Martin Luther's Highway to Heaven
- Monday, October 27, 2008
Please see Romans 1:16-17
It is a mark of our changing times that many people have only a vague idea who Martin Luther is. Most of us have heard his name but we're not sure where he's from or what he did or when he lived. Some of us even get him mixed up with someone else. I would venture to say that most of us are aware of the fact that Martin Luther was a religious leader who managed somehow to get a whole denomination named after himself. And some of us are probably aware that Martin Luther had something to do with the Protestant Reformation. The musicians among us are certainly aware that it was Martin Luther who penned the words to the famous hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God. But that's about it.
This past Sunday was Reformation Sunday. It is always celebrated on the last Sunday of October because it was on October 31, 1517 that an obscure monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians tell us that Martin Luther had no idea that he would ever start a movement, much less a reformation, much less a denomination. When Martin Luther nailed his theses on the wall, he was simply following the accepted custom of the day. He was a young professor at the University of Wittenberg and the door of the castle church was like the University bulletin board. Anyone could tack anything up there for public comment and discussion. So when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door, he was simply doing what any young professor would do. He was putting forth his ideas for public consideration and public debate. From that day sprang forth a movement which would change the course of world history. When Martin Luther nailed those theses on the church door, he ignited a spark which burst into a flame which spread across Europe and which is still burning today. We call it the Protestant Reformation.
The 95 Theses
Those 95 theses were basically short statements condemning various abuses of the late Medieval church. The statements fell into three categories. First, Martin Luther condemned the Pope and other religious leaders for abuse of authority. Second, he condemned the church in general for the abuse of materialism. Third, he condemned the abuse of the system known as indulgences.
If you read the 95 theses today, they seem to be rather arcane and out of date and obsolete, which in fact they are. The things Martin Luther was writing about were burning issues back then, but most of those abuses have long since faded away. For the most part his 95 theses are just relics of history that are of interest mainly to biblical and historical scholars.
The True Treasure of the Church
But the most important thesis of the 95 still concerns us today. It is number 62–one simple sentence: "The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God." That statement is still true, is still needed and still should be proclaimed from every pulpit across this land. For it is certainly true that the treasure of the church today does not consist in the wealth and pomp and grandeur and circumstance of the church. It does not consist in the beautiful buildings of the church. It does not consist in the wealth of the wealthiest member. The true treasure of the church does not consist in anything which may be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears or touched with the hands.
Martin Luther was right. The true treasure of the church and the only treasure the church has is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is primary and everything else is secondary. And that is why it is a terrible and dreadful thing when the church for any reason elevates that which is secondary over that which is primary, thus obscuring the gospel of Christ. That is what Martin Luther was trying to say back in 1517. That is what the Protestant Reformation is all about. He was arguing that the gospel is the center of the church and that the gospel is the primary truth of the church and that the gospel is what the church is all about and therefore anything, no matter how good and right, which obscures the gospel is wrong and bad and needs to be changed or removed.
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