Tag Archives: Martin Luther

What Were Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses?”

The Diet at Worms: Anton von Werner (credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow, October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the nailing of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses to a church door (Actually, Luther probably got the church janitor to do it, and he probably used glue and not nails, but that is another story…)  So, what were the “Ninety-Five Theses,” anyway?

Well, to tell the truth, the “nailing” of Luther’s document to the church door was no big deal, in and of itself. It was like stapling a poster up at a college bulletin board, or posting a message on Facebook. As a university theology professor, Luther wanted to hold a discussion with church leaders and other academic colleagues, coming up with 95 propositions for debate. Like most university academic discussions, such debates rarely, if ever, “go viral,” even today. Academics normally can not compete with ESPN. However, the big deal was what happened in the following four years, after Luther posted his theses.

In Luther’s day, the Western church was riddled with corruption, and everybody knew it.  Initially, Luther objected to the sale of indulgences, whereby church officials would urge people, who had no access to the Scriptures in their native language, to give money to the church, in exchange for lessening the punishments of loved ones, who were suffering in purgatory. In 1517, Luther still believed in the doctrine of purgatory itself, as acceptable Christian doctrine.

So, Luther was originally tapping into the widespread frustration with the medieval church. For example, from proposition 82, Luther argued that the papacy was more concerned about making money, than actually helping people who were suffering in purgatory:

“Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and 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?

Or even from proposition 86:

“Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

But there were hints that Luther was pressing against something deeper, within the medieval Catholic system, than simply corrupt church practices. Consider the first three propositions:

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

Here, Luther shows how he was influenced by Erasmus’ Greek edition of the New Testament, published  just a year earlier, before Luther’s famous 1517 date. “Doing penance,” according to the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, is not the same thing as “repentance.” It was Luther’s study of the Scriptures that forced him to look at reality anew and afresh.

And this is what rattled church leaders.

Luther was hoping for an opportunity to express his views, and defend them. But he soon learned that certain church authorities, who benefited so much from corruption, refused to engage him in authentic debate. One of the few times Luther was allowed to debate his views, almost led to his undoing. At the Leipzig disputation in 1517, his brilliant opponent Johann Eck, forced Luther into a corner. Luther finally had to admit that he was calling into question the infallibility of the church, through its popes and councils.

Now Luther was in trouble. The problem was that Luther’s ideas were starting to catch on with folks outside of the academic community, both among the nobility, and the peasant poor. Luther was a master of the new technology of the printing press, and he put it to use. Luther fought back.

The church leadership simply could not tolerate such dissension. For if Luther would not be silenced, they were concerned that Luther would open the floodgates of false doctrines and heresy to proliferate, and destroy the unity of Christendom through schism. Their fears were not without some warrant. For church authorities, Luther had to be stopped.

But Luther was held captive to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. Luther was far from perfect, but he knew his cause to be just. To him, the very message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was at stake. If he could be persuaded that he had erred, in interpreting the Bible, he was open to correction. But by the time of his grand appearance before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, at the Diet of Worms, in 1521, he had become convinced of the Bible’s teaching, of justification by faith alone, and salvation by grace alone.

His answer to the Emperor, though scholars are not convinced of the actual wording, nevertheless still echoes throughout the course of history:

“Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen.”

The church and world have never been the same since.


…And now… Duh-duh-dahh!! ….. For a rather happy take on Martin Luther and the Reformation, you will not want to miss the “Reformation Polka,” by Baylor University professor of history, Chris Gertz:

The Haunted Legacy of Martin Luther

A warehouse at Auschwitz, storing clothes of camp victims, after liberation in January 1945. How much did Martin Luther’s rhetoric lead to the Holocaust? (Credit: National Archives)

Martin Luther is one of my theological heroes. But like any other fallen human, Luther was far, far from perfect. He was the Reformation’s chief champion of salvation by faith, and faith alone. But he also had a dark side…  (NEWS FLASH)… just like you and me.

As we remember the 500th anniversary of when this obscure monk, turned bible professor at a university in Wittenberg, famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door, on Halloween, we mainly think of Luther’s attack on the abuses of the medieval Western church, a corrupt institution that instilled fear and anxiety among the people, and financially profited from such abuses. We also think of Luther’s famous stand for the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura), as the ultimate source of truth. I could go on with praises for Luther. We all owe an immense amount of gratitude to God for raising up a Martin Luther.

Luther was also a man who enjoyed life. He enjoyed good food, and having a good time with friends and family. He was comparatively more jovial than his later Reformed counterpart in Geneva, John Calvin. You could count on having a fun night, out on the town, with Martin Luther. With John Calvin? Well, you would probably be in bed before 9pm.

Luther preached a Gospel of grace, and grace alone…. and for the most part, he lived it.

I am a Martin Luther guy.

But this does not tell the whole story about Martin Luther. Luther had his blind spots, his dark side, if you will. To ignore these shortcomings is to fail to tell the whole story. There are possibly three elements to Luther’s legacy that still haunt the great German Protestant Reformer. Continue reading

Crisis at Marburg

The Reformation gave the church a renewed confidence in the authority of the Scriptures. However, the Reformation also shows us that the interpretation of God’s Word requires diligent study, a hunger for truth, a love for our fellow believers, and humility. Here is why…


"This is my Body... This is my Blood." Matthew 26:26-27. Literal or symbolic interpretation? “This is my Body… This is my Blood.” Matthew 26:26-28. Literal or symbolic interpretation?

Zwingli, with tears in his eyes, extended the hand of fellowship, but Martin Luther steadfastly refused: “Yours is a different spirit from ours“. Luther walked out.  The split was final. The unity of the Protestant Reformation movement was in tatters.

Marburg, Germany. 1529. Martin Luther’s attempt to reform the Roman Catholic church and restore confidence in the Bible “alone” was in full swing. Years earlier, he had nailed his famous 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door, protesting abuses within the church. Four hundred miles away, in Zurich, Switzerland, a young renegade priest, Huldrich Zwingli, was beginning to do the same thing Luther had started in Germany. Both Luther and Zwingli felt that the Church of Rome had lost its way. Christianity needed to return to the Holy Scriptures as the pure…

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What Was the Reformation All About? (In Three Minutes)

Ligonier Ministries R.C. Sproul gives a quick rundown of what the Reformation was all about, and what it means for Christians today, in less than three minutes. For more on the 16th century Reformation at Veracity, just search for the keyword “reformation,” and explore various blog posts on relevant topics.

Eric Metaxas on Martin Luther


October, 2017 is a big month for Christians, as we remember the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses to a Wittenberg church door, kickstarting the Protestant Reformation.  In a secular world, where spiritual topics are often taboo, talk of Martin Luther can be a great conversation starter for Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox… even with unbelieving friends, co-workers and family members. Luther is big everywhere. Even though Germany is mostly nominally Christian now, Luther is still recognized as a national hero. For Westerners in general, Luther is a prominent historical personality, regardless of one’s religious identification (or lack thereof).

But, if you are clueless about Martin Luther, where do you start to learn more?

Eric Metaxas is a popular Christian author and talk show host. He is a type of public intellectual, who keeps things down on “the bottom shelf.” Plus, he is funny. As author of bestselling books on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas writes in a very accessible style. His latest book, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, would be a good introduction to those who look upon the Protestant Reformation as an unfamiliar, foreign country. Though I do not agree with everything Metaxas writes, his popularization of scholarly research is nevertheless very engaging.

Roland Bainton’s 1950s classic, Here I Stand, is still my favorite biography on Luther. But if I get a chance to dip into Metaxas’ new book, I might revise that. In the following video, Eric Metaxas, who comes from an Eastern Orthodox background, gives a talk summarizing his new book on Luther, at a recent National Religious Broadcaster’s meeting. As Metaxas says, Luther “rediscovered God and changed the world.” For a cheery take on Luther, please enjoy!


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