It’s been 497 years since Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of All Saints’ Church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany — an act that had sweeping and everlasting ramifications for the Christian faith.
Dr. William Edgar, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania, recently told TheBlaze about Luther’s supposedly defiant act and the transformational change it had on Western civilization and the world at large.
Luther, a priest who eventually became disenchanted with Catholic teaching, posted the document — which took aim at the church’s practice of selling indulgences to rectify individuals’ sins — on October 31, 1517, leading to his official excommunication four years later in 1521.
But that’s not the only development that followed. More importantly, the act sparked a Christian revolution of sorts, forever changing the way believers worship and shaping the theological ideals embraced by various Protestant denominations.
“It marks a significant turning point in the whole history of the church,” Edgar said in an interview for this author’s Freefall audio series.
The “Ninety-Five Theses” essentially advanced two key beliefs: that the Bible is God-ordained truth and that salvation is reached by faith and not deeds, according to History.
Listen to the interview below:
While Luther was opposed to indulgences, believing them to be completely unethical, Edgar said that there were also other problems within the Catholic Church at the time.
Others who came before had tried to fix these issues, but sweeping reformation didn’t take place until Luther’s grievances caught peoples’ attention on a grander scale.
“The priesthood was corrupt, the papacy was corrupt,” Edgar said of 16th century church. “Sometimes the priests didn’t even know enough Latin to say the Mass and when they did say it they didn’t even know what it meant.”
Edgar described many of the priests of that time as immoral, claiming that they had taken chastity vows, but were sometimes sleeping with concubines.
The professor said that spiritual growth and sustainability were stagnant — and that there was an overarching fear of God among the faithful.
But he said that Luther’s Reformation ushered in “a revolution,” driving home the notion that people can develop “a personal relationship to God by the sinner who is justified by the word of Christ.”
Edgar also shared details about Luther’s backstory, including his upbringing in an obscure and undeveloped part of Germany. The faith leader earned numerous degrees, though a traumatic experience would eventually lead him away from secular academics and into the priesthood.
One day when he was walking home during a lightening storm, he was almost struck. It was then that Luther made a pledge that if he survived the ordeal he would become a priest.
“He considered the incident a sign from God and vowed to become a monk if he survived the storm,” according to History. “The storm subsided, Luther emerged unscathed and, true to his promise, Luther turned his back on his study of the law days later on July 17, 1505. Instead, he entered an Augustinian monastery.”
But after joining the church he ended up holding disdain for God — that is, until he began diving deeper into the Bible for himself instead of simply abiding by church rules and regulations.
It was then that Edgar said that Luther realized that, “Jesus took our sins for us, he became sin for us … [and that] the righteousness of God was made accessible through him.”
From that point, Luther began critiquing the Roman Catholic Church that he was a part of and soon found himself being disciplined and eventually excommunicated. The faith leader eventually became the inspiration for the Lutheran denomination and other Protestant sects that followed.
Edgar said that the faith leader took steps to make change among Christians, urging believers to marry, among other efforts to divert from certain Catholic teachings.
“[Luther] even had a service not unlike eHarmony…where he would help monks and nuns to marry and have children and so forth,” Edgar added.
Find out more about Luther and the Reformation here.
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