In 1517, a Dominican named John Tetzel began to sell indulgences near Wittenburg, with the offer of the forgiveness of sins. This practice had been inaugurated during the Crusades to raise money for the church.
Now, I’ve got to admit, as an old youth pastor – who’s done literally 100s of fundraisers – this has to be the greatest fund raising idea of all time! Beats a car wash any day. I mean, who wouldn’t pay something, anything, for the guarantee of sins forgiven.
The horrible atrocity of indulgences so angered Martin Luther, that he decided there must be a public debate on the issue. So on October 31st, 1517, Luther nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses, regarding indulgences, to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.
Nailing a thesis to the church door was actually a common practice at that time. The idea was to promote a scholarly debate. Luther hoped to provoke a calm discussion among the faculty.
But a copy fell into the hands of a printer, and the Ninety-five Theses spread throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks. Luther became an overnight hero. And, with that, the Reformation was essentially born.
At this time, Luther was studying the books of Psalms and Romans. In his study, he realized that he could be forgiven, not based upon his own works but upon the righteousness of Jesus that was available to him if he would trust in Christ alone for his salvation.
Luther’s intent was to spark a debate. I guarantee you he had no idea it would spark a Reformational wildfire that burned for decades, and is still burning today.
“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” Romans 1:17