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95 Theses for the Present Age

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther hammered a paper to a Church Door that read as follows:

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads (theses) will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.”

From this conventional manner of seeking scholarly debate on current issues, the second major schism in the Christian Church evolved. The rising nationalism among northern European political entities, along with the educational explosion due to the invention by Guttenberg of a system of movable type in the printing process, protected Luther when his convictions got him in deadly trouble with the Church, and enabled vast new multitudes of concerned persons to know what was going on and to take positions on the issues.

Within a decade, the Lutheran Church and much of the western world will observe the 500th anniversary of this Wittenberg event and pay some homage to Luther, perhaps the most significant reformer of the Christian Church since the age of St. Paul. In that light, we propose a process that will, “out of love and concern for the truth,” shape 95 theses for our present age.

The focus of Luther’s challenge was the ideology behind the selling of indulgences with the promise of speedy release from purgatorial suffering of deceased family members and avoidance of it for the buyer, thus obviating the need for a penitential spirit and the subsequent changes in life. While arguing these theological positions, Luther made significant mentions of the nature of scripture, personal faith, the Grace of God and the need for a social consciousness. Thus we can freely address these theological and social issues of our day and not simply rephrase the important issues of the 16th century.

The Holy Cross Worship Committee has assembled these “theses for the present age” both to honor the approaching 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s discussion at Wittenberg and to foster open Christian discussion among members of this congregation. It is our hope that the following 95 questions, reflections and references will lead to thoughtful dialogue as to what it means to be a Christian in the world today. Quotes from Luther are marked ML at the end. Many other sources are also noted if known.

Concerning the Word of God

  1. Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love…” E. L. Worship p. 42

  2. As Luther said, scripture is the “cradle” in which Jesus, the Christ, is found.

  3. We hold that the Bible is God’s Word, the source and norm of the church’s life. But that concern becomes ideological when it talks more about the Bible than the Bible’s Lord.

  4. The first 11 chapters of Genesis came out of centuries of Oral Tradition. The rest is a reliable historical record of God’s action to call a nation to serve Him and proclaim Him as true God.

  5. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.” ML

  6. A refusal to preach the real, truly physical Resurrection of Christ makes modern evangelism world centered and weak.

  7. Peter was an Evangelist and Paul a Theologian. The book of Acts shows that both were needed.

  8. God used His Prophets to speak words of truth to His people in their current situation. He did not make them crystal ball gazers.

  9. We stand for the reading of the Gospel and sing “Alleluia…Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. Alleluia…” What a breath of fresh air in this age of communication overkill.

  10. Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

  11. Concerning Paul, the Lord said: “…he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” Acts 9:15

  12. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. … “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”. John 1:1 & 1:14

  13. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16

  14. But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”. John 15:26

  15. Do your best to present yourself to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:15

  16. The fruits of the Spirit are not having visions, speaking in tongues or enthralling multitudes. They are “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Gal. 5:22-23

  17. Paul on evangelism: I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some…,” I Cor, :24-25 He managed to do this with personal integrity and authenticity.

  18. “…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

  19. The Word is not the bible as a written book because the gospel is really not that which is contained in books and composed in letters, but rather an oral preaching and a living word, a voice which resounds throughout the whole world and is publically proclaimed.” ML

  20. Hope in the life to come springs from the Resurrection which assures us that God’s plan of salvation has been fulfilled, and we, through the Holy Spirit, partake in that new life.

  21. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” I Cor. 10:16

Concerning Theology.

  1. For those who believe the Only Son of the Almighty Creator God“ emptied Himself, taking the form of

servant, being born in the likeness of men”, the Bethlehem story and the cross are then not hard to accept.

  1. I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…” (Apostle’s Creed 3rd article) ML

  2. Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” Gal. 5:13

  3. Pour your Holy Spirit, the power of your living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life”. (Holy Baptism, in E. L. Worship, page 230)

  4. Joined to Christ in the waters of baptism, we are clothed with God’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us give thanks for the gift of baptism.” (Thanksgiving for Baptism, in E. L. Worship, page 97)

  5. In the Apostle’s Creed, we confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord…” Too many people forget the words “only” and “Lord” are parts of that confession.

  6. But God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. Romans 5:8

  7. Situation Ethics” should not be allowed to “replace” or “correct” the Decalogue.

  8. There must be a clear distinction for scholars, between interpreting the Scriptures and re-writing them.

  9. It is good, when interpreting the Scriptures, to remember the martyrs who died trying to preserve them.

  10. Luther begins his explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostle’s Creed “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord;” ML

  11. St. Paul wrote “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life”. Romans 6:4

  12. Eternal life is the inexpressible peace, joy, and glory of the children of God, which is begun on earth and made perfect in heaven”. ML

  13. The church teaches that both law and gospel must continually be preached in the congregation of the faithful: the law to convict people of sin and to promote God’s temporal justice, the gospel to forgive people of sins and to proclaim God’s eternal righteousness.” Apology of Augsburg Conf.-Article IV

  14. The distinct Lutheran dialectic simil justus et peccator (at the same time justified and a sinner), is hard for most Christians to understand. Small wonder that Luther said that no one can get it right without the Holy Spirit as “Schoolmaster and Instructor.” ML

  15. We err when Law and Gospel are replaced by ideology and therapy: ideology often norms what is politically correct and therapy often excuses what was once considered sinful.

  16. Comfort, comfort now my people, tell of peace!’ so says our God. Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning under sorrow’s load. To God’s people now proclaim that God’s pardon waits for them! Tell them that their war is over: God will reign in peace forever.” Hymn by J G Olearius based on Isaiah 40

  17. He (Luther) then realized for the first time that justification did not presuppose some inner change in man, an inner healing, as had been formerly taught; now he knew that it was something outside of man, the belief in Christ’s atoning death, that liberated man…” “Luther and His Times” Schweibert p. 288

  18. At Whittenberg, Luther came to understand “The God of St Paul did not wait for man to prove himself worthy of grace; He came and sought man even before man realized that he was a condemned and a lost sinner.” Ibid p. 290

Concerning the Church, Past and Present

  1. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…” Gen.12:1-2

  2. The Judaic/Christian tradition is the history through which the Creator employs Self-revelation.

  3. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matt.28:18-20

  4. A Church was created at Pentecost, not a faith that could be lived apart from others.

  5. When religions try to coerce and control, they fail. Check the Spanish Inquisition.

  6. When a Church tries to control government, it is in for a Reformation.

  7. The Scholastics…improperly mingled philosophical and civil ethics with the Gospel. …These notions prevailed, feeding a trust in human powers and obscuring the knowledge of the grace of Christ. Apology of A. C. .II

  8. If the church is found to offer only what the world already wants, then as soon as the world sees that it can get it elsewhere, the world will look elsewhere.

  9. The Church of Christ is found wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered according to the Word and institution of Christ. ML

  10. The Church is divided into many denominations because not all Christians have faithfully held to all the Word of God, and also because opinions have differed as to the meaning of certain portions of God’s Word”. ML

  11. Lutheran attempts to promote the “unity of the Faith” through reconciliation with other Christian denominations should not be at the expense of the “Formula of Concord” of 1530.

  12. And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.” Augsburg Confession Art. VII

  13. Paul…”The apostle to the Gentiles, who was especially committed to taking the good news to all peoples, left no stone unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians” Pope Benedict XVI, 2008

  14. Together we confess: By Grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, 1999.

  15. The Holy Spirit selected and called Saul (Paul) to be the evangelist to the Gentiles. He was not selected for that call from among three candidates.

  16. The Church is the body of believers whom Christ has gathered unto Himself. That ‘priesthood of believers’ who are living in vital, life-giving personal relationship with their Lord.” ML

  17. Selection of delegates to conventions (Synods) of the Church might be made without regard to age and gender and other criteria so that the work of the Holy Spirit is not compromised.

  18. This monk will confuse all the Doctors. He will start a new religion and reform the whole Roman Church, for he bases his theology on the writings of the Prophets and Apostles. He stands on the words of Christ…”Wittenburg Professor Polich von Mellerstadt regarding Luther.

  19. After enumerating the many clerical and administrative tasks of the Holy Ministry, Luther writes: “But the first and foremost of all on which everything else depends, is the teaching of the Word of God”. ML

  20. Church professionals are “worthy of their hire” (Luke 10:7) which should mean that, to the extent possible, they should be paid in accordance with their training and abilities, neither too low or too high


Concerning Personal Responsibility

  1. Speaking of your faith is important, but “faith is caught more than it is taught”.

    62. The redeemed in Jesus Christ, having been called out of the world, are at one and the same time called back into it to be its salt, leaven and light.

    63. Regarding vocation: “A Christian cobbler makes good shoes, not poor shoes with little crosses on them”. ML

    64. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, trees bearing fruit each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Gen. 1:12 We wonder what God thinks of it now?

    65. “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. Matt.5:13

    66. We are called to live our lives in such a way that we demonstrate God’s call to us in opposition to the many calls of the world that entice us.

    67. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you,…By this, all men will know that you are my disciples…John 13:34-35

    68. We “pray without ceasing” not so God will finally hear us but that we will hear God.

    69. “We should pray because God has urged us to pray and promised to hear us, and also because we continually need to flee to Him and open our hearts to receive His grace and help”. ML

    70. But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves”. James 1:22 71. Baptism “signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, shall be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and be put to death; and that the new person should daily come forth and rise, to live before God in righteousness and holiness for ever.” ML

    72. “I am called a Christian, because through baptism I was received into communion with Christ and His Church, and together with the Church I believe and confess Jesus Christ to be my Savior.” ML

    73. Luther taught of the “Priesthood of all believers”, where in everyday tasks, Christians were to be “little Christs”, mediating the gospel in word and deed, to their neighbors.

    74. The Priesthood of all believers” is improperly practiced when seen as “the right of private judgment in matters of faith”, “the right of individual access to God apart from the church”, and “the priority of the individual over the fellowship of the church”.

    75. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” Matt.10:27

    76. A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…” Proverbs 22:1

    77. Being spiritual is private, focusing on feelings. Being religious is public, faith demanding action. We define our own spirituality. Religion comes from the root word “to bind” and makes claims on us.

    78. Religion is man’s attempt to find God. The Gospel is God’s plan to reach man.

    79. Modern “secular divorce” poses a significant problem for God’s people to deal with honestly and fairly.

    80. God is more likely to speak to you with a gentle whisper than with a loud voice.

    81. “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant a tree today.” M L

    82. “I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion…” ML

Concerning Society

83. “…in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. Gen.1:27 Yet they are equal; “…there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Gal. 3:28

84. We hold an honest concern for one’s country and civic life, but it becomes ideological when we consider our nation as “elect”, and allow it to usurp the place of the church.

85. Old Testament Prophets spoke God’s Word to His creation at a definite time and place yet they continue to be relevant to the human condition today.

86. The Prophet condemned those who “make the ephah small and the shekel great”. Amos 8:5 We still deal with people with our thumb on the scale.

87. “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”. Micah 6:8

88. “And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. I Cor.12:31b-13:1

89. Remember, God loves you for who you are, not the good works you do.

90. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all persons, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way”. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

91. The historic struggle to assure equality of individual personal rights among people everywhere continues, and merits our continued participation.

92. Human sexuality is a topic of such importance that the Church must insure that “personal agendas” are not driving the study.

93. Just feeling good about God does not bring you closer to Him.

94. Christian faith is deeply personal but never private.

95. “Music drives away the devil and makes people happy; it induces one to forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and other vices. After theology I accord music the highest place and the greatest honor.” ML


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