On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Wittenburg, Saxony nailed 95 Theses, or arguments, against the sale of indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Indulgences were being sold in the area. The purchase of indulgences essentially granted sinners forgiveness of sins, freeing them from purgatory. Luther pressed the argument that salvation is free to all as a result of the sacrifice of Christ.
Luther’s action, influenced by reformers John Wycliff and Jan Hus, created a Reformation movement that rapidly spread across Europe. This gave rise to Protestants, or those who protested against certain practices of the Catholic church. Luther wanted to reform the church, but created a separate religion, Lutheranism, when he found that to be impossible. Many other reformers rose up after this period, creating other main religions of today.
Luther’s movement and others in the reformation emphasized the key essentials of Christianity: faith alone (soia fides), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus).
Modern Protestantism is deeply in debt to the early church, Catholic and Orthodox, especially with regard to the teaching and writings of early church fathers which helped to develop the essential doctrines most Christian religions observe today. It’s all too easy to be impelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Luther first wanted to reform the Catholic church, but when that became impossible, he created a purer religion than was being observed at the time.
A modern day heresy, the prosperity gospel, is being called out for the error that it is by too few. In my opinion, it is just as dangerous as the sale of indulgences was during the time of the reformers.
My heart was warmed by the joint service between Catholics and Lutherans last Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral. I’m planning to share some of the aspects of that service in an upcoming column. The main takeaway was that Christians need to emphasize their unity rather than where they disagree.