The Reformation (01): Luther, the 95 Theses, and Sola Fide

Date: 10/29/2017
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Type: Sunday Sermon
Organization: All Saints
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The Historical Precedents of the Reformation - Europe was Reformation-Ready by sixteenth century. The late medieval Church was deformed with corruptions like papal supremacy, transubstantiation, withholding the cup from the people, maryolatry, penance, indulgences, many addictive gross superstitions. Confidence in the Church authority had been greatly shaken. The various rivalries to papal authority led to the Great Papal Schism (1378-1417) when three men simultaneously claimed to be pope. The Council of Constance (1414) got things back together, but began burning Reformers, like John Huss.

Enter Martin Luther (1483-1546). He began training in law, but turned from that after being caught in a traumatic storm when he vowed, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!" He entered the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt in July, 1505. Though he engaged in a full monastic life of fasts, flagellations, long hours in prayer, pilgrimages, and constant confession, he was troubled. His superior (von Staupitz) tried to help him by ordering him to teach theology at the University of Wittenberg (1508). Luther addressed the error of “indulgences.” An “indulgence” transferred the justifying benefits of good works to those who donated money to the Church, e.g., "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Luther nailed “95 Theses” to dispute the “power and efficacy of indulgences” on the All Saints Church door on October 31, 1517.

The Material Principle of the Reformation - By 1519 Luther saw clearly that faith alone justifies one before God. He wrote: “I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God . . . Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. . . At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

The Formal Principle of the Reformation - In 1521 at Martin Luther’s historic interrogation, he declared, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Being declared a heretic because of this, Luther was protected in Wartburg Castle where he translated the NT into German and thus furnished the Word of God for the growing Reformation.

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more