Ministry Theology

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther helped spark a revival in the church that continues today. If you worship Jesus at any Protestant congregation, you can thank this German monk.

The son of a copper miner, Martin Luther was an exceptionally bright young man. He began studying law at the university level when he was only 13, and he completed his degree in the shortest amount of time allowed. When he was 21, Luther nearly died in a severe thunderstorm. He thought God was threatening him so he vowed, “I will become a Monk if you save me!”

As a Roman Catholic monk, Luther was terrorized by God’s wrath because of his sin. Luther had a tremendously sensitive conscience. Sin tormented him so much so that he tried to justify himself before God by any means possible. Prayers, extreme fasting, self-flagellation, and even staying in the freezing cold were all attempts to get God on his side. Luther’s entire life was one, grand self-salvation project. He once said, “If anyone would have gained heaven as a monk, I would have been among them.”

Luther’s self-salvation project eventually waned and ultimately dissatisfied his soul. While he pursued a doctorate in Bible, he began to see how the gospel is centered upon justification by faith, not works. After God revealed this to him, primarily through Psalms and Romans, Luther stated: “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” This God-salvation that transformed Luther’s life led to one of the most courageous, individual acts in world history: nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Because of Luther’s new birth in Christ, he grew restless with the Catholic Church’s position on a number of issues, including justification, papal authority, the authority of Scripture, and forgiveness of sin. He particularly opposed the church concerning indulgences. An indulgence was a statement made by the church that removed or satisfied the punishment for sin. A person could purchase an indulgence to ensure that they would spend the least amount of time possible in purgatory. This communicated to lay people that sin was not only excused but encouraged because salvation could be bought with money. Indulgences were thus the main issue in his theses.

On All Saint’s Eve, October 31, 1517, Luther marched to the Castle Church to nail his theses to the door. Church doors in those days served as community message boards. Due to the next day (All Saint’s Day) being a church holiday, nearly everyone in Wittenberg would have seen his post within 24 hours as they arrived for services. Luther was calling for a city-wide, public discussion of the church’s wicked practices. Luther wrote in Latin, but the theses were translated to German and because of the invention of the printing press they were spread around Germany within two weeks and around Europe within two months.

The Ninety-Five Theses called the church to repentance. Luther’s first thesis set the tone for the Reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Indulgences had become the treasure of the church, but Luther pushed back with perhaps his most majestic contention of all: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62).

Luther proclaimed that those who sold indulgences within the church were false prophets who declared peace, when there was no peace (Thesis 92). True confidence was found not in works or trying to buy salvation, but through faith in Christ and suffering with him through tribulations (Theses 94-95).

With this protest, Luther sparked the greatest church revolution since the end of the first century: the Protestant Reformation. Luther was called to recant of his beliefs in 1520. He denied and was excommunicated, exiled, and outlawed by Charles V in 1521. He went on to translate the Bible to German, wrote the Larger and Small Catechism, and was even an accomplished hymn writer. Luther’s doctrine was not without flaw, but his legacy continues. On this Reformation Day, however, we do not celebrate Martin Luther. We celebrate Jesus whom he pointed to, and the God whom he received grace from to recognize error, repent of sin, and stand for truth.

Thank you Father, for your servant Martin Luther, and how you used him to restore your church back to the gospel of grace found only in Jesus Christ!


Don’t Burn Me at the Stake

Brace yourself.  I loved Angels and Demons.

It was fast-paced, artistic, and thrilling.  The acting was excellent and the cinematography outstanding.  This was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long, long time.  It was like The Bourne Identity, Indiana Jones, and National Treasure married and had a sweet kid.

A lot of Christians have had knee-jerk reactions to this film, as if it is a open assault on everything Jesus stands for.

If you are one of those Christians, go see the movie.  That wasn’t the case.  I was on the edge of my seat.  You won’t be disappointed.  I guarantee it.

I’m not going to comment on The DaVinci Code (which I haven’t seen) or on the corresponding novels by Dan Brown.  I haven’t read any book by Brown — mostly because if I’m going to read, it’s going to be nonfiction, because if it’s fiction, I’d rather go to a theater and be done with it in two hours.

I’ve heard that Brown’s books can tend to be somewhat polemical toward Christianity, with a favorable disposition toward science and humanism, but I didn’t find that in Angels in Demons. I saw a lot of stuff (too much to remember, actually) that was quite interesting.  Here’s a few reflections:

  • Ron Howard used the color red better than any movie I have seen since since The Sixth Sense.  The use of reds — burgundy, maroon, blood red, flame red — was nothing short of genius.  It really set a tone and tempo for the movie and made is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
  • The camera angles (not angels!) and recurring symbols (like statues of angels and demons, the color red, fire, water, light, crosses, steel brands) played so well into enhancing the theme of the mystery of Catholic and Illuminati relations.  The symbols drove the plot, and kept me guessing as to what the climax would be — and when it would occur.
  • I give props to the Catholics because their architecture blows away all other types of architecture.  The movie made me want to visit Rome more than I already want to.
  • I paid close attention to this throughout, but according to my memory there was not one negative comment in the movie made toward the Bible or Jesus (which, as I’m told, is not the case in the novels).  The movie was not so much “anti-Christian” as it was “anti-Catholic.”  Remember, this is not always the same.  The movie painted Catholics (not the laymen, but the priests and Cardinals) as being corrupt and untruthful.  Yet there was a compassionate aspect toward Catholics as it brutally portrayed the Cardinals’ persecution.  I don’t think anyone would be able to not hate the main antagonist character throughout the film. The movie also showed academics and scientists as people who genuinely cared for and loved religious people, even being seekers of the divine themselves, despite epistemological differences.
  • Tom Hanks’ character, Robert Langdon, is portrayed as a cerebral academic from Harvard who has a passive vendetta against the Catholic church because of its behavior toward the Illuminati. Nevertheless, what I saw in Langdon was a continual softening toward religion as the film progressed.  At one point, when asked if he believed in God, he said, “I’m an academic…Faith is a gift that I haven’t received yet.”  (I jokingly commented that he is an unconvinced, unconverted Calvinist!)  At the end of the movie, a Cardinal said something to the effect of, “We are thankful God sent you to help us.”  Langdon responded, “I don’t believe God sent me.”  The Cardinal quipped, “Of course he did,” which left Langdon with a sincere look of question on his face, as if to say, “Maybe he did.”  Furthermore, during an interaction with Vittoria, the female researcher, and the Swiss Guard about the “God particle”, Langdon made a comment similar to, “You are talking about discovering the very origins of the universe?”  Though the Bible teaches, and I affirm, that God created the earth, and there is no “God particle,” it shows that Langdon wrestles with this idea of the universe coming from nothing and at least shows interest, though misplaced, in figuring out how it started.
  • This movie, in general, made me rejoice for men like Martin Luther and John Calvin who helped usher in the Reformation, by God’s grace.  I’ll just say it: I’m glad I’m Protestant and Evangelical.
  • The movie had major themes of man’s depravity and redemption.  It’s a classic battle of good and evil. Tom Hanks’ role is a savior-type.  There is a devil (I won’t tell you who).  There are people who need to get saved.  There is evil redemption, that is, revenge.  There are wicked attempts at atonement for past sins.  There are professions of total depravity by the Catholic Cardinals.
  • There was not one sex scene or innuendo.  I heard but a few foul words, but nothing to be concerned about.  I commend Ron Howard for making a movie that sells without using the usual garbage-like sales pitches.

I could keep going, but I’ll stop.  The bottom line is this: Angels and Demons has no more false ideas about God and religion than Indiana Jones, City Slickers, or Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.  If you are a Jesus-loving Christian, there will be parts that make you shake your head and say, “No.  That’s wrong,” but I’ve done that just as often while watching a romantic-comedy and being disgusted at the false reality of how relationships work. 

Every movie is a fictional depiction of someone’s reality.  Every movie exalts something as a god.  Every movie has a savior, a devil, a deep problem, and a redemptive solution.  Every movie calls you to make a decision about what you will worship once you leave the theater.