In our last look at the Ninety-Five Theses, we left off with thesis 56, where Luther said that the truth was not sufficiently known among the people. Luther went on to say in thesis 62, “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” What Luther is referring to here is the treasury of merit, the idea that the saints had accumulated more grace than they needed. All that accumulated grace is laid up in heaven. At the top of the chain of saints is Mary, and she is full of grace. We lowly sinners can tap into that accumulated grace. Luther said that the treasury of merit is not the true treasure of the church; the true treasure of the church is the gospel.
In thesis 90, Luther writes, “To repress these convincing arguments of the laity by force alone and not to resolve them by giving reasonable answers is to expose the church and the pope to ridicule of their enemies and to leave Christians unsatisfied.” Luther, as he finishes up his Ninety-Five Theses, is warning against simply dismissing his points; he says the church should take them seriously. Of course, we know that the church didn’t. In fact, when Pope Leo X got a copy of the Ninety-Five Theses, his first response was, “Ah, the ramblings of a drunken German. He will think differently when he sobers up.” He clearly underestimated Luther and he clearly underestimated what was happening in that moment when Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door. I’m not even sure Luther had a full sense of the implications and the consequences of this singular action of posting of the Ninety-Five Theses.
As he gets to thesis 92, Luther quotes Jeremiah and tells us, “Away, away then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace.” What Luther is saying is that the church is a false prophet. The church was saying, “Here, come buy this indulgence. Take this pilgrimage. Give money to this. Light this candle in front of this relic and you’ll have peace with God.” Luther said that’s a false prophet and there’s no peace there but only despair.
Then Luther says in thesis 93, “Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Cross, cross,’ and there is no cross.” What does that mean? Luther is saying there is no cross because there is no cross for us. Christ endured the cross so that we don’t have to, and through His work on our behalf, He brought us peace with God. We can be reconciled to God not because of anything we have done but by being justified by faith alone through what Christ has done for us.
So, that’s Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses. It was the beginning of the Reformation. Luther continued to serve the church over the coming decades, but it all started at the doors at the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.