of Christ and the saints, both kills and builds as Law and Gospel are presented. The Law kills the outer man with the cross, death and Hell. The Gospel renews the innerman through grace.
"St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time."
St. Lawrence's story of his martyrdom is widely known throughout the Church. As the Archdeacon of Rome, he was in charge of the Church's treasury. The Roman prefect demanded that Lawrence bring the treasures of the Church to be put into the imperial treasury. Lawrence brought forth the poor, to whom he had previously given alms. He is also reported to have said, "Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the Church's crown."
This was the third-century understanding of the Church's treasure, especially among the clergy. Christians are called to take care of the widows and orphans, as well as give alms to the poor. These need our assistance in this life so that they might have heavenly treasures.
"Without rashness we say that the Keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure."
The Church's greatest treasure is the Office of the Keys. Through these Keys, the Church looses the sins we repent. The Church binds the sins we don't repent. Neither key is used rashly. It is always done with deliberation and prayer.
The forgiveness of sins is the Church's greatest treasure. The Church is called to dispense this forgiveness to all who ask for it. For those who seek to justify themselves, we are called to withhold forgiveness. This is the power of the Keys.
"For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the Pope is of itself sufficient."
Again, Luther places the Pope's absolution only has the power over ecclesial penalties and "reserved cases" where a person has sinned against a papal addition to the Church's tradition and work. In these cases, the Pope's absolution is "sufficient."
This idea is firmly grounded in James 5:16: "Coness your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Each person can offer forgiveness of sins committed against them. Pastors have been given the power of forgiveness of all sins by the Church, who has received her power from Christ Himself (John 20:22-23). This is received solely through the Gospel, which is the "true treasure of the Church" (see next week).
"The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God."
If anyone wants to talk about the "treasure of the Church," you must talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the only treasure the Church has. The Church's only job is to forgive sins. Its primary vocation is not social justice. It is the proclamation of the Gospel through Word and Sacrament.
God's glory and grace are the sum and substance of the Gospel. Jesus taught God's glory though His ministry. God's grace is shown in Jesus' death and resurrection. These two events form the core of the Gospel event where salvation happens. You inherit God's glory and grace in Baptism.
"But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last."
The Gospel is especially odious (offensive) to the sinful nature because our sinful nature seeks to fulfill its duty. The Gospel tells you that you can't fulfill your duty. The Gospel tells you that you can't even get close to the goal.
Part of the odious nature of the Gospel is that it doesn't discriminate. Jesus tells the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). The vineyard owner goes out at the first, third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours to hire workers to work in his vineyard for a denarius. When the day's work was over, the owner called the workers for their wages in reverse order. When those who were hired last were given the same as those hired first, those who had labored through the heat of the day were angry that they were shortchanged. The owner points out that he agreed to pay each worker a denarius, regardless of when they were hired. The owner shows his generosity in giving his gifts. This is the Gospel's treasure.
"On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first."
The devil turned the Gospel around when he influenced the Pope to promote indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. While the sinful man doesn't want people to skip in line so that the first become last, it has absolutely no problem with skipping the line so that last can become first. It all depends on perspective.
As long as I am the one gaining the advantage, I will put no restrictions on my actions. If someone else tries to gain an advantage against me, I will fight tooth-and-nail to make sure they can't have it. This is the double standard that we live with every day.
We see what kind of trouble we get into when the devil's influences overcome us. The old adage says, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." This is especially true when we're talking about our spiritual or religious life. If there are things that sound like you can do it, it's not the Gospel's voice you're hearing. Flee from that voice and listen to the Gospel's message that Jesus has done it all for you. This is God's treasure in His Church.
"Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches."
Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats to become "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). However, congregations have always wanted to make sure the well-off members of their community were members. St. James of Jerusalem had to write in his epistle (2:2-4):
If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, 'You sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, 'You stand there,' or 'Sit here at my footstool,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
It is very easy to fall into wealth's net. As sinful human beings, we tend to take more notice of those who display their success. Just take a look at all the different reality TV shows that have popped up over the last decade or so. Our sinful nature loves to glamorize those who have success, but we also enjoy to watch their downfall. But this only highlights our sinful desires to encourage the evil thoughts with which we judge others and ourselves.
"The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men."
Luther exposes the Pope's true intention with the indulgences. The Pope issued indulgences so that he might afford to complete construction on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. With the promise of the forgiveness of sins, he knew the rich would gladly part with much of their wealth to offset their greed.
It is truly amazing how the devil will use one's own sins to help him dig a bigger hole for himself. Through indulgences, the devil worked through the Church to convince people that greed would forgive greed.
Can sin ever forgive sin? Of course not. Only grace can forgive sins. Grace which comes with no price. Which is available to the rich and the poor alike. God's forgiveness comes without price. That was one of the great reclamations of the Gospel that came in Luther's Reformation.
"The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain."
The economic side of indulgences continue in this thesis. The "greatest graces" of indulgences are how well they line the Church's pocket. The indulgence preachers believed that the louder they preached the more indulgences they would sell. Preachers today still believe that the more they cry out against the congregation the more they will give.
The "greatest graces" in the Christian life are the virtues that are practiced by God-fearing men and women. The virtues of faith, hope and love are God's greatest graces. It is these virtues, especially faith, that takes hold of the forgiveness of sins. Indulgences cannot forgive sins. They cannot confer these virtues either. An indulgence is simply a piece of paper that means nothing.
"Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross."
What the Pope called the "greatest graces" God considers very small. This is part of the great reversal of the Christian faith. Jesus speaks to His Apostles, "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28).
Man tries to make God's small things great and God's great things small. Because of sin, man inherently works to reverse God's design. Therefore Jesus had to come in the flesh to reverse man's reversal.
God's grace is manifest in the piety of the Cross. What seems to be the least and the worst because the most important and central. God's love manifested in His Son's death on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. The Pope sought to give this same level of piety to a mere piece of paper.
"Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence."
What are curates? We know what bishops are and do, but what are curates? Curates are the assistants to the parish pastor. These are usually understood as elders or deacons, as we understand these offices today. In the medieval Church, these were all ordained men. Today, most are laity.
In this thesis, Luther questions the Pope's absolute rule and sovereignty in distributing indulgences. While indulgences were the Pope's idea, must the pastors and parish officers blindly accept and revere them?
Luther would go on in his later works to deny the Pope's insistence on accepting indulgences. No single parish should be forced and coerced to accept any papal declaration, including indulgences. Luther would cite the Christian's biblically-informed conscience as the seat of these decisions and not any external pressure.
"But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope."
Luther worried about the extreme coming to pass. That the preachers would begin preaching their own messages instead of the Pope's message. The parish preacher must be well-versed in the Gospel so that he may reprove and correct those who preach their own word instead of God's Word.
Luther likely saw the days of his Reformation very similar to the days of the prophet Jeremiah. For more on Jeremiah's plight, see chapters 18-30 of Jeremiah's prophecy.
"He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!"
Luther speaks here of Confession & Absolution, especially private Absolution. This is where apostolic pardons truly exist. These pardons do not come because of a certain office. These pardons come from the life and death of Jesus Christ.
When you come to the pastor to confess your sins and receive forgiveness, it is not his office that gives him the authority to forgive sins. It is Jesus' office as the world's Redeemer that gives him the authority. St. James tells the Church, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another" (5:16). Only Christians have the ability to forgive sins. Unbelievers are not able to forgive because they have no basis for their forgiveness.
So Luther would say the same about those who believed in the papal indulgences. They were pieces of paper offering forgiveness based completely on the Pope's authority. But these pieces of paper are worth as much as a $50 bill with Jefferson Davis' picture on it. It's completely worthless because the authority behind it is worthless. The Pope cannot forgive sins because of himself. He can only forgive sins because of Jesus. Just like you can only forgive sins because of Jesus.
"But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!"
If you watch the newer Luther movie from 2003, there is a scene where Johann Tetzel, the chief pardon-preacher in Saxony, delivers a frightening sermon geared towards scaring people out of Hell and into Heaven. However, these sermons were designed to capitalize on this fear so that the ignorant would give more money for the indulgence or buy multiple indulgences.
Those who were able to see past the pardon-preachers' lust for money and free license to manipulate emotions are truly blessed. Unfortunately, this lust and license has not left the Church. Those who want to make worship look like a rock or country concert are still playing to manipulate emotions in order to create a feeling-based experience instead of focusing on the Gospel. Those who keep the focus of worship on the Gospel are the ones who are truly blessed by the worship experience because they are not being manipulated. They are being forgiven.
"The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons."
As with any other person, the Pope does not want anyone to question him. While the Roman doctrine of papal infallibility had not been codified yet, the laity were indoctrinated that the Pope was placed over the Church by divine right. Therefore, people would consider opposing the Pope to be akin to the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32).
Pope Leo X condemned anyone who refused to accept the validity of his indulgences for the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He used his office as St. Peter's vicar to justify his demands. The laity refused to oppose the Pope because of his office. This blind allegiance gave the Pope more power to lord over those subjected to him in the Church. People flocked to the indulgence preachers because they were afraid of opposing the Pope.
But Luther wanted to show that even the Pope was able to be questioned by his followers if there were problems with his teachings. The Pope was "the first among equals" not only among the priests but also among all Christians. Every Christian may be questioned for his or her teachings by any other Christian. Therefore St. Peter admonished, "In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). This admonition excludes no one. Not even the Pope.
"But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth."
The plenary indulgence was a document that forgave every sin committed by a person. For a certain price, you could receive this forgiveness. Therefore, some people used the option of buying an indulgence as a "license to sin." The general thinking would justify any evil deeds and unholy living by the fact that they could have everything forgiven later. Some call this "premeditated repentance."
This idea continues today, especially by those of the more Baptist strains of Christianity, when "once saved, always saved" is taught. Many find comfort in this teaching that you can never fall from faith and salvation no matter how evilly you live: "I can sin all I want because I'm saved." Lutherans fall into this trap as well when they think, "I can do what I want because I've been confirmed."
The Pope wanted to have the money from the indulgences, but he didn't want to portray this "license to sin." He wanted to grant forgiveness, but he didn't want this gift to be abused. Unfortunately, there were many who abused the idea of indulgences as a "Get Out of Purgatory Free" card. But the Pope didn't want that idea.
"To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness."
Two things leap out from this thesis: What is an impossible sin? What is this about violating the Theotokos?
Is there such a thing as an impossible sin? No. You cannot commit an impossible sin. To commit a sin, it must be possible. However, you must remember that we confess committing sins in thought, word and deed. By thoughts and words, we can commit many more sins than are actually able to be carried out. Every sin is possible because all sins are not actions.
Where did this idea of Mary's rape come from? As early as the second century, Jews sought to discredit the virgin birth by saying that Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier named Panthera (a common name for Roman soldiers). Mohammed would pick this up again when he writes against Christians and that Allah doesn't have a son: "Surely they lie when they declare: 'Allah as begotten children'" (Sura 37:151). They would say that Allah caused Miriam to become pregnant with Isa, but they would not necessarily rule out her being raped.
Was Mary raped? No. She was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her. She remained a virgin throughout her pregnancy. She was a virgin when she conceived and when she gave birth to Jesus.
"We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned."
Based on his own personal authority and influence, the Pope cannot forgive any sins. Sins can only be forgiven "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ."
But Luther brings up a distinction that makes most non-Catholics cringe: mortal and venial sins. This distinction is not only a Catholic idea. Luther and his students through the centuries have also taught this distinction. However, the two sides differ on the definitions.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, three conditions are set to define a mortal sin: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent" (1857). Later, it says, "One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent" (1862).
Dr. Francis Pieper wrote in his Christian Dogmatics (I 568-569): "Mortal sins are those which result in the death of the sinner. This term takes in all the sins of the unbelievers. In the case of the believers those sins are called mortal which force the Holy Spirit to depart from one's heart, which destroy faith. Venial sins are sins which, though they in themselves merit eternal death, are daily forgiven to the believer. They are also called sins of weakness. They do not drive the Holy Spirit from the heart, do not extinguish faith. ... [A]ny sin may become a mortal sin if we persevere in it against the admonition of our conscience."
Sins can only be forgiven on Christ's account. Even mortal sins can be forgiven, but forgiveness requires repentance. Papal indulgences did not require repentance. Papal indulgences only required the Pope's signature. But the Pope's authority is not enough to forgive even the slightest of sins, as it is seen through man's eyes.
"It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope."
By the sixteenth century, human arrogance had increased to a fevered pitch. Even in the Church. The laity had become to revere the Pope so much that he was considered greater than St. Peter, the supposed first Bishop of Rome. In fact, more laypeople had more reverence and fear for the Pope than for Christ or God.
The clergy, at the Pope's instigation, capitalized on humanity's natural inclinations toward superstitions. Inclinations toward fear helped to keep the masses in line and under control. But these supersititions, these unholy fears, were blasphemous against the Gospel. In this blasphemy, all God's creation is blasphemed. Therefore Luther can say that St. Peter and the Pope are being blasphemed against. Blasphemy against God's creation is also blasphemy against God.
"We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii."
I believe part of the idea of the Pope's elevation over St. Peter and even Jesus comes from Jesus' statement to Nathanael in John 1:50: "You will see greater things than these."
This Apostolic promise was made about the Apostles. This promise was in response to Nathanael's surprise about Jesus' omniscience. It does not mean that Christians will be able to do greater things than the Apostles had seen. There are no higher gifts than the Gospel and spiritual gifts. These are given by God. No one can give any greater gifts.
"To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy."
There is only one cross where you can find the forgiveness of sins. The cross where Jesus Christ shed His blood for you. No other cross is comparable. Just because it has some authority from anyone else gives it no true authority. Nothing else can or should be elevated to the same status. To do so would be to bow your knee to Baal or Asherah all over again. "How shall we who have died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2). The cross of Christ has delivered us from our sin. Nothing else is able to do that.
"The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render."
"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Hebrews 13:17). The bishops and curates would emphasize the first part of this verse, but they would neglect the last part. Pastors must give an account for the souls under their pastoral care and supervision. This is what must be understood as one relates to his or her pastor. So the author to the Hebrews continues, "Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors are under necessity to watch over peoples souls. Therefore they should be the first line of defense as they preach and teach in their congregations.
"This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity."
The fact that most indulgence preachers answered to no one made their work a great problem. Both for the Pope (whom they supposedly represented), the parish pastors (like Luther) and the laity. The indulgence preachers would even slander the Pope in their preaching. They had no accountability in their missions. The laity would question whether the indulgences were worth it or not. These questions were brought to their pastors, who had to deal with it on the theological level.
Luther sought to uphold the reverence that was due the Pope as the head of the Church. Even when Luther stood against the Pope, he still held his office as the Bishop of Rome in high esteem and reverence. Luther understood the Eighth Commandment to apply even to the Pope.
"To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”"
This question has been asked by anyone who is not blindly devoted to the Pope. If the Pope controlled Purgatory, why didn't he just empty it? Why not show Christian love and compassion and just pardon everyone freely? Why was he greedy and using Purgatory as a fundraiser?
There is no place in the Christian faith for Purgatory. I am one of the first to get onto people who say, "My God would never ..." But a just and compassionate God would not create Purgatory. Christ's sacrifice cleansed every sin. Christians have no additional sins to be purged from their system. Christ has purged them all when He died on the cross.
But if Purgatory existed, it would be very Christian of the Pope to pardon everyone.
"Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”"
Luther now turns to the masses prayed for the dead. These masses are only done as a fundraiser for the parish or the diocese. Our prayers on earth do not effect the eternal destiny of those who have died. Their destiny was sealed when they died. The parish and diocese use these masses, with the superstitions based around Purgatory, to keep their coffers filled.
There is truly no basis for masses being prayed for the dead. Their destiny has been fulfilled. Their faith has been rewarded or their lack of faith has been condemned. Our prayers are not going to change anything.
Luther believed these masses were some of the worst offenses against the Gospel in the Roman Church of his day. They serve no purpose for the forgiveness of sins. They hold back to pagan superstitions more in line with ancestor worship than with the worship of the one true God.
"Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”"
Luther's question is very good. How can a poor, miserable sinner buy someone else out of Purgatory? Especially since those who typically buy indulgences or pay for masses to be said for the dead believe that the deceased shouldn't be in Purgatory anyway? This entire enterprise with plenary indulgences was a rather new invention in Luther's time.
Luther poignantly places the Roman Church's foci on works righteousness and Pelagianism into the realm of the indulgences. The Mass for the dead was seen as a work on the part of the purchaser of that Mass. The perspective from which the indulgences could be offered comes from the Pelagian perspective that the image of God is not impaired and able to be accessed by humans whether Christian or not.
But the Christian Church does not believe either in works righteousness or in the ability to access the full image of God. The Christian Church believes in Christ's righteousness for the forgiveness of sins and His restoration of the full image of God to fallen humanity on Judgment Day. These beliefs work against the papal indulgence and the treasury of extra merits that the saints had earned that the Pope can hand out to others.
"Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”"
The penitential canons Luther refers to were rules laid down by Church councils to discuss the penitence of those who have fallen from the faith or into some great sin. Most of them were published in the third and fourth centuries because of the Roman persecutions. However, the canons became very infrequent once the Edict of Milan was published (313 AD). In the centuries since their publication, these canons had been disregarded in favor of regional rules set by the bishop or archbishop.
The canons told what sort of penance need to be done and how long the penitent needed to do it. Indulgences put them on their head. The purchaser of the indulgence does no penance to receive the forgiveness promised. Most times, the one who supposedly profited from the indulgence had been dead for quite some time.
While the Church saw fit to prescribe certain penances for the apostasies of those who fell from the faith during the Roman persecutions, the primary penances of the regular Christian revolves completely around the confession of sins, either before the pastor or in the general confession in the Divine Service.
"Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”"
Once again, Luther asks the question that was likely in the minds of many theologians. However, most wouldn't ever dare voice them publicly. This question was the heart of the Middle Ages as the Pope and the upper echelons of the Roman Church gained more and more territory, power and wealth. By the sixteenth century, the Pope was the richest man in the world. Why was it that the Pope, the richest man in the world, needed to fundraise to build St. Peter's Basilica?
Instead of using his own money to build a single church building, he raided the coffers of the poor laypeople. It is the height of avarice and greed to take money when you have more than you need already. The Pope could have built St. Peter's Basilica without denting his fortunes, but he wouldn't do it.
"Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”"
Luther asks the question again about the Pope's remission of sins. What does he remit by his own authority? Only those infractions of canon law, which has been determined by the traditions of men rather than the Word of God (Matthew 15:6). With these man-made rules in place, the Pope held the lay people in a stranglehold.
Of what participation is the Pope in control? Participation at the altar and the font. The Pope has the ability to decide who can come to the altar to receive Christ's body and blood there. The Pope also has the ability to decide who can be a baptismal sponsor.
But the biggest question is the "perfect contrition". Who is ever perfectly contrite? No one. However imperfect our contrition, we still have the right to full remission and participation in the Gospel. This is given to all who are contrite and confess their sins. No one needs to certify your perfection. It is Christ's free gift.
"Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”"
Why wouldn't the Pope freely and often offer the forgiveness of sins? Unfortunately, the Pope had found a way to keep his control over the lay people through their purse strings. People who are crushed by their sins will do anything to get out from under the avalanche. If that means emptying out their bank accounts, they will write the check out instantly.
What is the problem with the laity? They have been beaten down with their inferiority to God's grace because they aren't religious enough. If they would have joined a religious order, their lives would be better. A terrible burden rested on the "regular" people because they weren't the religious elite. The Church's hierarchy had become very much like the Pharisees of Jesus' day. They looked down on anyone considered less religious than them.
But God made the entire Church "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). Every Christian is a king/queen and a prince(ss) in God's Church. Every Christian is able to bestow remission and participation in Christ's mercy through the mutual consolation of the brothers (James 5:16). Jesus gave this gift to the whole Church not just the priests. As God's "royal priesthood," we are able to help others who are crushed by their sins so that they may rejoice in their salvation.
“Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”
Apparently Luther had heard someone say that Pope Leo X was not using the indulgences for fundraising to build the Vatican. Luther then takes that rumor to task. If the Pope simply wanted to forgive sins, why would he not just forgive them all? Why wouldn't he give the power to forgive sins to the parish priests?
These are the questions that both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals struggle with. Who has the power to forgive sins? The Roman Catholics will say, "Who can forgive sins but the Pope alone?" Evangelicals will echo the Pharisees, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). But what does God say?
"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:22-23). Who does Jesus say this to? The Apostles. The representatives of the whole Church. St. James would later clarify this, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (5:16).
Every Christian has the ability to forgive sins. The parish pastor's primary job is to offer the forgiveness of sins. Not just the blanket statement at the beginning of the Divine Service, but privately when souls are in torment because of their sins. Private Confession and Absolution has been lost in many portions of the Lutheran Church today. It needs to be brought back so that the tormented souls may be comforted personally with God's healing Word.
"To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy."
Luther didn't want a forceful removal of indulgences or any other abuses later in the Reformation. He believed that knowledge is power. Therefore he wrote these theses for debate. He wanted "to resolve them by giving reasons."
It isn't important just to remove or change things. People need to understand why the things need to be removed or changed. Of course, Luther couldn't just say that the Pope was wrong. Consciences would be badly bruised through those words. The reasons had to be proven from the Scriptures.
These reasons would expose the Pope and the Church to ridicule, but it could also bring both Pope and Church to repentance for previous false teachings. And Luther sought this reaction, if he were defeated in the debate over these theses. As an academic, he wanted to see the Scriptural evidences for what the Church was doing with the indulgences. If he were satisfied with his opposition's reasons, he would be willing to change his beliefs. If he were not satisfied, he would seek the changes that would occur in the Reformation.
"If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist."
If pardons were preached the way that the Pope would have them be preached--the way that the Evangelicals would preach them, there would be no doubts about salvation and forgiveness. But that is the greatest practical problem with Roman Catholic theology.
Roman Catholics are instructed that they can never be certain about their own forgiveness and salvation. Purgatory was invented so that there could be certainty. Everyone who doesn't die in mortal sin will get to go there and eventually make it into Heaven. But this doesn't provide any Christian security and hope.
Christ died on the cross to forgive all sins. He doesn't leave room for any doubt in His atonement. There should be no doubts in the Christian's heart, mind or soul in regards to their salvation and standing before God as forgiven sinners. This would become the basis of Lutheran preaching for centuries to come.
"Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!"
Calling upon Jeremiah 6 and 8, Luther says the indulgence preachers were the same as the false prophets in Jerusalem who were saying that God wouldn't let the Babylonians overrun the city. However, they wouldn't truly place their trust in the LORD. Only in the promises that He had made. But they had broken His covenant. His promises were no longer binding.
The indulgence preachers would take advantage of the laity's fear and superstition. The ingrained fear and doubt from the constant badgering of preaching against sin plagued their consciences. It wasn't hard for the indulgence preachers to find a foothold with their thin words of promise.
Their words, however, were similar to placing a Band-Aid® across a hip replacement. It offers the promise of covering the wound, but it can't do the job. Only a true Word from God can not only bandage a wounded soul but cure it completely. Offering true peace with God.
"Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!"
"I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). As he ministered in Corinth, St. Paul focused all his work on Jesus' cross and crucifixion. As Luther would continue to work through the Bible in his lectures and sermons, he would look for Christ and His cross in every Scripture, especially when the cross seemed to be irrelevant to the passage.
Jesus' cross is the central point of human history and Christian worship. Shortly after the Diet of Worms (1521), several of Luther's companions and colleagues began to remove all imagery from the sanctuary in Wittenberg and the surrounding area. Many times this would include crosses. They would cite the commandment against making graven images (Exodus 20:4) to show that Christians needed no images to focus on Jesus.
However, many of the Reformed and those influenced by them took this idea to the extreme. Many of these churches have no imagery in their sanctuaries. In fact, many of them refer to their worship spaces as auditoriums instead of sanctuaries. And in these worship spaces, unfortunately, there is more self-help, psycho-babble or the preacher's own ideas than what Christ teaches in the Bible.
So Luther would say to the Christians trying to seek their proper focus on Jesus' cross in those congregations, "Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!"
"Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell."
While there are some who believe that Christians don't need to have the Law preached to them, there is a definite need for it. While the Christian is a baptized saint, he is also a condemned sinner at the same time. The old man needs the Law as a mirror to show his sin. The new man needs the Law as a guide to illustrate the proper path along Jesus' narrow Way upon which the Christian should follow the example of our Savior.
Jesus Himself commands Christians to follow Him. This can be seen by His call of the Apostles into their ministry but also for the lay Christian, as He said, "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27). Bearing the Christian's cross is following after the Law. Not in order to be justified. That already happened in Baptism. In order to be confident in the Christian faith as we will see more next week in the last thesis.
"And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace."
Throughout the entirety of the 95 Theses, Luther's intention was that the Christians who read them would be confident in their faith and not subject to the great doubts that the Roman indulgence preachers infested upon the laity. Jesus sought for no one to have doubts. He wanted all men and women who followed Him to know exactly where He was going and what He was preparing for them. He is known as the Prince of Peace because He calms the troubled soul through His death and resurrection.