Martin Luther 95 Theses Essay

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], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The Theses applied Luther’s theology of the cross (which he was developing at the same time) to the business of religion in his day.

True penitents, Luther argued, welcome the cross laid upon them by God because it conforms them to Christ and so prepares them for heaven.

Why indeed then would anyone wish to short-circuit the purgation of their wayward desires through Christ, in holy preparation for eternal life with God?

If purgatory means the purification of the Christian, beginning in this lifetime, then the message of Luther’s 95 Theses might well be stated: In his little book on the 95 Theses, Timothy Wengert tells of a contemporary layperson who, upon reading the 95 Theses, commented that “they aren’t very Lutheran!

For the believer, consequently, genuine and divine punishment good: the Pauline wasting away of the old outer nature like the cocoon from which the new life of the butterfly will someday emerge.

Luther’s true Christian penitent, sorry for sin but not for sin’s punishment, gets to die with Christ so that out of these ruins the Holy Spirit brings newness of life by the purification of desire.The 95 Theses primarily attack the false security that is placed in one’s own pious works, including the “childish” work of buying salvation in the form of indulgences—bribes, really.The certainty of faith that can rest in God’s grace as delivered in Christ is not yet fully accented in the Theses, although in hindsight we can detect intimations of it in the thesis about the “true treasure of the church, which is the gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Most contemporary readers of the 95 Theses live in a Protestantism that, in H.Richard Niebuhr’s famous caricature, “teaches a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Such readers can indeed be taken aback by the Theses’ emphasis on penalties and the cross.But for Luther, as we have heard, these pains are divinely given aids to be welcomed by the pilgrim disciples on their arduous journey of purification on the narrow way to heaven.There are good reasons for this discomfort, including the in­equities of our systems of justice and the tyrannies of our petty moralisms.There are also bad reasons for it, including the loss of personal agency and responsibility in our culture.” It may equally be the case that today’s Lutherans are not very Lutheran.Indeed, this revealing remark reflects a double truth.At the same time, the indulgence preachers’ emphasis on escaping punishment obscured the significance of Christ’s cross as a reparative form of punishment.True preaching should not magnify punishment to make auditors fear it; rather, it should magnify sin to make penitents hate it.


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