Reformation 500

October is the month that Protestants usually celebrate and remember the Protestant Reformation. Although political, economic, and theological controversies were already churning beneath the surface, the date of the Reformation is usually linked with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the churches in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. These 95 Theses come in the form of pithy and succinct sentences, something more akin to Donald Trump’s twitter feed than a theological tome. And that is not an insult. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t fully understand the attraction to social media. But there are some really talented and gifted people out there who know how to wield it like a surgeon uses a scalpel. And this is how Luther used the theses when he posted them on the door of the church. For example,

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

Succinct. Punchy. Edgy. Attention getting.

The connection between Luther’s nailing of the theses and the celebration of All Hallows Eve—what we’ve come to know as Halloween—is not coincidental.

As can be easily seen in theses 27-28, in these statements he challenges the theological and moral corruption in the church of his day, especially the power of the Pope to remit sins and issue indulgences for the dead. Thus we read,

81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

One of the most fascinating things about his theses are how simple they are to read and understand. Luther was a giant intellect but his personality was even bigger and his rhetorical skills were even bigger than that. When one reads the history of Luther and of the reformation one has to conclude that Luther’s actions, while bold and even outlandish at times, were calculated to get the attention of both the common people and the establishment at the same time.

The connection between Luther’s nailing of the theses and the celebration of All Hallows Eve—what we’ve come to know as Halloween—is not coincidental. Christians have been celebrating All Saints Day since the early years of the church and All Hallows Eve—October 31—was a significant day of preparation and religious devotion. In typical fashion, Luther capitalized on this important day by aggressively challenging some of the corrupted theological claims of the church on one of its most important days.

Often those challenges are codified into Five Solas generally confessed by all Protestant Christians. Sola is a Latin word that means “alone.” Originally there were just three: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone); but by the twentieth century the list burgeoned to five with the addition of Solus Christus (Christ Alone)/Solo Christo (Through Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).

In the coming weeks we will give our attention to these solas in preparation for our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year.