Roper is especially good on Luther’s unusual upbringing as the son of a mining family. It was a hard life, full of risk; they lived well, but always one bad business decision away from disaster. Young Martin knew that the price of his education was an investment in the family’s future, and how much his decision to abandon his legal studies in favor of a church career would disrupt his father’s plans.
But reviewer Melanie Gilbert suggests Roper crops out the full picture. “When read for its smaller insights – his prolific letter writing, for instance – this book offers a rewarding look at a specific time and place in history. But in a story where the Gutenberg printing press isn’t even mentioned, and the English Reformation gets only a one-page mention, the larger importance of Luther’s life is lost in translation.” (via Prufrock News)
That verse is loosely related to a quote attributed by some to Martin Luther. “For truth and duty it is ever the fitting time; who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking, will never accomplish anything.” As our readers often say, “That’s the truth,” but did Luther actually say this?
On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, intending to invite debate on the doctrine of indulgences and its implication. Next year is the 500th anniversary of that decision.
Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn’t exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren’t part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther’s list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can’t say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.
Here’s my list, taken from and based on Luther’s original–and four theses short. You see today’s Wittenberg doors on the InterWebs. They’re bronze, so we’ll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You’ll also see that several of the theses here are Luther’s own statements, taken from this translation.
No doubt, the spirit of Luther will pull me out of bed tonight, knock me in the head, and rebuke me until daybreak for pulling this stunt. I hope it doesn’t offend you and bore only some of you. Hope you continue to have a good and holy All Saint’s Day.
91 New Theses for the Modern Church
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
The word cannot be properly understood as referring to living your best life now, i.e. positive thinking, as taught by some preachers.
Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
As long as hatred of sinful self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
Preachers of “kingdom prosperity” have neither the will nor the power to remit the penalty of sin.
They cannot remit guilt, but only ignore or excuse it because original sin and Christ’s atoning work are not in their view.
God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ.
The promises of God apply only to followers of Christ Jesus, those who have been raised to life from a spiritual stillbirth.
Mere fandom for a church or preacher does not qualify anyone to be particularly blessed by the Lord of Hosts.
It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when mere fans of a church claim statements from the Word of God as particular promises for their personal lives.
When preachers encourage their followers to claim particular promises, instead of repentance, surely it would seem that tares were sown among their congregations.
These preachers ignore the natural consequences of sin in this world, i.e. suffering both mild and severe.
Death is the result of sin, both physical and spiritual. All of our worldly sufferings are steps on this primrose path.
The Shepherd has promised to walk with His flock through the valley of the shadow of death, not completely spare them from it.
Our struggle with fearing the Lord is our natural tension between trusting Him and trusting ourselves.
Faith is trusting the Lord for what we cannot see and test for ourselves.
The Lord does not spare us from the fleshly pain of walking where we cannot see.
Scripture gives us grounds to understand that believers will suffer pain in such a way as to rely on the Lord’s grace to be able to persevere.
Therefore, Scripture does not teach that God intends for His followers to increase in prosperity and health throughout their earthly lives.
Moreover, Scripture does not teach that God intends for this prosperity to increase while His followers can maintain their faith with absolute confidence.
Faith is a gift of the Lord.
Indeed, His eternal power guards the faith of His people through Christ until the end.
If our faith must be absolutely confident, without the slightest taint of human doubt, in order to move the Lord’s hand, then Christ would not have blessed the man who begged Him to help his unbelief.
Moreover, we love God only because He loved us first, before the manifestation of our faith.
It must therefore be that many people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of worldly prosperity and health.
Preachers have no divine authority to declare statements or phrases from the Word of God as particular promises for their congregations.
It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the hands of these ministers avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends in the will of God.
If these preachers had such authority, why do they not claim such promises on behalf of their congregations?
Why do those who proclaim the kingdom prosperity of the Lord not use their own faith to bring down God’s blessing on everyone within their hearing?
The teaching of God’s preferential treatment in this way denies the doctrine of humility.
Indeed, many of Solomon’s proverbs commend to us righteous poverty over worldly wealth.
Christ Himself taught that the rich would find difficulty entering the kingdom of heaven because of the entanglements of their wealth.
We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say God intends His followers to increase in the wealth that entangles.
For the favor conveyed by this prosperity is merely that which relates simply to favor of man.
Scripture speaks equally of the prosperity of the righteous and the wicked.
When the latter is in view, God instructs His people to remember the final judgment which comes from His righteous throne.
No true wealth will be destroyed with the end of the age, so the false wealth of the wicked will burn up in time, but the true wealth of the righteous will endure forever.
It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who “enlarge their vision” of God’s favor can speak material prosperity into existence.
Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys the favor of God and can be spiritual wealthy without the entanglements of riches.
Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God on account of Christ’s atonement for him.
If these preachers would extol their followers to speak and think positively, let them extol the virtues of hoping in Christ.
If they would teach their followers that they will become what they believe, let them extol the humble character of Christ.
If they would teach that the glory of God is on believers, let them find that glory in Christ on the cross.
For if anyone would know their destiny in Christ, it is to take up their cross and follow Him.
Christ Himself rejected the temptation to become king without suffering on the cross.
A truly contrite and humble believer seeks and loves his Lord despite physical or worldly difficulties; whereas the very multitude of prosperity teaching dulls men’s consciences and tends to make them self-righteous.
Christians should be taught that no exercise of faith for personal success or comfort is at all comparable with the works of mercy and love.
Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he gives to these preachers who promise a greater financial return.
Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man.
Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money to these prosperity ministries, gains no spiritual benefit, but only incurs the wrath of God.
Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it on the promises of greater return.
Christians should be taught that the faith our Lord requires is exercised in humility and love.
For Christ humbled Himself, disregarding the glory of God that was His, and in becoming man, obeyed the Father unto death on the cross.
Christians should be taught that salvation is to be found in humble reliance on Christ and not on the strength of personal faith or financial success.
It is vain to rely on words spoken in faith by believers more than on the grace of Almighty God.
Christians should be taught that the Lord’s favor is first in great spiritual wealth, second in worldly wealth. The first is assured; the second is of the Lord’s discretion.
Moreover, Christians should be taught that the Lord leads us through difficulties, e.g. poverty, etc., for our purity and to develop a reliance on Him.
No claim made by even the most sincere believer will supplant the mind of God.
If that were not so, then St. Paul would not have learned contentment in want, but only in plenty, and he would have delivered himself from prison with the power of his own faith.
St. Paul would not have lost all things in order to gain Christ and be found in Him, because that would not have been God’s prosperous destiny for him, as taught by some.
Those are enemies of Christ and His church who ignore the Word of God in favor of proclaiming power in personal faith.
Those are enemies of Christ who teach proclaiming faith more than in Christ’s redeeming work.
When God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” He intended all believers to find their greatest fulfillment in His benevolence.
No true teacher of the word of God would proclaim the power of human faith over the sufficiency of Christ.
The merits of Christ are always working grace in the inner man, and working the cross, death, and hell in the outer man.
When Christ said the kingdom of heaven is for those who would become like children, He intended for all believers to live the rich life of the humble servant.
St. Laurence said that the poor were the treasures of the church, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.
We do not speak rashly in saying that the treasures of the church are the keys of the church and are bestowed by the merits of Christ.
Indeed, to teach the treasures of kingdom prosperity is to teach a modern indulgence of greed, lust, and covetousness.
The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
It is right to regard this treasure as most odious, for it makes the first to be the last.
On the other hand, the treasure of “kingdom prosperity” is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.
Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets which, in former times, they used to fish for men of wealth.
The treasures of the modern indulgences are the nets which today they use to fish for the wealth of men.
The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favors, are seen to be, in fact, a favorite means for money-getting.
Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.
Booksellers and publishers, who profess to uphold Christ in their publications, are under great obligation to watch closely and attend carefully these teachers of their own fancies instead of the gospel.
Christian publishers rightly reject any proposals from the peddlers of these modern indulgences.
These peddlers are not ministers of the gospel, but prey on the poor and ignorant with high-sounding words.
They teach that giving will protect them from the devourer, but they are devourers of their own followers.
They repeat the words of Job’s accusers as if they came from St. Peter. They say, “Agree with God,” but misstate what God affirms.
We assert the contrary, and say that the riches of Christ in the inner man is a greater wealth than anyone could gain on earth.
Again: When Scripture says, “Better is a little with righteousness,” it means that some of the righteous will live in poverty, at least for a season. This is no particular curse from God, but the original curse placed on the world by sin.
We affirm that God does bless with material wealth, but this is secondary to the profound wealth given to us in Christ.
Christians are heirs with Christ to an eternal inheritance which moth and rust cannot destroy, like the destruction coming for the riches of earth.
The riches of God’s glory are to be found in Christ, who will strengthen the inner man with his Spirit through faith.
Therefore, true kingdom prosperity is not of this world, just as our Lord said His kingdom was not of this world.
Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace.
Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.
Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.
And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.
Daniel Siedell, a Christian art critic and curator, writes, “While finishing my doctoral dissertation and teaching modern art at a state university in the mid-1990s, I read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, and I was shocked. Their conclusions about modern art bore no resemblance to the work I had devoted years of my life to understanding from within the history and development of modern art.”
[Some] so sympathize with Christ as to weep and lament for him because he was so innocent, like the women who followed Christ from Jerusalem, whom he rebuked, in that they should better weep for themselves and for their children. Such are they who run far away in the midst of the Passion season, and are greatly benefitted by the departure of Christ from Bethany and by the pains and sorrows of the Virgin Mary, but they never get farther. Hence they postpone the Passion many hours, and God only knows whether it is devised more for sleeping than for watching. And among these fanatics are those who taught what great blessings come from the holy mass, and in their simple way they think it is enough if they attend mass. To this we are led through the sayings of certain teachers, that the mass opere operati, non opere operantis, is acceptable of itself, even without our merit and worthiness, just as if that were enough. Nevertheless the mass was not instituted for the sake of its own worthiness, but to prove us, especially for the purpose of meditating upon the sufferings of Christ. For where this is not done, we make a temporal, unfruitful work out of the mass, however good it may be in itself. For what help is it to you, that God is God, if he is not God to you? What benefit is it that eating and drinking are in themselves healthful and good, if they are not healthful for you, and there is fear that we never grow better by reason of our many masses, if we fail to seek the true fruit in them?
… St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment.