In 1517 a Dominican Friar named Johann Tetzel had been selling indulgences near Wittenberg to raise money for constructing Saint Peter’s in Rome. According to Tetzel, those who purchased an indulgence would receive remission of purgatory. Indulgences could also be purchased on behalf of dead relatives and friends. The punchline of Tetzel’s sermon was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
The sale of these indulgences infuriated Martin Luther, the professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg, and he decided to hold a disputation with other faculty members on the subject. A professor interested in holding a disputation would nail the theses to be discussed on the cathedral door. Luther posted his 95-Theses on the great wooden door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st, 1517.
Some of Luther’s points for discussion were: (1) “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ in saying, “Repent Ye”, intended that the whole life of believer should be penitence”. (32) “Those who believe that, through letters of pardon, they are made sure of their own salvation, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.” (37) “Every true Christian, whether living or dead has a share and all the benefits of Christ and of the Church, given by God, even without letters of pardon”. (62) “The true treasure of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
Luther knew from his own repentance and conversion that paying an indulgence could not achieve forgiveness of sins. Shortly before posting the 95- Theses, Luther had begun studying the Greek New Testament, and his studies persuaded him that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, meant a change of heart, not mere performance of outward works, as theologians of his day defined it.
Luther wrote the 95-Theses in Latin, intending them to be discussed by scholars, not circulated among the populace. But as Luther himself acknowledged, “A fortnight they flew all over Germany.” Translated into German and sold as far away as Rome, the 95-Theses became much more than a University exercise.
For the next two decades, Luther enjoyed seeing the Reformation grow. Many regions in Germany accepted the evangelical doctrines that Luther and other reformers discovered in the Scriptures. Luther lived to see a second generation of evangelicals sing the hymns he had written, read his German translation of the Bible, and learn his catechism from their early childhood.
Throughout his life he preached and taught God’s promise of redemption to the repentant sinner. On his deathbed he prayed, “O Lord Jesus Christ, I commend my poor soul to Thee. O Heavenly Father, I know that, although I shall be taken from this life, I shall live forever with thee. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Luther died on February 18, 1546, at the age of sixty-two in Eisleben, the city where he was born. As word of his death spread to Wittenberg, bells tolled, and people crowded the streets, wanting to pay their last respects to their leader.
On Monday, February 22, 1546, accompanied by caravan that included his wife, Katie, his four children, and a throng of his followers, Luther’s casket was born through the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, on which, more than twenty-eight years before, the young monk had nailed his theses.
Little did Martin Luther realize the forces that would-be set-in motion by the posting of his 95-Thesis. He merely felt it necessary to speak out against the error of his day. He was willing to stand up and be counted for truth and God used him to change the world. Do you ever feel that you should speak out against error? There is no predicting how God will honor your faithfulness.
They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth. II Timothy 2:25
Source: The One Year Christian History – E. Michael and Sharon Rusten