For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:10-17 (ESV)
The Reformation was a movement born in response to a number of errors within the Church. The Church had gotten away from the teachings of Scripture and was being corrupted by man-made superstitions as well as by good old fashioned profiteering. The issue that lit the spark of the Reformation was the sale of indulgences, or documents given out by the Pope, that granted people forgiveness of sins and/or entry into heaven upon receiving a monetary gift. The doctrine of indulgences was closely tied to the (non Scriptural) teaching on purgatory that was widely taught and accepted at that time, and in the Roman Catholic church even today. People in Luther’s time believed that they could release their loved ones from purgatory and into heaven by the purchase of indulgences.
The sale of indulgences in Luther’s day largely financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Bishops and priests who could send cash to the Vatican for this building were often rewarded with appointments, land and special favors. One of the most notorious of the indulgence hawkers was a priest named Johann Tetzel, who was known for his sales pitch:
As soon as the gold in the coffer rings / The rescued soul to heaven springs!- Johann Tetzel
Martin Luther was offended by such teachings as they are contrary to the Scriptural foundations of Christ Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone that are taught all through the Bible. Luther spoke out against the sale of indulgences in his 95 Theses:
- They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
- It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. – from Luther’s 95 Theses
When Luther and other Reformers discovered the saving truth of the Gospel as presented to us in the Bible, he and they could not help but to stand up for the truth. They could not keep this Good News under wraps any more.
It is God in Christ who does the saving, and redeeming. We cannot earn or deserve God’s favor. We can’t buy our way to heaven, and we can’t pay the way for our friends and relatives. The proclamation of this truth wasn’t popular among the industry that had built itself around the sales of relics and indulgences. Just as the apostle Paul found himself in a great deal of controversy and peril for interfering in the livelihood of the idol-makers (Acts 19:23-41) of Ephesus, Luther was controversial and despised. At times he had a price on his head and had to go into hiding. Luther was considered an enemy of the church for bringing the truth clearly written in Scripture to everyone, and encouraging people to have and to read Scripture in their native languages. He was accused of being a heretic for suggesting that salvation is a free gift of God rather than something bought or earned or controlled by the powers that be in the hierarchy of the Church.
It wasn’t popular for Luther and others to stand against the power and influence of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Many reformers ended up dead for making their stand.
Today we remember that standing up for Jesus and teaching the truth is not always easy. We thank God for the faithful witness of Martin Luther and the Reformation movement that continues even into today. We pray that we will have courage to be the “beautiful feet”- bringing the Good News to the world, so that the Holy Spirit would bring others to faith as they hear God’s Word taught. (Romans 10:17)
We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ and the Holy Spirit are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept His gifts with joy and thanksgiving? – Martin Luther from his Commentary on Galatians