A Modern 95 Theses
Five Hundred years ago right now people all across Europe were talking about a German monk named Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document to the Castle Church Doors in Wittenberg, Germany. The document mostly had to do with the abuse of the sale of indulgences. The pope at that time, Leo X (1475–1521), was trying to build and complete St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during his own lifetime and in order to complete this (the greatest construction project of its time), he needed money and lots of it. So, he ordered the sale of indulgences in all of his churches. An indulgence was a grant by the pope given to lessen or even do away with the punishment that a person was expecting do endure in Purgatory. In short, he was saying that forgiveness of sin could be purchased with money and not through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus. As you might imagine this worked, and the Pope Leo X made a lot of money in a short time. But this kind of abuse was just one of the many reasons that Martin Luther and so many others were convinced that a reformation needed to take place in the church.
After Luther posted his 95 Theses, Christians all over Europe started asking about how the church needed to be reformed and eventually five statements became the unifying call of the Reformation. These became known as “Five Solas” of the Reformation. The first is statement is sola scriptura, by scripture alone. Authority for truth comes ultimately and only in scripture. The second statement is sola fide, by faith alone. People are justified before God by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ. The third statement is sola gratia, by grace alone. Salvation from sin is not something people can earn but it is a gift from God that comes through grace alone. The fourth statement is sola Christos, in Christ alone. Salvation, life, hope, peace, and joy are found Christ, and in Christ alone. The fifth statement is soli deo gloria, for the glory of God alone. All of our life, effort, worship, and energy is for the Glory of God alone. These five statements became the anchors of what defined the Reformation. The reformers also said that the church should be semper reformanda, or always reforming itself according to the word of God. Thinking about all of this leads me to ask the question, what would it look like for the church to be reforming itself today? If we were to write a new 95 Theses what would it say?
On Thursday night November 16th, I will be hosting a discussion at an event called The Spotted Cow. The Spotted Cow is a gathering of men where we eat meat, sit around a fire, and talk about culture and theology. On Thursday our topic of conversation is, “A Modern 95 Theses.” In light of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation how does the church need to be reformed today, or how do we need to continue to reform? I am looking forward the discussion on Thursday at 7pm but I wanted to offer Four Theses of reformation for today’s church before then. These of course aren’t meant in any way to be an ivory tower indictment of the church. After all I am a practitioner, I offer these as reforms that I should seek in my own life and that I should lead my church to seek in theirs.
More Unity in the Church–
Luther never wanted to divide the church, his goal was never to start the Lutheran Church or any other denomination. He only wanted to reform the church, he wanted the church to be more faithful to Christ and to His scriptures, but of course he was kicked out of the church and called a heretic so in his effort of reformation there was an unintended consequence of division, and this division has continued to this day. In postmodern America people find themselves in a world of echo chambers where if anyone disagrees about any small thing there is division between them. While truth, and doctrine, and theology are so vitally important, Christians should seek to build bridges where we can.
More Concern for Transcendence –
In a world of entertainment and stimulation we have lost a sense of transcendence. Christians have lost a desire for stillness and our sense of the divine. Prayer, stillness, rest, and quiet are necessary for the Christian life and are rarely found.
Less Marketplace –
Americans have been trained to ask the question, who has the best offer for me? We ask this of our dry cleaner, our grocery store, and even of our church. Which church is doing the most interesting thing that is going to serve my life the best? Rather than helping people see beyond the marketplace, churches have simply joined the marketplace. We are concerned with giving people a “good deal” on worship and life in Christ and it has led to a church that ultimately gives neither.
A Culture of Grace-
One of my favorite hymn lines is, “t’was grace that taught my heart to fear.” Grace doesn’t say everything is “ok” even when it is not, grace is honest, grace shows things as they really are, grace teaches us as sinful men and women to fear a Holy God. Grace is truth, grace is the truthfulness of God’s word, grace is honesty with one another, grace teaches are hearts to fear, but grace also relieves all of our fears. In the gospel, its only when we get honest with ourselves its only through truth that we can really experience grace, its only through brokenness that we can really experience “relief.”
There is a lot more to be said, but it will have to wait for Thursday night at 7pm. Please find more information here. I hope you can join us then as we Think Through It.
 Coincidentally St. Peter’s Basilica was not completed until 1626, more than 105 years after Leo X died. Needless to say, he fell far short of his goal. Obviously Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation proved to be a long delay in St. Peter’s construction process.