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Luther’s Attack on Indulgences

Luther Posting 95 Theses

Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses

As we get closer to October 31, 2017, let us remember the bold and courageous effort made 500 years ago by Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) to attack a gross theological error that was being promoted within the Roman Catholic Church. He argued in his 95 Theses against the selling of Indulgences (i.e. “certificates of pardon”). When Johann Tetzel (the official representative of Pope Leo X) began selling Indulgences in a neighboring city, Luther was outraged to see some of the citizens of Wittenberg flocking to buy them! He responded by posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in an effort to stem the tide. It wasn’t Luther’s plan, at this time, to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but only to reform it. He wrote his theses in Latin, the language of the scholars, and intended to engage in a debate with those learned men who shaped the policies and practices of the Church. The 95 Theses, however, were quickly translated into German and printed so that all could read them. They spread like wildfire throughout Central Europe, and many Christians were galvanized to action by these bold and uncompromising statements. Surely, God in his providence used them to foment the Protestant Reformation–which dates from the time of their posting on October, 31, 1517. Here are five of the 95 Theses that directly attack the selling of Indulgences:

  • 95 Theses

    Here is an early printed copy of Luther’s 95 Theses–his bold words electrified both his supporters and opponents alike!

    #21 – “Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error who allege that through the indulgences of the pope a man is freed from every penalty.”

  • #27 – “Those who assert that a soul straightway flies out (of purgatory) as a coin tinkles in the collection-box, are preaching an invention of man.”
  • #28 – “It is sure that when a coin tinkles greed and avarice are increased; but the intercession of the church is the will of God alone.”
  • #32 – “Those who think themselves sure of salvation through their letters of pardon will be forever damned along with their teachers.”
  • #67 – “Indulgences, according to the declarations of those who preach them, are the greatest graces; but ‘greatest’ is to be understood to refer to them as producers of revenue.”

Let us not forget the legacy of Martin Luther and all that he did to bring about a great spiritual revival–the Protestant Reformation–whose fruit we are still enjoying to this very day.

— Dr. Marcus J. Serven