Reformation

The Most Important Thing to the Reformers, Part 2

Stephen Nichols (SN): Today, I’m joined by Dr. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey. We’re going to finish the conversation we started last week, just as I promised. Gentlemen, welcome back.

Mark Earngey (ME): Thank you very much.

Jonathan Gibson (JG): Good to be here again.

SN: It’s great to have you, not only because you both have accents, but because of this wonderful book, Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present. Last week, we ended the program talking about the role of a Word-centered worship with the Reformers. Now, I mentioned, as you look at the table of contents of this book, there are a lot of the usual suspects showing up from the Reformation in here. There are some names in the table of contents that some of our listeners might not know. So, tell us about one of these figures that we might not know but should know.

ME: We have Johannes Oecolampadius, with whom some of us are more familiar, and others of us should be familiar with. He was a really important Reformer from Basel, who wrote two liturgies that we’ve translated into English, I believe, for the first time. As you read these liturgies, not only do you get a feel for how Word based and Christ centered they are, but you get feel for the thought and care that crafted these liturgies. We spend a little bit of time introducing the liturgy in our book, explaining how Oecolampadius has had an influence on other Reformers, such as John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and others. I think his influence can be seen in the liturgies that are in this book, that there’s a wonderful cross-pollination of liturgies. You’ll find the obscure people, perhaps whom you haven’t thought about, having profound influence on our worship in the Reformed tradition.

SN: There’s a Polish Reformer in here. Tell us about him.

ME: Johannes Alasco is an incredibly significant Reformer. He was a Catholic bishop, who became an evangelical, served the Lord Jesus in East Friesland and then came to England. He was brought to England by Thomas Cranmer during the English Reformation. He was the superintendent of the so-called Stranger Churches, the foreigner churches that Cranmer had set up in London for exiles from Continental Europe. There was a Dutch congregation, French congregations, and an Italian congregation; and Johannes Alasco was the bishop, or the superintendent, of those congregations. He was a hugely significant figure among the Reformers. He had connections with Bullinger, corresponded with Calvin, was used by Cranmer, and had a great impact on John Knox, among others—a really important figure.

SN: Thank you for not only bringing him to our attention, but also this great work of his liturgies. Dr. Gibson, let me ask you a question as we close out our conversation. You’re a professor of Old Testament. When we think of the Old Testament, we can’t help but think of the worship of a holy God. How did that influence the Reformers?

JG: Very much so. They viewed worship as vertical, primarily, rather than horizontal. Of course, they agreed that all worship that we do together in a corporate setting has edifying ramifications for us, but ultimately, they believe that God had made us as creatures made in His image. We were made to worship Him and enjoy Him forever. One of the ways we do that is that on the Lord’s Day we meet together to exalt Him and speak of what He is worth and why He is worthy of praise, thanks, and glory.

JG: So, as you read these liturgies, you see numerous things, but one of the things is just how God centered they are, and expanding on that, just how Trinitarian they are. Often, the prayers in nearly all of the liturgies will end with a Trinitarian formula: “Through Jesus Christ our Lord, your only Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever praised, world without end, Amen.” Reformation worship has a beautiful God-centeredness to it, and it’s hard to get away from it as you read these liturgies.

SN: Thank you, gentlemen, and thank you for this book, Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present.

The Most Important Thing to the Reformers, Part 1

Stephen Nichols (SN): Today, I’m joined by two very special guests. My first guest is Dr. Jonathan Gibson. He’s an assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He was born in England and was raised in Northern Ireland. It’s a pleasure to have you, Dr. Gibson.

Jonathan Gibson (JG): Thanks very much, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be on the program.

SN: I’m also joined by Mark Earngey. He’s an Anglican minister from Sydney, Australia, and he’s currently undertaking doctoral studies at Oxford University. Mark, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program.

Mark Earngey (ME): Thank you very much. Good to be here.

SN: These two have collaborated on a book. I love the title. It’s Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present. I love that it’s about the Reformation, worship, and this idea that the past is for the present. Gentlemen, why did you do this book, and what is this book about?

JG: Well, we’re both Christian ministers. I was a minister in Cambridge, England, for three years. I had sabbatical leave, and I was tasked by my denomination in the United Kingdom, the International Presbyterian Church, with putting together some resources for liturgy to be used in our churches. Long story short, I happened upon a few rich liturgical sources from the Reformation era, and I went off down rabbit trails and thought it would be wonderful to have all of these liturgies that were written in the sixteenth century put together in one volume, updated, translated, and collated all together for pastors and ministers. I found it to be a great help as I was leading worship each week to actually be delving into some of these orders of service, prayers, and readings, learning about how worship was thought about by the Reformers in the sixteenth century.

ME: Something I would add to that: one of the things that really sparked it for Jonny and me was just looking at some of these liturgies and considering the theological thoughtfulness that our Reformers put into these liturgies. Indeed, looking at the orders and looking at the elements that they included in these liturgies and thinking, “This is something that clergy today can look at and see some marvelous principles and theological principles to put into practice, things perhaps that have been neglected, forgotten, or left by the wayside, but things to build up the saints and feed people week by week.”

SN: You know, as I look over the table of contents of this book, I really appreciate it. Both of you have some wonderful essays to set the stage up front, and there’s names we should expect to see in here. Of course, we’ve got Martin Luther. We’ve got one of my favorite Reformers from Basel, Johannes Oecolampadius. Huldrych Zwingli is in here. John Knox is in here. Zacharias Ursinus, whose name is associated with the Heidelberg Catechism, he’s in here. The thing that holds all these Reformers together is a Word-centered approach to worship.

JG: Yes, very much so, Steve. I think you see that in Luther’s liturgy where he writes in his preface that we basically need to get back to the Word and let the Word shape everything we do in church. You see it also with Calvin and his tradition when he writes the liturgy in Geneva. It’s really a movement that flows out of sola Scriptura. For the Reformers, everything we do must flow from the Scripture. In a sense, they were saying that it is God who calls us to His worship through His Word, and that worship to which He calls us should be shaped and guided by His Word. The beautiful thing about these liturgies is that the Word is present not just in the readings that take place during the order of service of the Word or at the Lord’s Supper, but also that the prayers bleed biblical verses. They’re full of thoughtful reflection on how the Scriptures teach us how to pray and what to pray.

SN: Well, we’ve only scratched the surface here talking about Reformation Worship. The good news is we’ll be back next week to finish the conversation.

William Farel

William Farel was born in 1489. He died on September 13, 1565. He was a significant figure in the Protestant Reformation and was the man who, from a human standpoint, was responsible for John Calvin’s coming to minister in Geneva.

Farel was a student at the University of Paris during the early years of the Reformation when Martin Luther was calling for reform in Germany. Luther’s influence had reached Paris, and Farel was right in the middle of the debates over the ideas of the Reformation.

During this time, Farel came under the influence of Jacobus Faber, also known as Jacques Faber, who was a Catholic theologian. Faber was an acquaintance of Desiderius Erasmus, and being influenced by Erasmus’ work, he paid significant attention to the Reformation. Faber helped Farel get his first job as a professor of grammar and philosophy in Paris, and Faber appointed Farel to be a preacher in 1522.

In his position as the preacher for the dioceses, Farel was responsible for appointing other ministers. A number of the ministers he appointed were Protestants. In the course of his interactions with them, these Protestant ministers influenced Farel and introduced him to Luther’s ideas. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Farel was converted and sided with the cause of the Reformation.

Because of his newfound faith and the surrounding controversies, he fled Paris and went to Switzerland. He spent some time in Zurich with Huldrych Zwingli and also spent some time with Luther. Farel saw himself as an evangelist, and in 1530, he set his sights on the town of Neuchâtel and convinced the town to join the Reformation.

After Neuchâtel, he set his sights on Geneva. He was often kicked out of the city, and at one time, he was beaten. In fact, Farel was even shot at because someone was offended by his preaching, yet he would bring the Reformation to Geneva in 1536. That same year, he heard about a man coming through the city on his way up to Strasbourg. This young man was named John Calvin.

Farel convinced Calvin to stay in Geneva. In fact, in Calvin’s own words, he said, “Upon this, Farel, who burned with a marvelous zeal to advance the gospel, went out of his way to keep me.” Here, Calvin is referring to what Farel had said to him, that if he were to leave the city of Geneva, may God curse his studies.

Farel and Calvin were both kicked out of Geneva in 1538. Calvin finally made it to Strasbourg, and Farel went back to Neuchâtel. Their paths continued to cross, as Farel helped Calvin in his search for a wife and officiated at Calvin’s wedding in 1540.

The 60 Pound Commentary

Joseph Caryl was a Puritan pastor who was born in London in 1602 and died on March 10 in 1673. In between those dates of his seventy-one year-old life, he was mostly a pastor. He was educated at Exeter College in Oxford where he received his bachelor of arts in 1625 and his master’s degree in 1627. He was ordained to the ministry and held a post in a pulpit at Lincoln’s Inn from 1632 to 1647. After that, he was appointed as minister at St. Magnus near London Bridge, where he preached from the late 1640s until 1662. That year was called the, “Year of the Restoration.” Charles II was on the throne, the Act of Uniformity was enacted, and this Puritan pastor was kicked out of his pulpit. So Caryl found an independent congregation in London and managed to have the freedom to preach there for the last decade of his life.

You can set Joseph Caryl’s interesting life against a fascinating time in the British reformation. The 1640s was the time of the English Civil War where the Parliament was against the king. This was also the time of the Westminster Standards, and Caryl was part of what we would call the Westminster Divines, the group of ministers who met at the Westminster Assembly to produce the Westminster Catechisms and the Westminster Confession of Faith. He preached many times there, and was often a preacher at various meetings at the different times during the year. He is, however, probably most famous for his commentary on Job.

The commentary was originally published as what are called “quarto volumes.” These are smaller books they are more “hold in the hand” kind of sizes. You take a large piece of paper, called a folio or leaf, which was about 11 x 17 inches, or 12 x 18 or so inches, and you fold it up into four, “quarto,” and that’s the size of the book; twelve volumes that size on Job. But then it was published as two folio sized volumes. Again, that’s about 18 x 12 inches. If you can picture that, it is five and a half inches thick. That’s volume one! Volume two is another five and a half inches thick. So, at almost a foot thick of large paper, each one weighs somewhere around thirty pounds; this is the 60-pound commentary on Job. Archibald Alexander, one of the great Princeton theologians said, “Though this work,” referring to Caryl’s commentary on Job, “possesses great merit, it’s enormous size has been a great obstruction to its usefulness. It has been wittily said that this book is a good exercise of that patience which the book of Job was intended to inculcate and exemplify.” So, you need patience to read it. Each volume has about 2,280 pages, and it’s in double column, and there’s Hebrew text in the margins. Make no mistake about it, this 60-pound commentary is not for the faint of heart.

Tyndale’s Only Surviving Letter

There are many surviving books of William Tyndale. Of course, the most famous one is the Tyndale Bible. But in terms of material from his own hand, only a single letter survives. It is in Latin, and it was written while Tyndale was a prisoner at Vilvoorde Castle in Belgium, about six miles north of Brussels. The castle was built in 1374, and it had a lot of cold and dingy dungeons. This will shed some light on this letter. Let’s read it in full.

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me. Therefore, I entreat your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods, which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh [inflammation in the nose or throat], which is considerably increased in the cell.

A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also, with him, leggings of thicker cloth, for putting on above; he has also warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he would kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided it is always consistent with the salvation of your soul.

But if any other resolutions have been come to concerning me, before the close of the winter, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.

William Tyndale

Just as Paul did in 2 Timothy, Tyndale asked for his cloak and for his books. Tyndale would spend his last days in the castle at Vilvoorde. He would be led from the castle and martyred on Friday, October 6, 1536. The accounts of Tyndale’s martyrdom say that he was calm, and in fact he said, “I call God to record that I have never altered, against the voice of my conscience, one syllable of His Word. Nor would do this day, if all the pleasure, honours, and riches of the earth might be given me.”

Tyndale faithfully served God throughout his life. He sacrificed much of his life as he was literally on the run as an outlaw trying to translate the Word of God into English so that his countrymen could have the Word of God in their native tongue. Even up until his death, he was faithful to his God.

It is very obvious, too, what Tyndale was thinking about. As he was led to his martyrdom, his final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” There was no bitterness. He was not angry; he was not trying to get out of the charge. Instead, he was praying for what he had been working for all of his life: that the king—this was Henry VIII—would recognize the truth and would recognize the light of the gospel and that God would somehow work and open Henry’s eyes so that he would see the gospel and the gospel could be preached abroad in his home nation of England.

Johann Sebastian Bach: JJ

Perhaps you know the initials JSB. If you do, you might also expect them to be followed by another set of initials: SDG. JSB refers, of course, to the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who often signed his works with his initials and with SDG for soli Deo gloria—for God’s glory alone. But Bach used other initials on his compositions as well. He would sometimes write JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase) at the beginning of a composition. Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG, for all of his work was done for the glory of God.

Bach was born in the town of Eisenach, which has a great Luther connection. Eisenach sits in the valley below Wartburg Castle, where Luther was holed up after the Diet of Worms. Bach grew up in the town below the Wartburg, so he literally grew up in the shadow of Martin Luther, and he very much appreciated Luther. Bach’s library grew to about eighty theological works, and for the 1700s, that wasn’t bad. Among those books were a number of Luther’s works, and of course he had Luther’s German Bible.

Bach came from a family of musicians. Sometime near the end of the sixteenth century, a musician named Veit Bach fled Hungary because of persecution over his Lutheran faith. He ended up in the German state of Thuringia, and there the Bachs flourished. Johann Sebastian was born March 21, 1685, 202 years after the birth of Luther. With all these musicians and Lutherans in his background, it is no surprise that Bach became a Lutheran musician—arguably, the Lutheran musician.

Bach was married twice; his first wife died. He had twenty children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. He also had a great relationship with Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, and composed many pieces for him. At one point, Leopold got married and his wife didn’t like music, meaning Leopold no longer needed Bach’s services. Forced to look for work elsewhere, Bach ended up working primarily as a cantor at Leipzig from the 1720s through 1750. He was actually not the top candidate for that job. He was third in line, and the other two candidates ahead of him couldn’t accept the position. A town councilor is on record as saying, “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

That’s Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed his music Jesu juva, with the help of Jesus, and soli Deo gloria, for the glory of God alone.

Shakespeare’s Bible

William Shakespeare is, of course, known as one of the greatest names in English literature. And one of the fascinating things about Shakespeare is how extensively he quotes and refers to the Bible. In fact, one scholar has put together a book of biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays, and it is a big volume that totals more than eight hundred pages. The Bible is all through Shakespeare.

When we’re looking at Shakespeare’s use of the Bible, one of the first questions to ask is which version he used. Scholars, after looking at the references in his poems and plays, have concluded that he used three versions. The main version he used is the Geneva Bible, which was published by English and Scottish refugees in Calvin’s Geneva in 1560. It’s very likely that Shakespeare owned a copy. Shakespeare also refers to the Great Bible, which was commissioned in 1538 by Thomas Cromwell. It first appeared in 1539 and was widely circulated during Shakespeare’s time. The third version was called the Bishop’s Bible. A revision of the Great Bible, it was produced by a group of bishops between 1561 and 1564, hence its name.

So, those three Bibles in the English Bible tradition are the versions that Shakespeare used, with the Geneva Bible being the one he went to most often. Scholars have determined this by comparing the text of Shakespeare with the language of the various versions of the time. So, for example, in Richard II, Shakespeare writes, “Lions make leopards tame. Yea, but not change his spots.” That is a reference to Jeremiah 13:23: “Can a leopard change his spots?” Fascinatingly, only the Geneva Bible has “leopard” in that passage. All of the other English versions of Shakespeare’s day have the word “cat” as in big cat, but it’s the Geneva Bible that has “leopard,” so that is the version that Shakespeare was depending on in this case.

Shakespeare was fascinated by Revelation. Again, in Richard II, Shakespeare writes, “My name be blotted from the book of life.” And that is taken right from Revelation 3:5: “to blot out the name in the book of life.” In fact, that shows us that Shakespeare was reading the Bishop’s Bible, because it was only the Bishop’s Bible that uses the phrase “blot out.” The others use the expression “put out.”

Of the books of the Bible, Shakespeare quoted the Psalms most often. In As You Like It, he writes, “How brief the life of man, the stretching of a span,” referencing Psalm 39:6: “Thou hast made my days as it were a span long.” And in Timon of Athens, Shakespeare writes, “Who like a boar too savage does root up his country’s peace.” This is a reference to Psalm 80:13: “The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up.”

Sometimes Shakespeare quoted the Bible directly, sometimes he quoted it indirectly, and sometimes what Shakespeare wrote merely resembles and reflects the words of Scripture. But one thing is clear: among the many fascinating things in Shakespeare’s plays, you will also find many references to the Bible.

The Baptist Catechism of 1693

There’s a delightful set of texts called the Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. It is in four volumes, and the very last document it includes is the Baptist Catechism of 1693. This was a few generations after Luther; the Reformation at this point was firmly established. We have the Lutherans, we have the Reformed church, we have the Presbyterians, and, as this catechism attests, we have the Baptists.

In this edition of the Baptist Catechism, there is a brief introduction, the first line of which is this: “Mystery surrounds the origin of this catechism.” That’s a great line. The mystery is this: there is no first edition. It does not exist. There is a general scholarly consensus that the catechism was first published in 1693, but the oldest copy comes to us from 1695. Second, there is mystery surrounding the author. This catechism was called, at one point, Keach’s Catechism. That title refers to a man named Benjamin Keach, who lived from 1640 to 1704. But another writer is believed to have participated in drafting this catechism, and, perhaps, he was the main author of it. His name was William Collins; he died in 1702. So, it’s a little tricky to figure out exactly where this catechism came from and exactly who wrote it.

This catechism starts off with doctrine questions. It has about forty-three questions that get right at the heads of doctrine, and then it turns to our duty and walks through the Ten Commandments. That raises the question, “Who can keep the law?,” which causes the catechism to discuss some more doctrine, including the doctrine of salvation. It ends, as many catechisms do, by looking at the Lord’s Prayer and the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Let’s take a look at the first few questions and answers from the Baptist Catechism. The first question is, “Who is the first and chiefest being?” and the answer is, “God is the first and chiefest being.” It’s interesting to see where the great catechisms of the church begin. The Heidelberg Catechism begins, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” So, it looks at salvation and what it means for us and how it fills our hearts with gratitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s famous first question and answer are, “What is the chief end of man?” and “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” And the Baptist Catechism of 1693 starts with God, asking, “Who is the first and chiefest being?”

The second question is, “Ought everyone to believe that there is a God?” And the answer is this: “Everyone ought to believe there is a God and it is their great sin and folly who do not.” So, there’s our obligation: this great, chief being is God and our obligation is to believe that He is.

So, this raises a question, and that’s question three: “How may we know there is a God?” This is the answer: “The light of nature in man, and the works of God, plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only, do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners.” So, that God exists is known through the light of nature, through the world that God made; it’s a testimony to His presence, a testimony to His existence. But He is known fully and effectually through the Word and through His ministry of the Spirit, and that is the knowledge that leads to salvation.

The Next Day

The year 2017, of course, was the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and October 31 was marked by commemorations of that movement and of Martin Luther’s nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. But after October 31 is November 1—the day after. It is worth asking what comes next. It is a good time to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the legacy of the Reformation and also to think about our legacy. Church history is a book that is still being written, and chapters are still being added to it.

We have a lot to be thankful for as we look back to the Reformers. We think not only of Luther; it wasn’t just his Reformation in Wittenberg. It was across the German lands. But we can go down to the Swiss city-states and see the Reformation there. And what a great legacy those places have left for us. We could go over to England and the legacy of the British Reformation under Henry VIII and we could also go a generation ahead of that and see the Puritans and what a great legacy they’ve left us. We have the Scottish Reformation and John Knox. And as all of these different branches of the Reformation made their way to the New World and settled into America, the landscape of American Christianity took shape. Ultimately, we can trace our roots back to the Lutheran church in Germany.

Scripture talks about how we drink from wells that we did not dig and we eat from vineyards that we did not plant (Deut. 6:11). We have to think of that when we think of the Reformers: they dug the wells, they planted the vineyards, they’ve helped us think through theology, they’ve helped us think through how to function as a church, and above all they’ve helped us think biblically about what we do and how we live. We drink from their wells and we eat from their vineyards.

But if Christ does not come back, there will be centuries still to come and many will come after us. What kind of wells are we digging for them? What kind of vineyards are we planting for them? Are they going to enjoy the same wells and the same vineyards that we’re enjoying from the Reformers? As we think through these questions, there is a monument to Luther at Eisenach that is worth contemplating. On the back of the statue are the words from his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Above all, the Reformers reminded us of the importance and the primacy of knowing who God is. From there, we understand who we are. From there, we understand who Christ is and our relationship to God. It all flows from this knowledge of God.

Another thing about this monument that we need to note is that Luther is holding a Bible. This captures the essence of the Reformation. The Reformation was a movement that had tremendous reach and staying power; it impacted not just the church but also the culture. It was not simply a church history event; it was a world history event. And it happened because the Reformers knew they had to stand on the timeless, eternal, abiding truth of the Word of God. And if we want to leave a legacy for those who come after us, we need to realize that we too must stand upon the solid and sure foundation of God’s Word. That’s our task in our moment of church history: to be timeless by appealing to the eternal and living and the abiding Word of God.

The 95 Theses, Part 2

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.