With the approach of Reformation Sunday, celebrated by Lutherans and some other Protestants this weekend, I have been thinking again about Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which he nailed to the doors of the Wittenberg castle church on October 31, 1517. Back in 2007, I wrote a brief post for Luther Seminary’s blog on the theses and their relationship with finances. I think the ideas are still relevant today, so I’ve updated them below for today’s readers.
Does anyone quote Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses today? The answer is, surprisingly, “yes.” The real shock is discovering who is doing the quoting. Economists!
Christian economists and investors like Gary Moore note that the Reformation zeroed in on the relationship between faith and money. While today’s pastors are right to focus on theological concepts like justification by faith and the theology of the cross, those Lutheran ideas first appeared in Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. The Ninety-Five Theses, by contrast, were mostly about the sale of indulgences, a theologically challenged fundraising technique of the medieval church.
Christians living in the shadow of Wall Street are interested in the relationship between the core of evangelical thought and the financial world. And they may find that the actual content of Luther’s debating points is fascinating. Read all 95 here.
The sale of indulgences represented a pastoral problem that touched the lives of Luther’s congregation because it addressed the core of Christian mission (“the treasure of the church”) and how it applied to both personal and church finances. And when you discuss money, as Luther would soon discover, you get everyone’s attention.
As in Luther’s day, there is a wide disconnect today between the church’s commitments and its financial activities. To live “under the gospel” must mean to teach Christians -- and the church as a whole -- how to live with money.
From practicing private stewardship to using institutional endowments, from creating household budgets to building investment portfolios, from navigating pensions to insurance policies, Christians must be taught to relate discipleship to money evangelically.
If the gospel cannot be applied to the practical, everyday world of finance -- at home, church, and work -- it is powerless in today’s world to call us to follow Jesus Christ.
Treasures of the Ninety-Five Theses:
- “Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences” (Thesis 43).
- “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62).
- “Therefore the treasure of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for people of wealth” (Thesis 65).
- “The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of people” (Thesis 66).
Read the original versions of this post here and here.