500th Anniversary of the Posting of the 95 Theses

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” to the church door in a small city called Wittenberg, Germany. This rather mundane academic document contained 95 theses for debate. Luther was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, and he was permitted to call for public theological debate to discuss ideas and interpretations as he desired.

Yet this debate was not merely academic for Luther. According to a letter he wrote to the Archbishop of Mainz explaining the posting of the 95 Theses, Luther also desired to debate the concerns in the Theses for the sake of conscience.

Luther’s short preface explains:
“Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publicly discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology and regularly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who cannot be present to debate orally with us will do so by letter.”

Luther advanced two enduring truths for our church. First, the Word of God is the central religious authority by which all doctrine and life is measured. Second, people reach salvation only by their faith in the work of Jesus and not by their own deeds.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is an opportunity for us to proclaim Christ in our community. This anniversary is popular and a news story. People who typically pay no heed to the issues of religion and the Church are curious. Luther began the debate so that the focus could turn towards Jesus and His promise of forgiveness of sins. The same message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ needs to be heard by our community. We are compelled to tell others of Jesus. The 500th anniversary gives us an open door to begin the conversation, a conversation that must be about Jesus.

You can visit a few of these recommended sites to learn more about the Lutheran Reformation: lutheranreformation.org, graceontap-podcast.com, reformation500.csl.edu.

Luther’s Seal

The most enduring symbol of the Lutheran Reformation is the seal that Luther himself designed to represent his theology. By the early 1520s, this seal begins to appear on the title page of Luther’s works.

Here is how Luther himself explained its meaning:

First, there is a black cross in a heart that remains its natural color. This is to remind me that it is faith in the Crucified One that saves us. Anyone who believes from the heart will be justified (Romans 10:10). It is a black cross, which mortifies and causes pain, but it leaves the heart its natural color. It doesn’t destroy nature, that is to say, it does not kill us but keeps us alive, for the just shall live by faith in the Crucified One (Romans 1:17). The heart should stand in the middle of a white rose. This is to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace—it puts the believer into a white, joyous rose. Faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). This is why the rose must be white, not red. White is the color of the spirits and angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). This rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that a joyful spirit and faith is a beginning of heavenly, future joy, which begins now, but is grasped in hope, not yet fully revealed. Around the field of blue is a golden ring to symbolize that blessedness in heaven lasts forever and has no end. Heavenly blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and better than any possessions, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.[1]

Luther’s German Mass – Divine Service 5

There are five different settings of the Divine Service in the Lutheran Service Book. Divine Service Setting Five is our choice for Reformation Day. It can be very exhausting for the congregation to sing, so we have a festival choir today that will sing parts of the liturgy.

This is essentially Martin Luther’s German Mass, which was first published in 1526. He introduced the local language, German, as the language of worship instead of Latin. The emphasis on the use of German throughout, and the use of German hymns, was welcomed by the people in Wittenberg. The people appreciated the vernacular language with some historic features. Don’t worry our service will be in English.

The liturgy frames and sets our theology of God coming to us in Christi Jesus who is revealed in His preached Word and in His Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are visible means of His Word. Comfort and peace are given to us by God coming to us and serving us with His forgiveness which we receive through faith.

The function of the mass, according to Luther, is to deliver the Word of God to people so that they can receive the gracious promises of God. In Luther’s day, the German Mass was completely chanted, except for the sermon, so that people would be able to hear the words. The purpose of chanting was not primarily artistic but related to acoustics. Without microphones, the chanted word can be delivered more effectively in a church. He published this order of service for the honor of God and the welfare of the neighbor. He offered this setting of the Divine Service as a gift to be received by the people as good and proper way to hear Christ.

The chief and greatest aim of any service is to preach and teach God’s Word. For Luther, the reason why the congregation was gathered was to hear the Word of God. Luther’s primary concern was the proclamation of the gospel, and all other matters in worship were secondary. He wrote,

“[A] Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly… [W]hen God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing more read, or even come together.”[2]

In Luther’s reform of the liturgy it was important that the Lord’s Supper is delivered as a free gift given to us by God, and not a good work done to earn God’s favor. Luther sought to make it clear this meal is God’s work and not ours.

Luther’s reform of the liturgy did not advocate for starting over from scratch. Luther took what he inherited, kept as much as possible, and removed all those elements that he found contrary to the gospel, or that distracted people from the main message. Luther maintained Christian liberty in worship forms. He feared the creation in the Reformation of another rigid system as a substitute for the Roman system. He would have no liturgical test of purity. The practical side of Luther appreciated the necessity of rites and ceremonies in public worship, and he found great pleasure in the music of the church. By 1533 Luther stopped using the word mass to describe the communion liturgy. He was concerned that the notion of the Lord’s Supper as a good work of the people was too attached to this word.

[1] From: Letter from Martin Luther to Lazarus Spengler, July 8, 1530 [WA Br 5:445]; tr. P. T. McCain

[2] American Edition of Luther’s Works Volume 53, page11



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Witness, Mercy, Life Together

In Christ, for the Church and the World

These phrases illustrate how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in our congregations, communities, and throughout the world. These phrases describe the emphasis of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.