Ninety-five theses to nail to the door, ninety-five theses to nail!
Take one down, pass it around, ninety-four theses to nail to the door!
Ninety-four theses to nail to the door, ninety-four theses to nail
Well, you get the idea. Lutherans can be pretty enthusiastic about our heritage at this time of year.
When the organist begins to play “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the “shy Lutheran” façade drops away. We’re not quite sure what to do with Martin Luther’s advice to “sin boldly,” but we sure can sing boldly!
October 31, Reformation Day, is the day we remember and celebrate Luther’s act of posting the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (although scholars tell us it was likely a university employee, rather than Luther himself, with the hammer and nail).
Those words are now immortalized — cast in bronze on a new door. But are they a symbol of the past or a message for today?
In my experience, when people read Luther’s Ninety-five Theses for the first time, they’re a bit surprised by what they find.
In our once-a-year pride about being Lutheran, we talk about the Ninety-five Theses as if it’s a Lutheran Declaration of Independence, listing all of Luther’s grievances against the church of his day.
Instead, we find a sustained argument about a single point: the power of the Gospel rather than the false promise of indulgences.
If I had to boil Luther’s entire argument down to a single thesis, I’d choose number 62: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
Luther spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching this gospel: that God’s grace is a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet, for Luther, it was never about him.
In a sermon he preached after returning to Wittenberg from his secluded stay at the Wartburg castle, Luther insisted: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word did everything.” (Luther’s Works 51:77)
Let’s take that down and pass it around!
An ordained pastor of the ELCA, Kathryn (Kit) Kleinhans has taught at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, since 1993. She currently is a professor of religion in the department of religion and philosophy, which she chaired from 1999-2010, and has recently been appointed program director for the Discovering and Claiming Our Callings initiative, Wartburgʼs Lilly Endowment-funded Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation.