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“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
31 October 1517 marks a single event, on a single day, which changed the world forever. It marks when Professor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche (The Castle Church) in Wittenberg, Germany.
First Things First
It was not that Martin Luther was attempting to launch a Reformation. He was seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It was Martin Luther’s desperate quest for peace with God that led him to study the Scriptures intently. He was overwhelmed by the holiness of God and the depravity of man. He agonised over his own sinful nature.
Eternally Important Questions
God’s Standard is Perfection
“Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” “Be holy, as I am holy.” We are obligated to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbour as ourselves. Yet, which of us can ever say that we have attained such holiness, or spiritual perfection?
Trying to Earn Salvation by Good Works
Out of great concern for his eternal salvation, Martin Luther had sought to flee from the world and bury himself in the Augustinian cloister, devoting himself to a life of the strictest asceticism. Yet, despite devoting himself to earning salvation by good works, cheerfully performing the humblest of tasks, praying, fasting, chastising himself, even beyond the strictest monastic rules, Martin Luther was still oppressed with a terrible sense of his utter sinfulness and lost condition.
Study to Show Yourself Approved Unto God
Luther’s superior, Johannes van Staupitz, recognising Martin Luther’s great intellectual talents and to channel his energies away from excessive introspection, ordered him to undertake further studies, including Hebrew, Greek and the Scriptures, to become a university lecturer for the order. Martin Luther was ordained a priest in 1507 and studied and taught at the Universities of Wittenberg and Erfurt.
To Teach and Defend the Scriptures
In 1512, Martin Luther received his Doctoral degree and took the traditional vow on becoming a Professor at Wittenberg University, to teach and defend the Scriptures faithfully. This vow would be a tremendous source of encouragement to him later. Professor Luther never viewed himself as a rebel, but rather as a Theologian seeking to be faithful to the vow required of him to teach and defend the Holy Scripture.
Studying the Scriptures
Martin Luther committed most of the New Testament, much of the Old Testament and all of the Psalms to memory. From 1513 to 1517, Martin Luther lectured at the University of Wittenberg on the Psalms, Galatians and Romans. Being a University Professor was a full time job. However, Martin Luther also had other responsibilities as well. He was the Supervisor for 11 Augustinian monasteries, including the one at Wittenberg. He was also responsible for preaching regularly at the Monastery Chapel, the Town Church (Stadtkirche) and at the Castle Church (the Schlosskirche). It was the combination of Martin Luther’s Theological and pastoral concerns that led him to take the actions that sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Worship, Faith and Salvation
In the Psalms, he discovered what real worship was all about. In Galatians, he discovered what Biblical Faith was. In the Book of Romans, he discovered God's way of Salvation through the doctrine of Justification based upon the finished work of Christ on the Cross of Calvary.
The Just Shall Live by Faith
It was in 1512, as he began to study Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, that the verse: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:17. Martin Luther testified that as he began to understand that the righteousness of God is a free gift of God's grace, by which we may live by faith, “I felt entirely born again and was led through open gates into paradise itself. Suddenly the whole of Scripture had a different appearance to me. I recounted the passages which I had memorised and realised that other passages, too, showed that the work of God is what God works in us… thus St. Paul’s words that ‘The Just shall live by faith’, did indeed become to me the gateway to paradise.”
The burden of his sin rolled away. Up until then, Martin Luther had tried to earn salvation by his good works. Although he had never had been able to do enough. Now God had spoken to him through the Scripture.
The 5 Solas that Shattered the Darkness
Man is not saved by works, but by the grace of God alone, received by Faith alone. Christ alone is the Head of the Church. Salvation is by atonement of Christs Blood shed upon the Cross of Calvary. Scripture alone is our ultimate authority. Everything must be done to the Glory of God alone.
To Defend Scripture and Serve Christ’s Church
As a doctor, Professor Martin Luther had taken an oath to serve the Church of Christ faithfully by the study and teaching of Holy Scripture. At the university, he was responsible to prepare pastors for the ministry. Now, having experienced God’s grace in Christ, studying the Word of God, Martin Luther began to see the emptiness, self-absorption, pious pretence and superstitious unbelief of his previous religious devotion. He could not fail to recognise the same pious fraud and pharasiacal futility all around him.
Pilgrimage to Rome
In 1510, before being made a professor at Wittenberg University, Martin Luther had been sent to Rome for his monastic order. He had walked across Germany and the Alps into Italy and what he had seen in Rome had shocked and disillusioned him. The blatant immorality and degeneracy prevalent in Rome was outrageous and scandalous. “Everything is permitted in Rome, except to be an honest man!”
Degenerate Pope and His Opulent Spending Spree
Pope Leo X, from the De Medici family, employed artist Raphael and sculptor Michelangelo to decorate the Vatican. To pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Bishop Albert of Mainz (who was too young by church laws for such a position) and actually was overseer of 2 bishoprics, (also against Church laws), bishop Albert of Mainz was granted a special papal dispensation from Leo X to sell plenary indulgences, to cover past, present and future sins. The indulgence industry had become a tremendous source of income for the Papacy.
Indulgence Sales Industry
It was on this papal fundraising campaign that Dominican Monk and indulgence salesman extraordinary Johan Tetzel, arrived in Saxony. The shameless and scandalous manner in which Tetzel hawked the indulgences outraged Professor Luther. Sales lingo such as: “As soon as the coin clicks in the chest, a soul flies up to Heavenly rest,” were deceiving gullible people about their eternal souls.
Salvation Cannot Be Bought nor Sold
Dr. Luther’s study of the Scriptures had convinced him that Salvation comes by the grace of God alone. Salvation is based upon the Blood Atonement of Christ Jesus and the Cross of Calvary alone. Received by Faith alone. Indulgences could not remove any guilt. It could only induce a false sense of security. People were being deceived for eternity. Souls were at stake. The truth of Scripture was being twisted and ignored. The honour of God was being tarnished. He needed to make a stand for truth and fight the good fight of faith. Concerns that had been growing steadily since his pilgrimage to Rome in 1510, now led Professor Martin Luther to make a public, formal objection to the abuses of indulgences.
Protest Against Indulgences and Unbiblical Superstition
On All Saints Day, 1 November, people would be coming from far and wide in order to view in reverence, the more than five thousand relics exhibited in the Schlosskirche. Therefore, on 31 October 1517, Professor Martin Luther nailed his 95 arguments against indulgences onto the door of the Castle Church. He also posted a copy to the archbishop of Mainz.
A Drop of Ink Can Make a Million Think
These 95 Theses were intended to spark a debate and stir soul-searching amongst church members. However, Martin Luther could never had anticipated the far-reaching repercussions of this bold stand. When he took quill in hand and dipped it in his inkwell, he had no idea how this drop of ink would make many millions think.
“The Church’s true treasure is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Roman Catholic papacy had devalued the Gospel and neglected the Word of God, building a massive jungle of superstitious tradition and pharasiacal fraud with empty religious rituals.
The 95 Theses begins with these words: “Since our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, says Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near, he wants the whole life of a believer to be a life of repentance.” No sacrament can take away our responsibility to respond to Christ’s command by a repentance evidenced by an outward change, a transformation and renewal of our entire life. God alone can forgive sins. Indulgences are a fraud. It would be far better to give to the poor than to waste ones money on indulgences. If the pope really has power over the souls suffering in purgatory, why does he not release them out of pure Christian charity? The entire Roman Catholic sacramental system was a distraction and a deception.
The Power of the Printing Press
The 95 Theses created such a sensation that within two weeks they had been printed and read throughout Germany. Within the month, translations were being printed and sold all over Europe. A copy even reached the pope. The Printing Press played a key role in mobilising the Reformation. In 1517, there were about 24 printing centres in Europe. Soon Martin Luther’s works dominated the market and were, by far, the most popular.
Scripture Alone is Our Authority
Professor Martin Luther could be described as a pastor, preacher, professor, teacher, Theologian, composer and Reformer. But perhaps his greatest achievement was the translation of the Bible into German. When his New Testament in German was published in September 1522, it created a sensation. 5,000 copies were sold in the first 2 months alone. It was the first time a mass medium had ever impacted everyday life and it was affordable – even to the poor. For but a week’s wages, one could obtain the New Testament. Almost everyone in Germany, either read Luther’s translation, or listened it being read. Martin Luther’s Bible translation inspired and guided similar translations of the Bible into local languages in Holland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and England. One of the many ways Martin Luther left his mark, was the order in which he placed the Books of the Bible, to which we adhere to this day. Before Martin Luther there had been no uniform arrangement. Luther’s translation particularly guided William Tyndale in his translation of the Bible into English.
Martin Luther has sometimes been described as “the world’s first great journalist.” His writings succeeded in changing history. He wrote in the common language, instead of in the scholarly Latin – which was only understood by a small, educated elite of society. Secondly, Martin Luther mastered the use of the broadside pamphlet – which were cheap to print and easy to read. Luther made the message fit the medium, maximizing the pages run through the printing press. Thirdly, he made use of some of the finest illustrations or woodcuts of the times, to make his message understood even unto the semi-illiterate. Martin Luther showed the way and other Reformers continued his work of using print technology to mass-produce Scripture and Reformation publications. Indeed, by the end of his ministry on earth, Martin Luther had written over 60,000 pages of printed works, more than 400 titles, including commentaries, sermons and pamphlets, which attacked Catholic superstitions and abuses and which promoted Biblical doctrines.
The Reformer’s Friend
As the first exhibit in the Geneva Reformation Museum declares: “The Printing Press – The Reformers Friend, the tyrant’s foe!” By God's grace the Printing Press provided the spiritual weapon needed to make the Reformation succeed.
The Ongoing Reformation
Ecclesia Reformata Semper Reformanda Est (The Church having been Reformed should always be Reformed). Professor Martin Luther quoted the church Father, St. Augustine, in Latin, Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est. The church must continually re-examine itself in order to maintain its purity of doctrine and practise.
What Do We Need To Do To Work for Reformation Today
So, today, 31 October, Reformation Day, let us ask: If Professor Martin Luther was here with us today, what would he say to us? Well, you do not need to guess, we have his writings here with us.
What Would Martin Luther Say to Us Today?
Fear God. Do not fear man. The fear of man will prove to be a snare. Study the Bible. Have your conscience captive to the Word of God. Popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves. Your conscience must be captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against your conscience. Stand on the unchangeable Word of Almighty God. Pray the Psalms.
Pray Early and Often
To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing. Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church. It is a goodly Christian weapon.
Love Music and Sing to the Glory of God
Next to the Word of God the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul. It is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has ever given us.
Live in the Light of Eternity
Our Lord has written the promise of Resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it was made of gold and silver.
Trust in God Wholeheartedly
Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it 8,000 times.
Ensure Your Children Receive Bible-based Education
I am much afraid that schools will prove to be wide gates to hell unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them on the hearts of the youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not constantly occupied with the Word of God, must become corrupt.
Show Your Loyalty by Fighting Where the Battle Rages the Fiercest
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition, every portion of the truth God's Word, except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefront besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
Beware of Deception and Distraction
For where God builds a church, there the devil would also built a counterfeit.
Stand Valiantly for Truth
I am not bound by the opinions of men. Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. A simple layman, armed with Scripture, is greater than the mightiest pope without it. God will pave the streets of hell with the skulls of apostate bishops and cardinals.
Pray Short Prayers from the Heart
Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth. Help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart. The fewer the words, the better the prayer. God does not need your good works, but your neighbour does. Pray like it all depends on God. Then when you are done, go work like it all depends on you. We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. The less I pray the harder it gets. The more I pray, the better it goes.
Enjoy God Honouring Music
Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God. As long as we live there is never enough singing. My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.
Deny Self – Take Up Your Cross
I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self. Beware of selfishness. God created the world out of nothing and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us. When satan tells me I am a sinner, he comforts me immensely, since Christ died for sinners. A Christian is never in a state of completion, but always in the process of becoming.
True Love is Measured by Sacrifice
A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing, is worth nothing. Show me where a man spends his time and money and I will show which god he really worships.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today.
Be Teachable and Open to Correction
The world does not want to be corrected. It wants to remain in darkness. It does not want to be told that what it believes is false. If you also do not want to be corrected, then you might as well leave the church and spend your time at the bar and brothel. But if you want to be saved and remember there is another life after this one – you must accept correction.
Hunger for the Bread of Life and Thirst for the Living Water of Christ
The Bible is a remarkable fountain. The more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst. The Bible is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me. The Word of God is greater than Heaven and earth, yes, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God and endures everlastingly.
Speak to the Sins of Your Society
A Gospel that does not deal with the issues of the day is not the Gospel at all. You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say. Stand up for the truth. Speak out for God. Fight the good fight of Faith. Always preach in such a way that if the people listening to you do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you. A lie is like a snowball: the further you roll it the bigger it becomes. They gave our Master a Crown of thorns. Why do you hope for a crown of roses? A simple man with Scripture has more authority than pope or council. Unthankfulness is theft. Give the Law to the proud and the Gospel to the broken-hearted.
It is impossible for a young man to remain single without sin. Marriage is the true school of character. You can learn more in one year of marriage than you could in 10 years in college. There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company, than a good marriage.
Faith is Not Feelings
Feelings come and feelings go. Feelings are deceptive. My warrant is the Word of God. Naught else is worth believing. There is one greater than my heart whose Word cannot be broken. I will trust in God's unchanging Word till body and soul sever. For although all things shall pass away, His Word will stand forever! We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds, but having been made righteous, will do righteous deeds.
The prosperity of our country depends upon not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, not on the beauty of its public buildings, but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its people of education, enlightenment and character. Nothing is more beautiful in the eyes of God than a soul who loves to hear His Word.
Apply the Lordship of Christ to All Areas of Life
God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways.
The Reformation set about to restore Biblical principles to all areas of life.
This is God’s world and we need God's Word to be obeyed in every area of life.
May God find us faithful to His Word and effective in His service as we work for Biblical Reformation and pray for spiritual Revival.
Sola Scriptura! Sola Gracia! Sola Fide! Solus Christus! Soli Deo Gloria!
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
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95 Theses for Reformation Today
The Reformation Roots of Western Civilisation
Why Celebrate the Reformation?
Reformation and Desecration?
The Greatest Century of Reformation
Reformation or Revolution!
Martin Luther's Date With Destiny
Martin Luther – Captive to the Word of God
Are You Praying for Revival?
The Forbidden Bible
How to Start a Reformation Group
Reformation 500 Zürich Church Council