Today is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses
Most have, at a minimum, heard his name. If you don’t know anything else about him and why he matters, here are some quick notes to bring you up to speed… It’s actually pretty interesting!
- Martin Luther was a German monk and professor of theology who questioned the theology and leadership of the Catholic Church in 1517.
- He is widely regarded as the guy who kicked off the protestant reformation.
- The protestant reformation was a split from the Catholic Church.
- There are now many protestant denominations. Some of the larger “branches” are Adventist, Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist (Reformed), Lutheran, Methodist, and Pentecostal.
- Luther wrote a profound list of statements, sent a copy to the Pope and supposedly nailed it to a church door. This is his 95 Theses.
- The 95 theses was meant to start conversation on the listed topics. Not split the church.
- The original name of this document was the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Or in my own plain English, “Disagreements that one can pay to have their sins forgiven again.” (Ya, you didn’t read that wrong. We’ll get to more on that soon.)
Now, we don’t write a history blog; not even a church history blog, so we’re gonna tread lightly on those details. But, I think it’s important, at a minimum, for the average believer to have some context.
What did Luther say in those 95 theses?
Well, if you want to read them all, you can do so here, but these are the main points from my perspective:
- The selling of indulgences is wrong
- An indulgence, from any man, won’t save a man
- God wants us to actually change our lives (repent) and be saved
Buying forgiveness? “That’s messed up…”
As a protestant, when one first learns about the selling of indulgences (again, certificates believed to alleviate the punishment for sin for living or dead people), I figure most people will think something along the lines of, “bro, that’s messed up…” Today, Luther’s 36th and 1st theses has become a pretty common-place understanding for most believers:
- 36th: “Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters”
- 1st: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” ( Matthew 4:17 ), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
How bad was it?
Luther lists out a few issues with indulgences, all very concerning. Ranging from the practice being unbiblical, to giving people false assurance of salvation and even furthering them from actual salvation, and last but not least, promoting, or working from a place of, widespread greed within the church.
The latter, which is building to the point I’ll get to eventually here, was one of the chief complaints. We know that…
- An indulgence was issued in 1515, intended to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. This covered almost all sins. At the same time, the other preached indulgences were suspended. Gotta fund that building!
- Giving to the poor and other acts of mercy became less attractive compared to buying one’s dead relative’s forgiveness, claimed Luther. Would make sense if you were told you could buy your great aunt’s salvation, right?
- Ministry focus shifted from the poor and widows to those who had money. Or as Luther so eloquently stated…
“The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.”
How far have we come?
On a literal sense, the Catholic Church isn’t selling indulgences, but they also say they never have, stating it as a “misconception.”
Going more conceptual: Though I’ve never personally been in a church that straight out said from the front “your salvation is determined by your giving/tithe”, I have heard some stories that come pretty darn close.
Further, money and our beliefs surrounding it as a Christian has become rather taboo. While giving and financial prosperity are trending topics, differing ideas on how that could look, will usually, at a minimum, rock the proverbial boat.
With the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses, I think now is a wonderful opportunity to consider money and its current function in the church…
Not for your church, unless you lead it or are in a place of relevant leadership, mind you, but for ourselves as individual believers and what we have responsibility over. The brain-check is far too pervasive! (If you’re not offended yet, maybe this comic will do the trick!)
Luther boldly (attempted to) initiated conversation, presenting a well thought out position. He sought to make right what he believed were faults within the church. I’d love to see that same inspiration for initiative more common today! Of course, this very thing led to Luther being excommunicated from the church and condemned as an outlaw… 🙁
I believe we still have many modern day “indulgences” that need modern day “Luthers”
No matter who you are or what side of the fence you’re on, I think we can agree: the world of Christian finances is far from ideal. Here’s a few points to help prod those brains off the shelf…
- “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” – Jesus, Matthew 19:21
- There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – The early church. Acts 4:34-35.
- The biblical tithe, amounting to around 25% from the multiple “firstfruit offerings”, was on agricultural produce that was from the Holy Land itself. “No contribution being provided for from trade or merchandise.” – Alfred Edersheim, The Temple – It’s Ministry and Services
- “It wasn’t until 300 years after Christ that some leaders began to advocate tithing as a Christian practice to support the clergy. It did not become widespread among Christians until the eighth century.” Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity. Murray, Beyond Tithing.
- “UN says solving food crisis could cost $30 billion” – New York Times
- “$1 Billion could fully fund all overseas mission work” – RELEVANT Magazine
And finally, some statistics that were way harder to come by than I thought they would be…
- The International Bulletin of Mission Research provides the following figures for mid-2017:
- Personal income of Christians: 53,000 billion
- Giving to Christian causes: 900 billion
- Churches’ income: 360 billion
- Ecclesiastical crime: 59 billion
- Income of global foreign missions: 53 billion
- Empty Tomb, Inc., a Christian service and research organization shared these numbers concerning where money goes from the church:
- 85% -> Internal Operations
- 50% staff pay
- 22% building costs
- 13% utilities and expenses
- 15% -> Outreach
- 13% local ministry
- 2% overseas missions
- 85% -> Internal Operations
- Finally, Christianity Today’s Church Law and Tax group reported the following:
Chew on that
I hope that gives you some good food for thought. Though presenting the information itself allows one to form presumptions on my position concerning the above data, I’m purposefully leaving you without any word-for-word conclusions of my own. I’m curious to hear what you think!
As always, thanks for reading and we love you all!
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