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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions Tue, 10 Dec 19 00:00:00 +0000 Online jigsaw

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From the Word: 9 I John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation, and kingdom, and resolute endurance in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a scroll and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”” (Revelation 1:9–11)

From the Confessions: The Small Catechism

The Second Petition

Thy kingdom come.

What does this mean?

The kingdom of God comes indeed by itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.

How is this done?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life now and in eternity.

Pulling It Together: Being a citizen of the Father’s kingdom does not exempt us from trials and distress while we still have a foot in this world (John 16:33). John was imprisoned on Patmos; each of us may have our own exiles—from family, neighbor, workmates, or society as a whole—but we know our citizenship is in heaven. The old Larry Norman song (“Reader’s Digest”) ends, “I’m only visiting this planet,” prior to his homage to John Benson’s hymn: “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.” Knowing we are ambassadors here (2 Cor 5:20), only visiting this world, allows us, through the power of the Spirit of Christ within us, to persevere so long as we are stationed here. We are residents in this world, citizens of another, fairer realm. Despite the tribulations of this place, we must listen for the great voice of Christ and be at peace in his presence. For he is with us, even here (Matt 28:20).

Prayer: Open my ears to hear your great voice, Lord. Amen.

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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions Mon, 19 Aug 19 00:00:00 +0000

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From the Word: Therefore, putting away falsehood, each of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are all members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25) 

From the Confessions: The Small Catechism 

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.

Pulling It Together: In the strictest sense, we should not lie to or about our Christian brothers and sisters. No honorable reason denies this charity to all others. We should not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about the neighbor who lives down the street, a workmate, the president, or anyone. We are to think the best of them, pray for them, and when we cannot speak well of them, speak not at all. This is a spiritual exercise that we must practice, for we fail at it, must repent, and try again—and again.   

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, when I break your commandments, and give me the courage and strength to keep them. Amen.

Click here for resources to learn the Ten Commandments.

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Subscribe to Connections Magazine today. Connections features articles that connect Lutherans to the Word. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism provides the inspiration for confessional, biblical content, delivered in a stylish, readable design. 

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John 4:23

From the Confessions: The Small Catechism 

The Second Commandment

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (for the Lord will not hold guiltless those who take his name in vain).

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God so that we do not use his name superstitiously or to curse, swear, lie, or deceive, but call upon him in every time of need, and worship him with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

Pulling It Together: Worship is always the correct attitude. If your conscience, the law, or the devil accuse you of sin, the right response is worship. Do not hide from God, as if you could. Instead, come directly into his presence, confessing and giving thanks. If you take his name in vain or conversely, do not wrongly use his name, call upon his name nonetheless. Do not wait for Sunday, or physically being in a church building. Now is the time for you to come to the Father, doing so in spirit and truth. Every need you have, whether of forgiveness or something else, is an occasion to worship the Father in prayer, praising him and giving thanks for his meeting your every necessity.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for your mercy and love. Amen.

Click here for resources to learn the Ten Commandments.

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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions Mon, 28 Jan 19 00:00:00 +0000

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2 Timothy 3:1–5

From the Confessions: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 

Therefore, let the godly consider the great errors of the pope’s kingdom and his tyranny. Let them first consider that these errors must be rejected and true doctrine embraced for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Then let them also ponder how great a crime it is to support unjust cruelty in killing saints, whose blood God will undoubtedly avenge.

Pulling It Together

Even the power of God is seen most clearly in the true teaching of the First Article. It is observed more clearly in salvation through faith in Christ than in any other way. God accomplishes the salvation of human beings through a word, his own word. It does not happen because of our good works or religious services. It comes through a spoken word of promise: his promise, not ours to be better, but his to be our best. Unless we put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14), clothing ourselves in the living Word, forgiveness, justification, and eternal life will always lay far beyond our reach. Acting religious will never do; pretense of godliness is right up there on Paul’s list with pride and unholiness.

Prayer: Help me keep the company, Lord Jesus, of those who are in fellowship with you. Amen.

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The Power of Lent is a series of lenten dramas pairing two characters each week from the story of Jesus' Passion, bearing witness to what they saw, heard, and felt. Each pair of biblical characters reflects upon a similar theme for the week, showing how the same events brought about very different reactions to Jesus and his identity.

Fun With the First Article Fri, 09 Nov 18 00:00:00 +0000 Click to visit SPLS website

The whole first article of the Apostles Creed, short enough in itself, can be summed up in two words. In the article, Christians confess, “We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” The two words are gift and when we pray, obligation.

Often enough, the gifts of God in creation are hidden amidst all the demands and duties of family life, jobs, and the requirements of citizenship. Generally, meals don’t arrive at the table already cooked. Though it can happen, children don’t just jump out of bed, eager for their responsibilities. Often enough, work is just that—a seemingly unending flow of things to be done, mixed up in amalgam of boredom and friction. Public life brings with it its own set of apparently unresolvable tensions. 

But every once in awhile, gifts peek through in an unmistakably gracious way. Young love, an older couple holding hands, a troubled child finally smoothing things out, freshly cut grass, even the sound of a distant train whistle provide reminders that there is something bigger than ourselves at work in things. And then when a sense of giftedness takes over gifts appear everywhere, even in the mundane things that can just as well pass without comment: good coffee, a children’s choir, a solitary whistler. 

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God the Father almighty, whom we name in confessing the creed, is biblically the giver of every good and perfect gift. We do not use the word 

“Father” as an analogy in comparison with our dads. Fine as they can be, they can also be awful, leaving people haunted. We speak of God as Father because Christ Jesus taught us to use this name. It wasn’t completely original with him. He knew as well as anyone that the heavenly Father can be as difficult to deal with as any earthly papa. But Christ Jesus made explicit the grace implicit in all the gifts of life. So he said, “When you pray, pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven….’”  

So we pray, among other bids, “give us this daily bread.” As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism, when we make such a request we are not just asking for what’s on the table. We are asking that God will make us sensitive to and appreciative of all the gracious gifts with which God creates and sustains daily life.

We have to pray for this confidence because the other word essential to the first article of the creed has a way of sounding itself so loudly and continuously that soon that is all we hear. “Get up,” “make your bed,” “don’t forget your homework,” “you have to leave early because of the traffic,” “I want this done before you leave work,” “we can’t get this done without volunteers,” obligations compound themselves until they arrive one after another, seemingly without end.

They do so because we live in a community of neighbors who depend on us just as we depend on them. In fact, without obligations the gifts

don’t spread. Farmers seed and harvest, milk and muck, so that rest of us can eat. Teachers sit up in the evenings writing lesson plans and endure faculty meetings so that students learn something more than mischief. The gifts of everyday life arise out of the drudgery and delights of labor. The two go together, hand in hand.

So the First Article of the Creed requires the second. God the Father almighty sent his son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to put the obligations in their place, to take grace out of its harnesses and let it flow freely in his promises. That’s the Second Article and after that, there is a third, announcing the work of the Holy Spirit in and through you. The fun has just begun.

Kids' Pages Wed, 01 Aug 18 00:00:00 +0000

Click these links to download PDFs of the Kids' Pages in Connections magazine. Feel free to include them in your church newsletter, and make copies for use in your church and family.

January/February 2019 (First Commandment)

July/August 2018 (First Article of the Apostles' Creed)

September/October 2018  (Second Article of the Apostles' Creed)

November/December 2018 (Third Article of the Apostles' Creed)

January/February 2019 (First Commandment)

March/April 2019 (Second Commandment)

May/June 2019 (Third Commandment)

July/August 2019 (Fourth Commandment)

September/October 2019 (Fifth Commandment)

November/December 2019 (Sixth Commandment)

January/February 2020 (Seventh Commandment)

March/April 2020 (Eighth Commandment)

May/June 2020 (Ninth Commandment)

July/August 2020 (Tenth Commandment)

September/October 2020 (First Petition)

November/December 2020 (Second Petition)

January/February 2021 (Third Petition)

New Reading Glasses Thu, 28 Jun 18 00:00:00 +0000

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Reading Scripture Through the Lens of the Catechism

by Mark Ryman, March/April 2018 issue of "Connections Magazine"

To all faithful and godly pastors, preachers, teachers, and parents:
grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Ten books fascinated me while growing up in the 60s in Ohio. One was covered in black leather with a zipper around the edges — as though to keep me out. It was The Holy Bible and it sat on the coffee table in our living room, untouched it seemed, except for dusting. I still remember that room, the placement of the furniture, and the prints that hung on the walls: Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” staring across the room at Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ.” I asked if I might be allowed to read that Bible.

You will be pleased to hear that I was permitted to read it. I did. A lot. I read our King James Bible so much that Mom got me the next eight of my favorite boyhood books. They were a set called The Bible Story Library, itself nothing but excerpts from the King James accompanied by still more famous paintings and prints. I was especially taken by the engravings of Gustave Doré and the Bible stories from “Creation” to “The Apocalypse” that they adorned. The fluorescent book covers may have helped, that and the fact that they were not zippered.

A few years later, rounding out my set of ten favorites, I was given my Dad’s light blue, hardbound Small Catechism of Martin Luther when I started what were called Catechism Classes back in the day. I confess that I did not pay as much attention to the Small Catechism as I did the Bible. Yet, I treasured it, perhaps because it was my Dad’s, but maybe because it would come to mean so much more to me half a century later.

I have come at the Small Catechism backwards. It was originally written and published after Luther toured the churches in Saxony in 1528. He wrote in the Preface of the Small Catechism:

The deplorable condition in which I found religious affairs during the recent visitation of the congregations has impelled me to publish this Catechism, or statement of the Christian doctrine, after having prepared it in very brief and simple terms. Alas! what misery I beheld! The people, especially those who live in the villages, seem to have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are ignorant and incompetent teachers.

So, he penned the Catechism in terms simple enough that parents (and pastors) could use it to teach their children the basics of the Word of God. I had already been formed with a love of that Word, yet was still required to learn the Catechism — a very good thing for me.

The result of that book working its way into me is that 50 years later, I have learned how to read the Bible in a new and helpful way. At age 62, I require ever-stronger reading glasses to make out the words in the Bible or any other book. Yet, I have discovered that I have been carrying the strongest lenses possible with me since my youth. The new-found reading glasses I began to use so late in life, the lenses that helped me read Scripture in a whole new way, were light blue and hardbound.

When I began to read the Bible through the lens of the Catechism, I saw it on every page. To help me see the Catechism in my Bible, I got a set of Zebrite highlighters. Every time I saw a quotation or allusion to the Ten Commandments, I marked it with the orange pen. I marked verses that the Creed dealt with in green, blue for the Lord’s Prayer, and pink for the Sacraments. I was using those pens so much that I had to come up with a handy way to remember what color went with each section of the Catechism. The Ten Commandments were delivered at fiery Mt. Sinai: so, orange. The Creed speaks to our new life in faith: green. The Lord’s Prayer was taught under the blue sky of a mount and a plain: the blue marker. I used the pink pen for the Sacraments because of the wine on the Lord’s table.

The Bible started to become a lot more colorful. It was my sermon notes that actually became so colorful. I designed note-taking sheets for this purpose. The left half of each page contained the Sunday readings; the right side was lined for notes. Every time I would highlight something in the left column with one of those four colors, I would write the words from the Catechism on the lines in the right column. For Ascension Sunday last year, my notes have 32 highlights and handwritten notes from the Catechism in the three readings and Psalm. I keep these sheets in a notebook with the Sola Pocket Catechism stuffed into the notebook pocket for handy reference.

For those of you whose church subscribes to SOWeR, the “Sola Online Worship eResource,” these “Scripture Notes” are part of your subscription. These note-taking sheets are provided for each Sunday and festival, and may be found in the right-hand column of text links (“Links to Worship Resources”). They are useful for pastors, Sunday School teachers, and serious students of the Bible.

If you begin your own practice of reading the Bible through the lens of the Catechism, you will probably discover that you will need more green highlighters. I find references to the Creed more than anything else. So much green tells me that this ancient statement is a correct distillation of our faith. Those green lines will not only be in your New Testament, but the Old as well. The Creed is ubiquitous.

Churches in the West may have once again become a lot like those of old Saxony. Many Lutheran churches in the United States are in a “deplorable condition.” Some pastors and people have become so ignorant of and incompetent in the Scripture, they hold the opinion that the Bible no longer speaks to the life of their congregations. It is no small wonder that some Lutheran congregations have abandoned both Catechism and Bible. They consider them no longer relevant in today’s culture. Now that is a “deplorable condition” for a Lutheran church — for any church. The need for Scripture and Catechism is as strong now as at any time. The current need may be stronger even than in 1528.

Meeting this great need of the Church and in our culture too, dear reader, begins with you. Pick up your Bible and read it every day. Indeed, may you hardly lay it down. May Lutherans become a people who teach their children well by faithfully reading Scripture through the lens of the Catechism. This is the exhortation God delivered to faithful people in ages past:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deut 6:7).

Catechesis never ends. It is how we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might (Deut 6:5). Being able to teach, correctly handling the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), is the privilege and duty of every parent, let alone each Sunday School teacher and pastor.

Teaching the Word to your children begins with learning it yourself. Read your Bible so that it may instruct you at all times and in all places: when you sit, while you walk, when you lie down, and when you rise. As you read, use your new reading glasses. Read catechetically. Look for the Ten Commandments — not just in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but throughout the Bible. See how the Creed may be found almost everywhere in the Bible. Note the teachings about prayer in all of Scripture that are so perfectly prayed in that prayer our Lord taught us to pray. Discover the Sacraments in passages other than those we always use.

In such catechetical reading, parents, the Holy Spirit will give you the wisdom to teach your children well. Reading through the lens of the Catechism, Sunday School teachers, will enrich your curriculum. Using your new reading glasses, pastors, will provide you with catechetical references for every sermon you preach from now on. Doing so will reinforce what our children learn at home and in the classroom.

While I still have all ten favorite books of my childhood, I now have just two favorite books: The Holy Bible and The Book of Concord. The latter, of course, holds both the Small and Large Catechisms, as well as our other foundational guides to Scripture and sound doctrine. As much as those documents speak to me, it is the Catechism that I see on every page of the Bible.

May the eyes of your heart be enlightened through this method of reading God’s Word so that you may know what that hope is to which He has called you (Eph 1:18) — and so that you may teach it to your children.

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October 31, 1517: The Day Luther Hit the Nail on the Head! Mon, 08 Jan 18 00:00:00 +0000

October 31, 1517: The Day Luther Hit the Nail on the Head!

by Jaynan Clark

In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is notable that the anniversary is marked by the date that Martin Luther hit the nail on the head, pounding the 95 Theses onto the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. The anniversary year isn’t marked by Luther’s birthday or by his faithful stand at the Diet of Worms (April 18, 1521), or by the formal presentation of the Augsburg Confession to the emperor (June 25th, 1530), or by the date of Luther’s death (February 18, 1546) at the age of 62. The Reformation’s anniversary is measured from and celebrated on the date that it is said to have  begun with the banging of the hammer and the posting of 95 statements for debate. 

It begs the question: if these 95 “things” were so important as to be the change agent for all of world history, the event that ushered the citizens of the world from the darkness of the Middle Ages into the Modern Era, later tagged “The Reformation”, then shouldn't we know what “they”are? What changes did they usher in? These seem to be obvious and legitimate questions that few pursue. 

In the small church I now serve, the mid-week Bible Study folks wanted to study about Luther and the Reformation “as long as it is the 500th anniversary.” We’ve been working through a Bible study on the life of Luther, and when we got about halfway through the workbook we arrived at the section dealing with the 95 Theses. There were three short paragraphs and two questions. 

On the spot, I spontaneously asked the attendees if they wanted to get copies of the 95 Theses and study them. To my surprise,  they enthusiastically and unanimously said, “Yes!”   It was then that I realized that I really hadn’t studied them. Actually I can remember talking about them a lot and referring to them even more often, but do not recall working through them. I suspect this is true for many teachers and preachers and Lutherans in the pews. These theses marked the anniversary of the Reformation and are what started it all, and yet we know very little about them, other than by name. 

Unfortunately, I’ve found this is true also of the Bible. Many will talk about it and refer to it, but to actually read and study it is not as common. There are many “coffee table” editions of the Holy Bible that are touched when the covers need dusting, but never opened up to reveal the contents within. Unlike at the time of the Reformation, we can’t hide behind the excuse of widespread illiteracy or that it is all “Greek to me” (and Hebrew). 

A vitally important aspect of the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the people’s language so the Word could be read and studied and not withheld from God’s children. The nailing of “the 95” spiked the curiosity of the masses and ignited the newly-invented printing presses. 

I challenge you to get a copy of the 95 Theses and read them —not because they are so interesting, but for their historic value. Notably, you won’t find them in the Book of Concord, which is the collection of the Lutheran Confessional writings. I suspect you will be hard-pressed to find a copy of them in your church library. I suggest it is worth a “google.” There you will find the 95 statements for debate and the following introduction: 

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

As I began to read and study the theses, I was struck by one major light bulb moment: the recognition of how different Luther’s beliefs and theological convictions were in the writing of these theses from where he ends up in his later years and in our Lutheran Confessions. Here in the 95 Theses, Luther still speaks of purgatory as a reality and does not condemn indulgences but rather their issuance for money and the trust placed in them. 

Where Luther was in relationship to the institutional church and those who were in positions of authority, including the Pope, is much different here than it will be over the coming years. Luther as a teacher, preacher, theologian and believer evolved from where he was and who he was when he took pen in hand and crafted these theses.

It is very important that the teacher of the 95 Theses and the reader are reminded that many of the things discussed in “the 95” are not part of our confessional faith. A constant reminder is necessary that much of this discussion and debate is foreign to what we believe and practice as Christian Lutherans. 

As “the 95” mark the beginning of the Reformation, so they also mark the beginning of great change — in Luther’s thinking, his belief and his relationship to the institutional church. They mark the beginning of the rising of the masses through increased literacy and education. They mark the change in the power and primacy of the Roman Empire, both as a church and as the state. They mark the beginning of a time of reform that gave birth to multiple reformers and movements, many of which took issue with Luther and his theological convictions. They mark the beginning of a growing resistance against authority figures and institutions. And while we all know that “Rome was not built in a day,” this particular day in history with the nailing of the 95 Theses numbered the days of Rome’s unchecked authority as a church and as an empire. 

While many say the actual “nailing” of the Thesis to the door of the church is “legendary” and did not actually take place in that fashion, it would be accurate to say that whether Luther had an actual hammer in his hand or not, the proverbial “fan” was present on October 31, 1517 and all the “theses” hit it!  

To say that Luther was surprised by the reaction would probably be the understatement of the half millennium! It was not his plan to wage war against the powers that be or to incite a riot, or even just to ruffle a few clerical feathers. He drafted the theses in Latin, the language of the church and the language of his academic colleagues. He was basically posting an invitation to other teaching theologians and church leadership to come and debate the problems, as he perceived them. 

Luther identified the problem as the selling of God’s forgiveness in the form of indulgences with the assurance made to sinners that if they pay the price they can make satisfaction for their sins, or those of their loved ones, either in their present day or in Purgatory. Past, present and future forgiveness of sins granted by Papal decree for a profit was a practice of the church that Luther could not stomach, let alone defend Biblically. 

A quick perusal of Reformation history should impress upon us that it was the “cha-ching” of the coins in the church coffers, ringing with the promise of souls springing from purgatory, that really turned Luther’s crank. To see the plans for the erection of an imposing, glorious basilica named for St. Peter — knowing that it was funded by the false teaching regarding penance, the dismissal of true, God-invoked repentance and the defrauding of an illiterate population of believers — inspired Luther to start asking “all the wrong questions” from the leadership’s perspective. These were   questions that would lead to his potential arrest, a life in hiding branded as an outlaw and heretic, and a price put on his head.

So, Luther is a work in progress, traveling in the fast lane! His sending out of an invitation to debate the wrong teachings and practices of the church, in hopes of civil discourse resulting in much-needed correction and amends, was by 20/20 hindsight a bit of  a pipe dream. This somewhat naïve, not-so-young resident monk and teaching theologian, inexperienced in the ways of institutional church, got what may well have been the surprise of his life. 

It had only been six years since Luther had been sent to “Podunk” Wittenberg to serve, and only five years since he earned his doctorate (something he later reflected upon as an act of obedience not something he wanted to pursue.) This Luther — who nailed the Theses that hit the fan, ignited the spark and rocked the world of both church and state — is in a very different place in his theological development and convictions than the Luther who would make his historic stand at the Diet of Worms just three years later. 

As clay in the Potter’s hands, Luther set off not only a cultural reformation and an ecclesiastical (church) reformation, but he entered into the era of his own personal reformation. God was forming a prophet for this particular time in the history of His church and the history of His world groaning under the heavy weight of sin. 

For the church to burden the consciences of sinners and profit from that unorthodox, heretical adulteration of the Word was an institutional rebellion against the cross of Christ that needed to be confronted and corrected by a real live, rough and tumble, straight-talking prophet of German descent. God called Luther into something that he had never imagined possible and for which he did not dream of nor desire. 

This Luther, standing on the steps of Castle Church, still taught and practiced the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The numerous sacraments were not questioned, the existence of Purgatory was not contested, the categories of sins as moral and venial and acts of penance according to contrition and attrition remained, along with the office of the Pope with its increasing power and authority after the Crusades. 

Also not yet questioned was the divine necessity of church hierarchy; the teachings of apostolic succession and ordination;  the understanding of vocation and the priesthood of all believers; the limitations on the office of the keys; the practices associated with the Lord’s Supper, including the teaching of transubstantiation; the acceptance of other church doctrine that is not Scriptural; the  definition of a sacrament;  the presence of  the “treasury of merits” (which was a supposed account or fund of good works accumulated by Christ and the saints that the Pope could tap into); the prayers to the dead and for the dead; the means of grace; and the understanding of justification as a pure gift from God through Jesus Christ apart from works of the law. 

While this listing is admittedly exhausting to read, it is not exhaustive of all the huge theological teachings that are not even on the table when the 95 Theses were hung on the door. The Potter had a lot in store for His prophetic clay named Martin Luther, and it is a very good thing that the Holy Spirit had not yet clued him in for what the reaction would be and how far, wide and fast the ripple effect would spread. 

As our local class dove into the 95 Theses to actually read and study them, not just talk about them and repeat their title like a Lutheran mantra, we found that they were quite foreign to our confessional understanding of penance, confession of sin and absolution. In order to wade through them together and attempt to make them understandable to myself and to the class, I made my own groupings and elementary outline of “the 95”. I broke them down into categories that were more digestible and understandable. With a copy of “the 95” in front of you, you might want to wade through them this way: 

1-4: Repentance; 
5,6: The Pope; 
7: Guilt;  
8-12: Canons; 
13-16: Death/Dying; 
17-19: Purgatory; 
20-28: Penalty and Authority; 
29: Legendary Saints; 
30-36: Assurance; 
37-39: Grace; 
40-51: Teaching Good Works; 
52-58: Indulgences; 
59-66: Treasures of the Church; 
67-81: Preaching and Promises of Indulgences; 
 82-89: Questions for Debate; and
90-95: Conclusions. 

I would highlight #39, where Luther says, “It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need for true contrition.” 

Behind Luther’s statements runs this thread of concern that true contrition and repentance of one’s sin is not only being cheapened, but cut off for the profit of the church in the sale of indulgences. 

Knowing the man Luther, just a bit, and how he struggled with his burdened conscience, bouts of depression and a search for assurance and freedom in the face of an angry God, we can see that the ringing of the coins in the coffers bothered him not only because of the profit of the church built on the bent backs of burdened sinners, but also because the peddling of cheap grace that can never be free. A prophet like Luther could never turn a blind eye or deaf ear to such heresy (wrong, unorthodox teaching). 

Luther is still the one who called out to Saint Anne in the storm, committing his life to being a monk in exchange for his safety. 

Luther is still the one who later had his “Tower Experience” where he heard for the first time the gracious Word of God as both Law and Gospel. 

This Luther finally knew the free grace of God (apart from works of the Law), fully accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross for him. 

This Luther, drafting the 95 Theses, did not do so as an enemy of the church or as a rebel looking for a cause, but as a freed and forgiven child of God. He wrote, knowing himself to be merely a beggar at the foot of Christ cross — a beggar who understood that the church, for good order, is not to be the stumbling block for repentant sinners but the path of least resistance to our Savior. 

The church and the Pope had put themselves in the positions of not only priest and mediator, but as gatekeepers peddling the gifts of God for personal profit like hirelings. In so doing, they had left the sheep without their Shepherd and His church without its true rock and confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  

Luther may or may not have taken up a hammer in his hand on October 31, 1517, but one thing we know for sure: he took up his cross and as a prophet of God’s own calling he boldly concluded his “95” with the sure and certain hope that life in Christ was never a promise of ease or comfort or privilege or success. Assured of this he wrote: 
Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell and thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22). — #94, #95

And so with these words Luther was thrust into the turbulent years of the Reformation, knowing only the peace of God which the world does not understand. 

This is a message that we of the 21st century need to have ears to hear, loud and clear, as God continues to reform His church as clay in His scarred hands. 



Jaynan Clark is a chosen child of God, mother of four, grandma of one, preacher, teacher, missionary, writer, manual laborer, and known to many as a “tough ol’ broad !” Thanks be to God!