Guest Editorial -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:1 (Mar 2017)
Article: Guest Editorial
Author: Anonymous

Guest Editorial

In 2017, many Christians around the world—not only 72 million Lutherans but also believers in many other Protestant churches and free churches—will commemorate or even celebrate the 500th anniversary of the official beginning of the Reformation of the church on October 31, 1517. It was on that day that Martin Luther is said to have published his 95 Theses opposing the sale of indulgences and what he perceived to be clerical abuses associated with this religious practice.

That Luther himself wielded the hammer to nail those 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg is very unlikely in view of research done in this field. More likely, servants of the university posted copies of the 95 Theses simultaneously on many “church doors” (i.e. bulletin boards) in Wittenberg on behalf of the scholar, a practice commonly followed by professors in that day. Luther mentioned his 95 Theses in a letter to the Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz written on October 31, 1517. However, only the letter is found there today in the archives, but unfortunately not a copy of the 95 Theses themselves which were most likely enclosed.

Nevertheless, in composing those 95 Theses, Luther’s primary point was “the true treasure of the church … the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (62nd statement). “Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it,” he wanted to “defend the following statements and to dispute on them.” Therefore he asked “that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter” (Introduction to the 95 Theses).

Looking at the historic events of those days, it seems to be a sheer miracle that from that specific day on, starting at a minor German city, far from any famous university or place of education, far from the glorious center of the Christian universe—Rome—in crude and uncivilized Germany, and far from any place of worldly powers, a reformation of Roman Catholicism could be triggered. In addition, the entire matter was initiated by a monk of a rather strict Augustinian order, a professor of theology with no significance or fame, with no reputation as a scholar or preacher. Who on earth could have imagined that a transformative reformation would emerge from that day in the fall of 1517—as it seemed to appear from nowhere—to irrevocably change the entire world?

Luther’s primary intention was to debate with scholars solely regarding the sale of indulgences and associated abuses, and on the topic of the true “gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Therefore, the 95 Theses were composed in Latin for scholars to discuss, not in German for common folk to read. Luther never intended to trigger a thoroughgoing reforma...

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