WHAT HAPPENED IN 1517, FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO?
It was the year 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door.
The Bible clearly teaches that the true church is the body of Christ made up of those who believe in Christ and who repent and trust Him for their salvation. During Luther’s time an organization had taken over and those who followed Christ were expected to join that organization. It was the Roman Catholic Church.
Luther was a man who yearned to know how a man finds favor with God. He, like most people who wanted to serve Christ, was a member of the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and as such he sought to follow the path that the church taught.
At this time, the church taught that men were justified by their own efforts or by good works. The Monks believed they should whip their bodies into subjection in order to please God. Not only must they whip themselves into subjection, they were to live pious lives of daily sacrifice. The common people were to go regularly to a Catholic priest and seek absolution or forgiveness for their sins. This was the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Even today the Catholic Church places themselves as the bridge between God and man. In order for men to have their sins forgiven they need to go to an earthly priest and offer confession of sins. During the Middle Ages the “church” became involved in the practice of granting “indulgences” to provide absolution to sinners. They would sell these to raise monies for projects and other needs as the “church” saw fit.
Martin Luther tried to please both God and the Catholic Church, but his attempts left him frustrated. He studied in the Augustinian monastery which he entered in 1705 after surviving a close call from a bolt of lightning during a storm. He also studied at University of Erfurt in Wittenberg. There he received his doctorate in biblical studies. Luther began to realize that the Church and the teachings of Christ in the Bible were at odds.
Luther also studied the works of Augustine. Augustine understood salvation by grace through faith at a time when the Catholic Church denied this truth to the people. Augustine believed four principles not taught to common people:
First, the sacrifice of Christ paid humanity’s debt of sin: the “debt has been paid by Christ.” As “both Priest and Sacrifice ” Christ offered Himself for the atonement of human sin. Second, Christ took the death sentence for sin upon Himself that “he might make null the death of the wicked whom he justified.” Third, the sacrifice of Christ brought reconciliation: through the forgiveness of the cross Christ “dissolved the enmity” that had existed between people and God. Fourth, Christ defeated the powers of evil on the cross. Augustine refers to Christ as the “Victor,” and elsewhere he states that in Christ “we have triumphed over the enemy.” Fifth, Christ offered a living example of humility and good works).
Luther’s studies convinced him that there was much need for reform in the Catholic Church; so much so that he came up with 95 theses or propositions that he felt must be addressed by the church. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted these on the door of Wittenberg Castle church as an announcement that these were to be subjects for discussion by the church council.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST SIX THESES?
The first six theses dealt with repentance and read as follows:
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (translated into English as “Repent” or “Do Penance), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT REPENTANCE?
Repentance was taught because the Kingdom of God was at hand when Jesus arrived on earth. The Lord Jesus Christ taught repentance, as did John the Baptist and the disciples.
John the Baptist:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2
So they went out and preached that the people should repent. Mark 6:11 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…Acts 17:30
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Revelation 2:21
Luther’s theses soon put him in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.
See also: Luther translated the Bible into German