November 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door of Wittenberg. This was a common way of making announcements at the time, and since November 1st is All Saints day, a day of special observance, crowds were guaranteed to see the announcements.
At the heart of the 95 theses was a custom of the day, selling indulgences in order to raise money for the church. The general idea was that one could buy more rapid exit from purgatory for one’s self or a relative. In the famous words of Johann Tetzle, “Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt, im huy die Seel im Himmel springt,“ (when the guilder in the box clings, the soul into heaven springs.“)
The Pope was rebuilding St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, and needed money to work on it. He sent Tetzel and others to raise money through the sale of indulgences. Martin Luther found this reprehensible, and nailed his objections to the church door. (The 95 Theses can be found at: http://www.historyguide.org/earlymod/95theses.html)
Several points made by Luther:
If the pope had this power than he should let all people out of purgatory.
Money spent on charity would do us more good than money spent on indulgences.
Repentance is necessary.
The Pope had enough money to repair St. Peter’s, and should have used his own money.
Martin Luther’s theses were extremely important to the church and to Europe and eventually the world. They lead to challenging the Roman Catholic Church in other areas (such as holding church services in languages which the people understood, the marriage of clergy and many other factors. Most of the Protestant Churches we have today are a direct or indirect result of this challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church indeed reformed itself to some extent, to win back people lost to protestant churches. Europe itself, became divided between the Protestant North (Great Britain, Scandinavia, Prussia, Holland, Latvia and Estonia), and the Catholic South. Among the Protestants was a great desire to know God’s word in one’s one language and to apply it to one’s life. Europe was transformed, not only religiously by the reformation, but economically as well. Religious wars changed the face of Europe, and indeed had a great affect on those who wrote the constitution of the USA. George Washington feared sectarian wars, and for this reason the USA did not recognise any one form of Christianity.
Tonight is also Halloween, from All Hallows Even, meaning the evening before the feast of All Hallows (i.e. All Saints Day). This feast was originally held in May but was moved to counteract the Pagan Holliday of Samain. It was believed that the dead walked the Earth, and that it was necessary to scare them away with Jack O’ Lanterns (made of turnips and apples originally. Needles to say, we encourage our churches to have a Saints Day party this evening with everyone coming as a saint or personage from the Bible.
Collect: Heavenly Father, on this day Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, not to challenge the church, but to transform it into a true body for mission. Grant us zeal in reforming the church and translating scripture and liturgy so all may understand your word, and be enabled for mission to the entire world. This we ask in the name of our Lord Yeshuah. Amen. (white)