The Story of the Reformation
Why the 95 theses of Martin Luther matter today
Late in 1517, Martin Luther was a little-known monk and professor at a new university in Wittenberg Germany, a minor town on the outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire. Although he had previously taught against unscriptural doctrines, he was virtually invisible to the powers in Rome.
Invisible, that is, until he stepped into the indulgence controversy. The papal court was participating in an elaborate financial scheme whereby the sale of indulgences—papal certificates to forgive sins—would help finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When Luther heard of these sales in a neighboring area, he wrote 95 theses for academic disputation, condemning the sale of indulgences. When, on October 31st of that year, he nailed the theses to the door of Wittenberg’s castle church, they were soon copied and widely dispersed. Suddenly Luther was quite visible, directly in the cross-hairs of the papal court.
Many prominent voices in Luther’s time were critical of the corrupt papacy, but Luther’s message was different. He called not only for moral reform, but for theological reform. The sale of indulgences was merely a symptom of departures from Scriptural teachings such as justification by faith alone, through grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Luther was soon excommunicated, and his teachings banned.
He was not easily silenced, however. He preached, taught, and wrote prolifically, all the while longing for Mother Church to return in unity to her apostolic roots. There appeared to be an opportunity in 1530, when Emperor Charles V called for a meeting of imperial leaders at Augsburg. The goal was to heal the religious differences that plagued the Empire from within, while the Turks were a threat from without. The Lutherans presented a sound and winsome case in the Augsburg Confession, but the papal faction was hardened against their teachings. Religion would remain a dividing factor in the Empire, and Luther’s reform would remain a reformation, an institutional division that marks the Church even today.
Concordia University Irvine is “guided by the Great Commission of Christ Jesus and the Lutheran Confessions.” We rejoice that Christ came for all (John 1:29) and that we are saved by grace through faith in Him. Confident in the Gospel, we welcome students from a wide variety of backgrounds, as we pray and work for the unity of the Church, which is redeemed by Christ and always reforming.