Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 2012

Reading the 95 Theses - Finally!

As a Lutheran there are certain things I have been meaning to do, things that seem to be “rites of passage” in my faith tradition, and yesterday I finally accomplished one of my major goals: I read all of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Lest anyone wonder why Christians fail to do so even if they come from the Lutheran or Reformed tradition, I must say in my defense that (1) I believed them to be written in “old” language, which I understand very little at times, (2) I have a notoriously short attention span, and (3) I wondered if I would understand the “technicalities” and subjects of the time.

When I finally read the 95 Theses, I expected a dry exchange. In many cases there was little I could expound upon, as most concern the abuse of indulgences and other such subjects, but there were a few “gems” that I found particularly intriguing and saw as a forerunner to the Protestant tradition:

36. Every Christian who is truly contrite has plenary remission both of penance and of guilt as his due, even without a letter of pardon.

37. Any true Christian, living or dead, partakes of all the benefits of Christ and the Church, which is the gift of God, even without letters of pardon.

Revolutionary stuff! I started to get excited when I read of the freedom and free-will Luther was highlighting. As I continued reading the Theses, I found something else that struck me: (and showed his candor).

62. The true measure of the Church is the sacrosanct Gospel of the glory and grace of God.

63. But this is deservedly most hated, since it makes the first last.

64. Whereas the treasure of indulgences is deservedly most popular, since it makes the last first.

65. Thus the Gospel treasures are nets, with which of old they fished for men of riches.

66. The treasures of indulgences are nets, with which they now fish for the riches of men.

Witty as always. (Keep in mind that the Church still referred to the Catholic Church as a whole, as the word ‘Protestant’ was not yet a twinkle in the Reformers’ eyes). The use of “the first last” and the “last first” refers to the New Testament. In Matthew, Christ says “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Also, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Martin Luther believed the leaders of the Catholic Church of his day needed a healthy dose of humility and Christian charity, and he was not afraid to say such. 

At the end of the 95 Theses I felt that Protestant pride, that surge that always fills my soul when I think of the Reformation faith traditions and the subsequent legacies from which I sprang, welling up inside. This is one milestone I have wanted to accomplish for quite some time. Up next? The Book of Concord, the confession of faith for the Lutheran Church, hopefully. But that may take awhile.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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