Joke of the week
A prince had a curse put on him when he was a little boy He could only speak two words every year. But, if he didn’t speak for a whole year, he would then be able to speak 4 words the next year and so on.
One day he met a princess named Josie and instantly fell in love. He wanted to say “My Princess,” but held his tongue.
The next year he saw her he wanted to say “My princess, I love you”.
The third year he saw her he wanted to say “My princess I love you, will you marry me?” But, the young prince, now growing older knew he would have to wait a couple more years.
So, on the fifth year, excited to finally present his question, he visited the princess.
He approached her respectfully and asked, “JOSIE, MY PRINCESS, I LOVE YOU. WILL YOU MARRY ME?”
The princess cupped her hand to her ear and said, “Pardon?”
Alone and vulnerable
Many of you will have read that the ionic Pioneer Cabin sequoia tree was toppled in a windstorm a few days ago. This is the tree with a square hole cut in the base so that people and autos could go through it–you’ve likely seen its picture. As I looked at the picture of the standing tree I noticed that it had no other giant sequoia trees nearby. That made me think of the isolated Christian. Too many Christians have little or no contact with other Christians. They have no Christian friends. They don’t attend church, or if they do they zip in and zip out without getting to know their fellow churchgoers. Is it any wonder that so many fall away from the faith when trouble comes their way? Just as being in a grove protects trees from windstorms, so being with fellow believers protects the Christian when life gets hard or a crisis erupts. You can talk about your problems with brothers and sisters in Christ; they will pray with and for you. Worship with God’s people in a healthy church also strengthens us for the storms of life. If you have been going it alone as a Christian, get into the fellowship of other believer in 2017. The fall of that 200 ft high sequoia was great. Don’t you go riding for a fall in your Christian isolation.
What’s new at Saluda Press for 2017?
This year Saluda Press hopes to publish two new books. There are a half-dozen in the hopper, and I’m not sure which
ones to publish. Here are the candidates; let me know, by comments on this site or Facebook message, which you would prefer to see in print (your comment does NOT commit you to making a purchase.) First Corinthians: A Study Guide; Songs of Ascent; The Life and Psalms of David; The Kingdom Parables of Jesus; Luther’s 95 Theses for 21st Century Christians; The Letters of John: Truth and Love. Those of you who have been doing the studies running weekly in this blog will recognize that three of them were featured here already. The first book of 2017, whichever one it is, won’t be out till spring. Till then, if you haven’t examined Saluda Press’s current inventory, check it out by clicking on Buy My Books at the top of the page.
We begin a new study
500 years ago this year Martin Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses or propositions to be debated on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. I have just finished writing a short book on the 95 theses (not yet published, but I have hopes). For the next few months we will be going through most of the theses with excerpts from the book. There will be no questions to ponder, but there will be plenty to think about. I hope you enjoy these new studies and profit from them. Today, an introduction and justification for studying the 95 theses.
Luther’s 95 Theses for 21st Century Christians: Introduction
The 95 Theses in 1517
The beginning of the Reformation is usually thought to be Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. The 95 theses were propositions that Luther was prepared to debate with other church scholars. The prologue to the theses is:
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The theses dealt primarily with the theory and practice of granting indulgences. An indulgence is a partial or full remission of the sufferings the believer suffers in purgatory, sufferings that are intended to finish the work of sanctification. Sanctification is the process of making a sinner perfectly holy, a process begun with baptism according to the Roman Catholic Church. Only a Roman Catholic whose sins have already been forgiven can be granted an indulgence. All this was and is today the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, a church of which Martin Luther was a loyal member at the time he posted his theses.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the saints, very holy Christians who are now in heaven, performed more good works than needed for their own sanctification. Those extra works are thought to constitute a treasury of merit which is under the control and direction of the pope. The pope can draw on those good works and allocate them to living Catholics and to the dead in purgatory, shortening or entirely remitting the punishments they would otherwise have to undergo to be made entirely holy and enter heaven. Wikipedia sums it up:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”
In Luther’s day the Catholic Church was selling indulgences to raise money for the construction of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Indulgence peddlers, or “pardoners,” were active throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Luther found much to criticize in the theory and practice of indulgences and wished to debate the issue with other academics. In addition to posting his theses in Wittenberg, he sent a copy to Archbishop Albert of Brandenberg, under whose auspices the indulgence peddlers plied their trade in Germany. Originally written in Latin, the 95 theses were translated into German and printed and distributed in various German cities.
Luther’s theses aroused interest in the people, and drew criticism from the indulgence peddlers, as might be expected. Official condemnation by the Catholic Church quickly followed. Within three years the Pope had written a bull (an official document) blasting Luther; a year later he excommunicated Luther, that is, he cast him out of the church. By then Luther had gone well beyond the criticisms stated in the 95 theses. In the theses he still acknowledged the existence of purgatory and the authority of the pope; he soon was to reject the notion of purgatory and to denounce the pope as Antichrist.
The 95 Theses Today
What interest can 21st century Christians have in the 95 theses? The selling of indulgences is not a burning issue in our time even in the Catholic Church, much less the Protestant church. Luther quickly moved beyond the issue of indulgences, and they were never a matter of discussion in Calvinist, Anglican, or Baptist circles. Does anyone other than the history buff care to know the content of the Luther’s theses?
I believe we should care to know about the 95 theses. They bring up fundamental issues of Christian faith and practice that are just as important today as they were in Luther’s day. Those issues go beyond the matter of indulgences. We profit greatly by examining his theses and thinking about their contemporary analogs. It’s my hope you will see and agree as we study the 95 theses in the next few months.