“In medieval Christianity, baptism, though continually present as a practice, was not central to the life of a Christian. Penance, in fact, had become the central practice and also the one most abused (e.g., through the sale of indulgences). No wonder that in 1517 Luther began by dealing with the issue of indulgences (and the sacrament of penance), not the sacrament of baptism. Having developed significantly his thinking on penance, Luther [turned] to the other sacraments [in his writings in 1519 and continued] to explore the meaning and role of the sacraments. […]
For the medieval church, the sacraments had a double function. They were seen as tools for increasing grace. If properly performed, they channeled grace into the souls of individuals. At the same time, they were stepping-stones to an ever-fuller participation in God’s glory, again brought about through a proper ‘performance’ of the rite. […]
[For Luther], baptism lies at the beginning of the Christian life, of a life of faith. Everything else refers back to it or is grounded in this action that God accomplishes. A sacrament does not divide the world into sacred and secular; it is not a secret access into God’s heavenly reality. Instead, God encounters needy persons in the world. In that encounter with death and life in Christ, faith is created and life is reoriented.
In the sacraments, the recipient encounters Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ promises that he is ‘in baptism, the Supper, and preaching until the end of the age, until he comes.'” (The Roots of Reform, pp.203-205)
“In [Luther’s] Large Catechism he had called baptism ‘a daily dying to sin and rising to new life. Thus it is a continuing call to repentance, faith, and obedience to Christ.’ Catholic teaching has differed somewhat in how all this is effected, but the two churches came to agreement on the final result in ‘repentance, faith, and obedience.’ Lutherans have come to recognize more than before what Catholics stress: that baptism makes one an organic member of a community, the community that is the body of Christ. Both churches baptize infants, and do not rebaptize anyone baptized with water and the Word of God. So baptism is permanent; one may fall away from the life in baptism, but repentance and return remain possible and are received as divine gifts. The Catholic belief in the sacrament of penance leads to a somewhat more complex churchly involvement in this return, but there is more agreement than disagreement on all this.
The Eucharist, or Communion or the Lord’s Supper, is a very different matter and a greater problem in ecumenical relations. No one pretends that affairs are the same in this second sacrament in the Lutheran counting and the second of seven in the Catholic. Disagreements over the meaning of the Eucharist have plagued Lutherans within Protestantism from the beginning, and most Protestant ecumenical effort stumbles here first. Luther’s view that ‘in, with, and under’ the bread and the wine in Communion, the believer receives Christ in his ‘real presence’ was not acceptable to many other kinds of Protestants, who tended to regard the bread and wine as symbols of Christ’s presence. How Protestants address this is urgent for their uniting future, but is not central to the Lutheran-Catholic discussion.” (October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World, pp.72-73)
The 95 Theses were written and posted, calling for debate on a practice of the Roman Catholic church of Luther’s time – he disputed the power of indulgences, and wanted clarity.
We come to the end of our exploration of the theses, with this post. We find a tone in the 95 Theses that seeks to be respectful, though critical, and it lays a foundation for further conversation about why the church does what it does, and how do central aspects of our faith translate into daily living? And that is always a part of our identity, as Lutherans, isn’t it? May our living reflect the words we speak and hear in faith!
(If you haven’t looked at it in a while, consider taking some time to review Luther’s Small Catechism, this Reformation commemoration year! You can find it in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book, pp.1160-1167)
89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?”
90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).