Martin Luther Nails His Theses to the Door

This is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg in 1517, and, let it be said, nailed his colours to the mast at the same time!

Every one of those 95 arguments – for that’s what they were – was aimed against the infamous doctrine of “indulgences”, and he even expected Papal support for his crusade against this unholy traffic (Documents of the Christian Church, page 260). Instead the wrath of Rome descended upon him.

Reformation Day – “The most momentous day, as yet, in the history of Europe” is how Basil Atkinson describes it (Valiant in Fight, page 128).

Pope Leo X had sent Johann Tetzel to Germany to raise money for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To do that Tetzel marched through the streets with his entourage – a drummer calling the people to come and hear this amazing ditty:
Once the coin in the coffer rings
A soul from purgatory heavenward springs.

Official indulgence certificates were sold – authorised by the Pope himself – declaring that the purchaser could go immediately to Heaven at death, bypassing purgatory on the way. Or an indulgence could be bought for a departed loved one, thus delivering them from purgatorial fires.

Luther’s protest included such sallies as the following:

No. 21: “Those preachers of indulgences are in error who allege that through the indulgence of the Pope, a man is freed from every penalty.”

No. 27: “Those who assert that a soul straightway flies out (of purgatory) as a coin tinkles in the collection box are preaching an invention of man.”

No. 37: “Any true Christian living or dead partakes of all the benefits of Christ and the Church, which is the gift of God, even without letters of pardon.”

No. 52: “Confidence in salvation through letters of indulgence is vain … even if the Pope himself should pledge his soul as a guarantee.”

No. 66: “The treasures of indulgences are nets, with which they now fish for the riches of men.”

No. 86: “The Pope’s riches at this day far exceed the wealth of the richest millionaires, cannot he therefore build one single basilica of St Peter out of his own money, rather than out of the money of the faithful poor?”

And so the die was cast. The Church of Rome took action. Luther remained adamant. The Protestant Reformation was under way.

And many a Protestant church (though alas, not as many as should) will give thanks to God this day for the brave stand taken by Martin Luther.

The Roman Church still teaches the value of indulgences to enable one to bypass the torments of purgatory, though not, let it be confessed, as blatantly as Tetzel propagated the doctrine.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Excessive Liberation is Slavery

We live in an age of liberty. Everyone wants to throw off the shackles – without even thinking too much about what they are there for. The pulse of our culture is beats with the demand to be able to do our own thing, as and when we feel the impulse to do so.

There are many images and messages that support the notion of throwing off other people’s constraints upon us. In Ratatouille we have a rat wanting to escape the cultural abhorrence toward his kind and the disgusting cultural values of his family. Fights against oppression, determination to rise above family limitations, and such sentiments are common fare.

What brought me to this topic, however, was that I was reflecting today on one of the many stories which carry this theme and I saw something I had not noted before. The story is outdated now. It is the Australian made movie, Strictly Ballroom. As I recall the story (and it’s been several years since I last saw it) a particular ballroom dancing competition has become the life focus of a group of young people.

The central character of the story is a young man whose own father was once a successful competitor in the competition but who somehow damaged his career by going outside the limitations set by the competition. Everyone is now quite intent on meeting the strict requirements, except this young man who, like his father, has a penchant for free expression.

The climax involves the boy stepping outside the prescribed rules and creating something that expresses who and what he is. The whole competition shuts down as a consequence, until the boy’s father steps up to support his son’s individualistic expressions. The story ends with a triumphant liberation of the people from the rigidity of the competitions controller.

The sub-text speaks of each person’s need to find who they are and to be brave enough to step out for the liberation which they should be able to claim. Like many other packagings of the same theme, the subtext is to be the individual that we each are.

But here’s the rub. Some constraints are not the product of egocentric control freaks. Not all things that limit us and make performance demands on us are evil, self-serving structures designed by others and which oppress and limit our self-expression.

Liberation from oppression is one thing, but liberation from godly morality, responsibility and the like is a completely different proposition. The current popular cultural theme of self-expression, self-discovery and self-assertion is not anchored in the fear of God as it needs to be. It does not respect our need to be who God has made us and to face the limitations which He has placed on us.

The Bible supports our personal liberty through Christ. We are even told to hold on to our liberty from sin and degradation. We have been called to liberty, Paul tells us (Galatians 5:1). However, Paul also warns us not to use liberty as an excuse for indulging our fleshly desires (Galatians 5:13).

What is being promoted in our culture is a notion of liberty without bounds. Liberty for liberty’s sake has become the value proposition, rather than liberty within the bounds of God’s holy purposes in our lives. We are to stand firm in the liberty which Christ has purchased for us, but not to be brought into slavery by our inappropriate application of liberty. Hence my title “Excessive Liberation is Slavery”.

When people pursue personal freedom as an end in itself they end up applying that freedom to their own self-serving ends. That then brings them into slavery to sin, shame and degradation. They become slaves to the things they indulge in. Their liberty has led them to slavery and they are not free at all.

Stand fast in the liberty in which Christ has made you free – but be not entangled again in slavery.

Nobility by Walking in the Spirit

I have pointed out in earlier posts that Nobility is anchored in our creation. Nobility is attached to things based on their birth or some other special quality. There is no more special origin and quality than to be made in the image of Almighty God. We are Imago Dei – made in the image of God.

Thus we are spirit beings, with profound spiritual significance. Our destiny is to express all that God is by our actions and lifestyle. We are to be like God, who is holy, loving, creative, totally faithful, responsible, forgiving, just, and so on. We must also recognize that we are created by a moral God and placed in a moral universe. We are therefore moral beings, accountable to God for what we do with our lives.

At the same time we are ‘flesh’. This means we are made of natural senses that empower us to engage with the natural world in which we have been placed. Those senses can, of themselves, provide us with delight, in taste, touch, sight, sound and so on. Humans, then, can choose to pursue the delight that human senses provide. When they do that they are now living out of their natural, sensual being, rather than their spiritual qualities.

Since nobility is based on our special-ness, when we live out of our spiritual value we have unparalleled nobility. When we live out of our natural senses we lower ourselves to the level of an animal in pursuit of natural experiences.

So, mankind’s nobility is tested by the fact that he is ‘also flesh’, as God described us in Genesis 6:3. Man is not to look out for opportunities to indulge the flesh but is to live by God’s spiritual destiny on his life.

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “do not use freedom as an opportunity to indulge the flesh, but serve one another out of love”, Galatians 5:13 (author’s paraphrase).

The challenge for humans, however, is that their natural senses can become quite obsessed with gratification. This is especially so if those senses have been awakened and indulged.

When the Israelites were fed supernaturally in the wilderness for 40 years they were fed a substance that sustained their bodies, but which did not indulge their appetites. The miracle ‘manna’ would form on the ground each morning and be collected for their sustenance. They made bread and other food from it. The food was physical but its essential quality was spiritual.

The Bible described the manna as “angels food” (Psalm 78:25). Angelic food would be sufficient to feed a spirit being, since angels are spirit beings. It was able to sustain natural bodies because people can be sustained and kept alive by having their spirit fed. Yet spiritual food would do nothing to pander to human appetite, even though it miraculously sustained human life.

As a consequence the people loathed the food, which they called ‘light bread’, and they lusted for meat, onions and other things their taste buds craved (Numbers 11:4-6,21:5). They said “our soul loathes this light bread”. While their body was sustained by manna, their appetites were unsatisfied with it. It did nothing to appease their natural cravings for strong flavours and tickled taste-buds.

The historical experience is metaphorical of the way humanity despises living for spiritual values. In order to walk in the Spirit and live out of our spiritual realities we have to put our flesh to death, dying to natural appetites.

The issue is not staying alive or sustenance, but the human pleasure derived from the natural senses. And therein is the nobility challenge for all humanity. When we turn our focus from the divine to the natural we are the ones who abuse our own nobility and degrade our own existence, selling out our true potential for such temporary and meaningless experiences as the gratification of our human appetites.

Let me put it another way. We are made in the image of God, imago dei. So we have divinity stamped in our being. This is the basis of our highest nobility. Yet we are made with natural senses that can feed appetites of lust and self-gratification. When we bring out body under control, and die to our fleshly appetites, living to fulfill spiritual destiny, we achieve our highest nobility. When we abandon spiritual focus and seek gratification of our appetites we degrade ourselves and can totally destroy any self-worth within us.

The Bible truth of our special creation by a loving God to whom we are accountable, is a solid basis for appreciating our nobility. The lie of evolution, baseless in science, defying proof or even a workable theoretical base, yet pushed as essential dogma for acceptance into many corners of western society, strips humanity of its nobility.

I call you to rise to your true nobility. I call you out of the trough, where the pigs wallow. You are created for much higher destiny and nobility than the pub brawl, seedy back alleys, hollow halls of human vanity, vain and baseless ambitions of self importance, and so on. You are created for the throne room, where your mentor, the Living God, waits to tutor you in eternal authority and global significance.

Fellow noblemen, please stand. Stand in the presence of God. Stand in your created destiny. Stand in your nobility. Stand against evil. Stand in freedom from human appetites. Stand in the glorious liberty of the children of God. Stand, because He has called you to stand for His glory.

Nobility Challenge

In an earlier post (Nobility – Imago Dei) I introduced you to the notion of our true nobility being anchored in our unique created status. Since we are made in the image of God, imago dei, we have remarkable nobility built in to who and what we are.

Our nobility is challenged, however, by our tendency to live below our created status. Instead of living as God’s children, made in God’s image, we are tempted to live like animals, bent on the indulgence of animal instincts.

This post on our nobility challenge seeks to focus your attention on the choices you make the impact those choices have on your nobility.

As humans we have two dimensions. We have a spiritual dimension based on our being made in God’s image, as moral beings accountable to a moral God in a moral universe. We also have a natural dimension. Our natural dimension is based on our natural environment and the physiological make-up which enables us to engage with that world. Our five senses enable us to enjoy this life, but can be elevated to the place of our main purpose for life. When we choose to live out of our natural senses we effectively abandon our spiritual dimension, in order to indulge our natural dimension.

The measure of our nobility is the degree to which we live for spiritual realities versus our fleshly interests. This does not mean that people become dead to their five senses, but they put to death the self-serving lusts that spring from those senses. The body has bodily appetites but is not synonymous with bodily appetites. It is more than the sum of our bodily appetites. It is possible to be dead to human appetites and to simply enjoy the pleasures of taste, touch, sight, etc, without being sold out to those things. It is also possible to be highly disciplined and to deny bodily pleasure yet to be internally preoccupied and distracted with gratification. An absence of sensual engagement does not mean that a person is living out of their spiritual dimension. They may simply be highly disciplined in their flesh.

The nobility challenge is to live as the image of God, imago dei, rather than as a craven animal distracted by natural experiences. When you step away from your divine origins and calling you trash your nobility. Every addiction to your senses and sensual experience is evidence of your lost nobility. True nobility involves freedom from the demands of your natural, flesh self.

I pray that God give you the grace to walk into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, out of the quagmire of darkness, slavery and oppression that devours your nobility and mocks your existence.