[Fourth in a series.]
Back in the castle part of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, there was a room with an interactive exhibit of the 95 Theses. The exhibit was a touchscreen copy of the theses allowing visitors to pick from about 35 phrases in the theses with hyperlinks. Touch the link and an explanation of the phrase opened. The explanations seemed to me to have been written by someone with real spiritual understanding, and they were helpful.
It was on the doors out front on the street that Luther posted these theses. He did so on All Saints Eve back in 1517. The backside of the church was the “castle” part built to house and protect the local civil magistrate Frederick the Elector’s hugely valuable collection of relics worth three million years in dispensations.
The Castle Church was not Luther’s own church, personally. He was neither landed and titled, nor wealthy, so he attended and preached at the commoners’ church, St. Mary’s Town Church (on right) down the street and across town square from Castle Church. The painting at the top of the page sits behind St. Mary’s altar today. It was painted by Luther’s friend, Lucas Cranach.1
Only on All Saints Day were commoners permitted to attend Castle Church. All Saints was also the day Frederick the Elector allowed commoners access to his relics, so for the poor All Saints was a day of great privilege. Once a year they were permitted access to the wealthy’s mass and church, as well as relics perfectly suited to the superstitions of the ignorant who also bought indulgences from that huckster claiming to sell God’s forgiveness and favor, Johannes Tetzel.
With churches of stupendous architecture filled with perverse idols and relics so pervasive across the Holy Roman Empire; with hucksters selling indulgences on street corners claiming they would spring souls free from Hell and judgment; these abuses of God’s sheep led Luther to gnash his teeth and he took action.
A little introspection on our part might suggest to us that Luther’s action was not what we would have expected or done ourselves.
The theses were a very public rebuke of the leaders, the celebrities, the grand poohbahs, the muckety-mucks of Christ’s church—specifically the Pope and all his cardinals, archbishops, bishops, as well as chaplains and parish priests. The thrust of his 95 criticisms and rebukes was church officers’ refusal to feed God’s sheep. Instead of teaching Christ’s lambs the very Word of God, church officers were abandoning them to superstition and lies. Luther publicly attacked the church’s pastors for betraying their calling to lead the sheep into green pastures; to place them beside still waters.
The officers of Christ’s church refused to admonish, warn, and exhort—to teach the souls under their watchcare.
I said Luther didn’t respond to the ignorance among the sheep perpetrated by pastors and priests of his time the way we would have responded. What I mean is it would not occur to us to publish as publicly as possible 95 theses indicting our fellow pastors and seminary professors for their betrayal of the sheep. For conniving with the Devil in his attack on God’s world and the sexual order He created and commands. Yet these doctrines are the breach in the wall of the church in our own time.
Instead of faithfully teaching the sheep, our church leaders have dumbed down their preaching and teaching to the point where their grace-filled blandishments are perfectly suited to Twitter’s microblogging. The sheep feel pious as they forward the crud. Nothing complicated, and most certainly nothing even in the slightest hard-edged. The church’s sons and daughters are so little taught and exercised in their knowledge of God’s Word and truth that they regularly demonstrate more knowledge concerning pagan matters such as the Kardashians, the untimely death of the Walking Dead, Ariana Grande, and Elmer Gantry’s Boring Company.
Really though, it’s not the fault of the sheep, but their shepherds. Their pastors and priests who have been adamant in their refusal to fulfill the calling of God to feed His sheep.
Meanwhile, on the 501st anniversary of his 95 Theses, we are so very proud of Luther’s response there at Worms facing down the rich and famous church officers who, under pain of death, demanded he retract his denunciation of them:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.
You’ll find some pedants claiming he didn’t really say “here I stand.” Leave them to their nitpicking.2
What we must notice and reclaim is Luther’s method of reforming the church.
One hyperlink at the exhibit was the first phrase of the 42nd thesis:
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the acquiring of indulgences to be compared in any way with works of mercy.
Here is the hyperlinked explanation:
Luther used the phrase Docendi sunt christiani (“Christians are to be taught”) repeatedly to underline the urgency of his statements. It expressed his annoyance at the ambiguous attitude of the teachers of the church regarding indulgences. While the scholastics also pointed out that indulgence did not entail a complete remission of sin by God, Luther felt they were not consistent enough on this point.
The theologically unschooled faithful were—in some cases deliberately—not enlightened about the difference between remission of penalty and forgiveness of sins and thus risked the salvation of their souls. Luther demanded that priests and chaplains be quite clear on this matter.
The same theme of the necessity of priests instructing souls under their care is repeated in the 47th thesis:
47. Christians are to be taught that buying indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
The hyperlink to this thesis begins the same:
Luther used the phrase Docendi sunt christiani (“Christians are to be taught”) repeatedly to underline the urgency of his statements. It expressed his annoyance at the ambiguous attitude of the teachers of the church…
Souls in the Christian church of the Western world today are not perishing due to the superstitions of indulgences, idols, masses, and relics. Not in the Protestant church.
Rather, the superstitions taught and connived at by priests and pastors today are feminism, lesbianism, sodomy, bisexualism, transsexualism, incest, masturbation, divorce, fornication, contraception—and the bloodshed of our infants brought on by all this sexual anarchy.
If Martin Luther condemned the church’s priests and leaders of his day, imagine what he’d have to say to the men today who consign their sheep to the devil and Hell by promoting every aspect of our culture’s sexual debauchery.
These are pastors who, under the guise of faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel, hawk their so-called “spiritual friendships” between self-confessed sodomites.
These are conniving pastors who push forward women to serve the Lord’s Supper in their worship services.
These are hireling pastors who refuse to warn the couples in their church they are fully aware are using abortifacient contraceptive methods that they are engaging in serial murders.
These are faithless pastors who, fully aware couples in their church are refusing to obey God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, propagating a godly seed, never speak to them of the coming judgment.
These pastoral posers find everything wrong with the husband and father and nothing wrong with the wife and mother as they resolve marital conflicts between the souls under their care.
These are celebrity Christians leaders who run around repeating that carefully ambiguous tripe, “godliness is not heterosexuality,” “all sins are equal,” and “heterosexuality cannot get you to Heaven so how in the world can homosexuality send you to Hell.”
These are baptist popes and cardinals of our time who claim “homosexual orientation” is a real deal which ought not be subjected to any counselling having the goal of helping souls to repent of it.
Make no mistake about it: our sexual rebellion against God is sending souls directly to Hell, and their banishment there will be laid directly at the feet of their shepherds.
Why are shepherds today not teaching the sheep God has placed under our watch-care? Why such ignorance of God’s laws of male and female? Why such careful avoidance of instructing our sheep in the responsibility and authority God has always and everywhere placed in man—not woman? Why such scrupulous silence from us concerning the perpetuity of God’s command to husbands and wives that they are to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth? Why such scrupulous silence from us concerning the call of every woman to the preciousness of her life-giving nature? The centrality of her life-giving at every moment, day, week, month, year, and decade of her life, regardless of whether she herself personally is married and blessed with children?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all men, teaching them.” This is what we’ve called The Great Commission. It’s the final command Jesus Himself gave the pastors He had first taught Himself for three years. It was not a command given to Christians, individually. It was given to the Twelve; without Judas Eleven. These men were commanded to baptize and teach His flock.
Before his ascension to the right hand of His Father, Jesus delegated to the church’s officers the responsibility of carrying on themselves the instruction He had first given them. They were to teach others as He had taught them. All authority in Heaven and Earth had been given Him, so now He delegated His authority to them, commanding them to go and teach all men for the salvation of mankind and the building up of His Church.
Five centuries ago, Martin Luther resurrected this teaching ministry in the face of the apostasies of his time. What would such a resurrection of church officers’ teaching ministry look like today?
Let us pray for it. Let us work for it. Let us teach and preach for it.
One suggestion: get a copy of The Grace of Shame and read it. Then give it to your pastors and elders and ask them to read it. Then give it to your sons and daughters and get them to read it. We, the authors, have no delusions we are Luther’s successors, but we pray this work is some step toward reform today.
It’s our prayer that the work in this book will kick us slightly down the road of the reform work needing to be done today as we try to follow in the footsteps of God’s servants, Martin Luther and John Calvin.
They exposed the cowardice, greed, and lies of their fellow pastors and priests leading the sheep to Hell, doing so firmly and without apology.
|↑1||”Epitaph for Paul Eber and his family” by Lucas Cranach, St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg. Note the useless Pope, his cardinals, bishops, and priests in all their pomp to the left, contrasted with the Protestant pastors at work in the vineyard to the right.|
|↑2||Pic to right taken from spot where building stood in which Diet of Worms was held and Luther made his famous statement. In background is Worms Cathedral.|