Three months from now, we will have reached the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther.
On the very day that Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses—31 October 1517—he also wrote a letter to Cardinal Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz. Luther’s words revealed a pressing pastoral concern, as he had been pastor of St. Mary’s congregation since 1515.
Instead of gaining the forgiveness of sins by the purchase of an indulgence paper, Luther argued that only the Gospel of Christ forgives sin.
"Evidently the poor souls believe that when they have bought indulgence letters they are then assured of their salvation. They are likewise convinced that souls escape from purgatory as soon as they have placed a contribution into the chest. Further, they assume that the grace obtained through these indulgences is so completely effective that there is no sin of such magnitude that it cannot be forgiven." (Luther’s Works 48:46).
And then, Luther states the way in which a soul is properly saved:
"The first and only duty of the bishops, however, is to see that the people learn the gospel and the love of Christ. For on no occasion has Christ ordered that indulgences should be preached, but he forcefully commanded the gospel to be preached." (Luther’s Works 48:47).
Twenty years later, in 1537, John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, commissioned Luther to prepare articles as a clear confession of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. It is here that Luther writes, as he states, the “first and chief article”:
* Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24–25).
* He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
* All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). (Smalcald Articles, Part II, paragraphs 1–3).
And then, Luther writes:
"Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine." (Smalcald Articles, Part II, paragraph 5)