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The Roman Catholic Church claimed it had been placed in charge of a “treasury of merits” of all of the good deeds that saints had done (not to mention the deeds of Christ, who made the treasury infinitely deep). This much needs to be understood to make sense of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses: the selling of indulgences for full remission of sins intersected perfectly with the long, intense struggle Luther himself had experienced over the issues of salvation and assurance.For those trapped by their own sinfulness, the church could write a certificate transferring to the sinner some of the merits of the saints. At this point of collision between one man’s gospel hope and the church’s denial of that hope the Ninety-five Theses can be properly understood.However, Luther phrased his criticism to suggest that the pope might be ignorant of the abuses and at any rate should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he’d gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one able to pay the penalty due for sin.
Of all the portions of the document, Luther’s closing is perhaps the most memorable for its exhortation to look to Christ rather than to the church’s power: 93.
[Notice that Luther is not yet wholly against the theology of indulgences.] And even financial well-being: 46.
Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
That fact combined with the intended audience and largely academic tone of the writing indicates Luther didn’t write the document for mass consumption. Regardless, it was translated into the common Germanic language of Saxony and was reportedly posted on the door of the Schlosskirche (the Castle Church of Wittenberg) on October 31, 1517.
Luther’s Ninety-five Theses focuses on three main issues: selling forgiveness (via indulgences) to build a cathedral, the pope’s claimed power to distribute forgiveness, and the damage indulgences caused to grieving sinners.Although the Ninety-five Theses doesn’t explicitly lay out a Protestant theology or agenda, it contains the seeds of the most important beliefs of the movement, especially the priority of grasping and applying the gospel.Luther developed his critique of the Roman Catholic Church out of his struggle with doubt and guilt as well as his pastoral concern for his parishioners.Additionally, we need to fully trust in God to save us from our sins, rather than relying partly on our own self-improvement.These teachings were radical departures from the Catholic orthodoxy of Luther’s day.Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.Obviously, since Leo X had begun the indulgences campaign in order to build the basilica, he did not “wish to give of his own money” to victims.If people know only one thing about the Protestant Reformation, it is the famous event on October 31, 1517, when the Ninety-five Theses of Martin Luther (1483–1586) were nailed on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in protest against the Roman Catholic Church.Within a few years of this event, the church had splintered into not just the “church’s camp” or “Luther’s camp” but also the camps of churches led by theologians of all different stripes.Luther is known mostly for his teachings about Scripture and justification.Regarding Scripture, he argued the Bible alone () is our ultimate authority for faith and practice.