This year marks the 500th anniversary of what we now call the start of the Protestant Reformation.
On October 31st, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That document contained a list of 95 Theses, or 95 points against the Roman Catholic church. Martin Luther was troubled by many things that the Roman Catholic church was doing wrong, but the biggest was the hideous practice of indulgences.
Pope Leo X was in desperate need for money. He had commissioned the building, painting and decorating of both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel and was now short in cash to pay for these projects. Are you familiar with those buildings? They are both in Rome and they are well-known because Michelangelo was a designer in both projects. Have you ever seen the painting of God and man where their fingers are almost touching? That was Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel, and, apparently, Michelangelo didn’t come cheap.
To help cover the costs, Leo X approved a scheme involving an indulgence sale. A person could purchase a piece of paper that would supposedly pardon their sins, either past, present, or future.
Now, picture priests and representatives of the church traveling from town to town teaching that people’s sin could be forgiven by giving money to the church. Isn’t that crazy?!
The scheme intensified when representatives even told people that they could purchase the pardon of sins for people in their family who had already died. Essentially, repentance and salvation could be bought.
Upon hearing of this practice, Martin Luther took a stand and called the Roman Catholic church out. Luther proclaimed that it is only by faith in the gospel that a person is forgiven. Indulgences cannot save. The church was leading people astray. And it is the gospel of Jesus that saves.
Do you see why Luther’s act was utterly significant? When he nailed the 95 Theses to the church door, he created a crack in the dam.
His ideas initially made a ripple in the Christian culture of Europe, but soon after, the flood gates opened and the dam, which symbolized the horrendous teaching of the church, began to be crushed.
The alternative, which Martin Luther proposed, was called Protestantism and with it began the Protestant church, which is what we, Violet Crown, call ourselves today.
We have much to thank God for, for what Martin Luther did and his impact on us today.
And we cannot think of a better way to honor our past and glorify God than to meditate on, what Martin Luther called, “the church’s true treasure,” namely, the gospel. The gospel is the supreme jewel of the church. It is what defines us. It is what saves us. And it is what we offer the world.
Furthermore, as Luther shows us, the gospel is our guide. We cling to the gospel, we learn, study, we plumb the depths of the gospel, so that we do not become duped by false teachings, like indulgences. We cling to the gospel because it unpacks for us the real root of our sin as well as the true and only way for forgiveness – and this way has nothing to with your money.
So join us this month as we study the Scriptures, reflect on the works and sayings of Martin Luther and celebrate how God used a monk and a mallet to change the world.
We’ve also written a review of a selection of Martin Luther’s works. You can read it here.