I was listening to a Yale lecture on American history this afternoon and the professor referenced Jonathan Edwards and his most famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” She took time to read a section from the text so that everyone could get an audible “Jonathan Edwards moment.” I enjoyed the reading and I found myself asking the question have I read the sermon? I’m sure at some point in the past several years I’ve read it but I don’t remember anything about it (begging the question have I actually read it?). Have you ever had this experience?
Then I started thinking about all of the famous texts that have been used to spark debate and discussion in the church. These are texts that often get referenced in passing but are rarely discussed in detail. So I thought you might enjoy reading through important documents in church history with me and having an excuse to start a discussion. What I’m looking for are your first impressions. Not a wrestle through the source material.
Have you ever read the Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther? Let’s start here with Theses 1-40.
- Luther on the purpose of the 95 theses: “He [Luther] requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.” This sounds like a blog post.
- 1-7 contrast Biblical repentance to the church practice of penance and the role of the pope in the remitting of sin. Point 1 is beautiful: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Point 7 hints at the idea that he still considers himself a Roman Catholic.
- Point 14 is an interesting observation on human nature: “Defective piety or love in a dying person is necessarily accompanied by great fear, which is greatest where the piety or love is least.”
- The discussion on purgatory and indulgences gives us a window into how Luther is debating the issue in his own mind. In Point 17 he appears to validate purgatory. In Points 24 and 27 he attacks the idea that souls can be delivered from purgatory by indulgence. In Point 29 he even uses the writings of saints to posit the idea that there are souls in purgatory that choose to minister to those who are suffering.
- Point 36 and 37 sharpen the argument against purgatory and indulgences. “Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.”
Next post I will cover Theses 41-95. I would love to hear your thoughts on this section of text.