“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.” Martin Luther
As I had mentioned last week, we will be spending the next couple of months focusing on the history of the Church, especially during the time of the Reformation. This year, as many of you are aware, marks the 500th anniversary of the day that German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. These ninety-five statements were quite critical of the Catholic Church but Luther’s intentions were not to berate or abolish the Church but to draw it back to the Scriptures.
It’s been told that Luther was walking around Wittenberg one day and came across a drunk parishioner. When he came to scold him the drunk showed him an indulgence that he had purchased and said that his sins were forgiven. Most historians would state that the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church was what set Luther off and finally drove him to try and get the scholars to debate these issues.
Indulgences are based on the Treasury of Merit. This is the belief that God grades on a scale and your challenge as a Christian is to have more good deeds than bad deeds. God is the one who keeps the books and throughout history there have been a lot of saints who have had many more good deeds than others. They essentially have more good deeds than they possibly need. So these extra good deeds of these saints go into the Treasury of Merit. They would then be made available to purchase and they would functioned like “confession insurance” against eternal damnation because, if you purchased an indulgence, then you wouldn’t go to hell if you died suddenly or forgot to confess something.
Indulgences were initially for those who were alive but in 1476 Pope Sixtus IV extended indulgences to include souls in purgatory. So now when you purchased an indulgence from the Church you were actually purchasing prayer time for a priest to pray for your dead soul or your relatives dead soul so that merit would be taken from the Treasury and deposited into your account based on how much you purchased. The time then in purgatory would be reduced based on the amount of indulgences that were purchased.
Luther did not want to abolish the Catholic Church but wanted them to look at what Scripture said about repentance and forgiveness of sin. It goes without saying, but this was met with tremendous resistance because the sale of indulgences were a tremendous revenue stream for the Catholic Church and they would vigorously defend its continued existence. But thankfully Luther continued to stand against the powerful Church and declared that a man is justified by sola gratia, grace alone plus nothing. He recited Romans 3:24 which states that we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Luther than said we receive this only through faith alone, sola fide.
I pray that we are bold enough to stand as Luther did. May God give us the grace. Thank you, as always, for allowing me the privilege of being your Pastor. Lord willing, I will see you all this coming Lord’s Day.