It has been almost 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, marking the beginning of what is now know as the Reformation.
Whether you are Lutheran, Reformed, non-denominational, Baptist, or Catholic, you owe the complexion of your current church in some part to the work and legacy of Martin Luther. He was a real man, and prone to error like all humans are. But God used him mightily to begin many good works we still have yet to complete.
And this is where the Christian religion, both in Protestant and Catholic circles, has most regularly fallen short. Religion can easily become a merely human exercise, a merely external adherence to traditions. But in order for it to be true religion, it must produce works that transcend the corrupted capacities of men.
It is not mere unity that God calls us to. Unity can be achieved by fear or mutual advantage. It is the unity achieved by love that God desires, for that is a work of his Spirit. And this unity will not manifest itself in some invisible abstraction, but in a reality as tangible as bread and wine. “Pure and undefiled religion” does not primarily produce untarnished creeds, but blameless lives (James 1:27).
With all of that in mind, read and cherish this book. It is the Word of God translated into your mother tongue (though perhaps a more remote version of it than you speak in your kitchen).
Recognize in this book one of the fruits of Luther’s work: to bring the Word of God to bear on everyday life. He believed the Word of God had to be studied and known by every believer, not just “special” believers in monasteries and universities. His opponents said that the common mind would debase the lofty Word of God, just as their unwashed hands would defile the sacred elements of the Lord's Supper.
Luther thought differently. His aim was not to debase the transcendent, but to elevate the lowly, and he knew that could only happen through the transforming presence of God. That presence is in this book, if through faith you hear Jesus speaking to you through the Spirit.
It has been nearly five hundred years since Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to the church door of Wittenberg. Much has changed since then. No pope or prince now restricts you from taking this book up and reading and understanding it for yourself.
But then, not enough has changed, because in spite of the free access we have to the Scriptures, few people know it like Luther did. We cannot blame political tyranny or ecclesiastical oppression at this point. We have nothing to blame but our own apathy.
So, Tolle Lege: take up and read. Find the promised Spirit here waiting for those with faith. With God’s help, let us perfect and complete what Luther started.
This special 500th Anniversary of the Reformation edition includes:
- Martin Luther's 95 Theses
- Luther’s Smaller Catechism (1529)
- The Augsburg Confession (1530)
The Lutheran Reformation by historian Col. John Eidsmoe originally published in the 3-volume Historical and Biblical Foundations of Law
Prayers from the Evangelical-Lutheran Heritage translated by WELS Lutheran Pastor Paul C. Stratman, some into English for the first time