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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Thirteen


By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update February 24, 2015)

The Ninety Five Theses of the Reformation

Dissatisfaction with Church dogma is nothing new of course. The Sixteenth century Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther (1483-1546), Calvin (1509-1564) and Zwingli (1484-1531) (note 14) did not intend to leave the Roman Church. They merely hoped to reform it. Likewise the historic Y'shua (Jesus) had no intention of leading his followers away from Judaism and the truth of Torah. He mere wished to reform the Rabbinic rulings. But both Y'shua and the Protestants closed and nailed shut the door to meaningful dialogue. Y'shua did this by publicly condemning the rabbis (for instance Matthew chapter 23) and the Protestants did it by literally nailing their demands to the Church's door! Neither strategy worked out as desired! Both led to separation and official condemnation.

One event triggered Martin Luther's actions, or more correctly, acted as 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. In 1517, the Universal ('catholic') Church began selling indulgences to the German Catholics. These Catholics were told that in exchange for their financial assistance in building Saint Peter's Cathedral and other monuments to Rome's glory, they would receive full pardons for all sins, past, present and future. For a little more gold, all of their loved ones residing in purgatory (note 15) would also be granted immediate access to Heaven! That was too much for Luther! He and his compatriots felt they had to speak out in opposition. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 this group of Catholic Reformers signed and posted a petition consisting of ninety-five theses to express their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Roman Church and its doctrines (note 16). They did this as members of 'the loyal opposition'.

The Ninety Five Theses of the Reformation

Despite what some believe, the Protestant Reformers were not seeking a return to biblical religion nor the teachings of Y'shua ben Yosef. They accepted all of the essential Catholic dogmas without question. They never challenged any of these anti-Torah beliefs. There is no mention of rejecting the Trinity dogma nor the deification of a human being, of returning to the biblical Sabbath nor the biblically prescribed holidays, there is nothing about seeking restoration with the Jewish people and the rabbis, whom Y'shua acknowledged 'sit in the seat of Moses' (Matthew 23:3). Rather, the theses only address technical issues about the exercise of papal authority over the people. The essential beliefs of the Protestors and the Protestant Christian religion remain basically the same as those of the Catholic hierarchy. This continues to be true of their religious descendents.

This modern translation is borrowed from Here.

1. When Jesus said "repent" he meant that believers should live a whole life repenting

2. Only God can give salvation - not a priest.

3. Inwards penitence must be accompanied with a suitable change in lifestyle.

4. Sin will always remain until we enter Heaven.

5. The pope must act according to canon law.

6. Only God can forgive -the pope can only reassure people that God will do this.

7. A sinner must be humbled in front of his priest before God can forgive him.

8. Canon law applies only to the living not to the dead.

9. However, the Holy Spirit will make exceptions to this when required to do so.

10. The priest must not threaten those dying with the penalty of purgatory.

11. The church through church penalties is producing a 'human crop of weeds'.

12. In days gone by, church penalties were imposed before release from guilt to show true repentance.

13. When you die all your debts to the church are wiped out and those debts are free from being judged.

14. When someone is dying they might have bad/incorrect thoughts against the church and they will be scared. This fear is enough penalty.

15. This fear is so bad that it is enough to cleanse the soul.

16. Purgatory = Hell. Heaven = Assurance.

17. Souls in Purgatory need to find love - the more love the less their sin.

18. A sinful soul does not have to be always sinful. It can be cleansed.

19. There is no proof that a person is free from sin.

20. Even the pope - who can offer forgiveness - cannot totally forgive sins held within.

21. An indulgence will not save a man.

22. A dead soul cannot be saved by an indulgence.

23. Only a very few sinners can be pardoned. These people would have to be perfect.

24. Therefore most people are being deceived by indulgences.

25. The pope's power over Purgatory is the same as a priest's.

26. When the pope intervenes to save an individual, he does so by the will of God.

27. It is nonsense to teach that a dead soul in Purgatory can be saved by money.

28. Money causes greed - only God can save souls.

29. Do we know if the souls in Purgatory want to be saved?

30. No-one is sure of the reality of his own penitence - no-one can be sure of receiving complete forgiveness.

31. A man who truly buys an indulgence (i.e. believes it is to be what it is) is as rare as someone who truly repents all sin i.e. very rare.

32. People who believe that indulgences will let them live in salvation will always be damned - along with those who teach it.

33. Do not believe those who say that a papal indulgence is a wonderful gift which allows salvation.

34. Indulgences only offer Man something which has been agreed to by Man.

35. We should not teach that those who aim to buy salvation do not need to be contrite.

36. A man can be free of sin if he sincerely repents - an indulgence is not needed.

37. Any Christian - dead or alive - can gain the benefit and love of Christ without an indulgence.

38. Do not despise the pope's forgiveness but his forgiveness is not the most important.

39. The most educated theologians cannot preach about indulgences and real repentance at the same time.

40. A true repenter will be sorry for his sins and happily pay for them. Indulgences trivialise this issue.

41. If a pardon is given it should be given cautiously in case people think its more important than doing good works.

42. Christians should be taught that the buying of indulgences does not compare with being forgiven by Christ.

43. A Christian who gives to the poor or lends to those in need is doing better in God's eyes than one who buys 'forgiveness'.

44. This is because of loving others, love grows and you become a better person. A person buying an indulgence does not become a better person.

45. A person who passes by a beggar but buys an indulgence will gain the anger and disappointment of God.

46. A Christian should buy what is necessary for life not waste money on an indulgence.

47. Christians should be taught that they do not need an indulgence.

48. The pope should have more desire for devout prayer than for ready money.

49. Christians should be taught not to rely on an indulgence. They should never lose their fear of God through them.

50. If a pope knew how much people were being charged for an indulgence - he would prefer to demolish St. Peter's.

51. The pope should give his own money to replace that which is taken from pardoners.

52. It is vain to rely on an indulgence to forgive your sins.

53. Those who forbid the word of God to be preached and who preach pardons as a norm are enemies of both the pope and Christ.

54. It is blasphemy that the word of God is preached less than that of indulgences.

55. The pope should enforce that the gospel - a very great matter - must be celebrated more than indulgences.

56. The treasure of the church is not sufficiently known about among the followers of Christ.

57. The treasure of the Church are temporal (of this life).

58. Relics are not the relics of Christ, although they may seem to be. They are, in fact, evil in concept.

59. St. Laurence misinterpreted this as the poor gave money to the church for relics and forgiveness.

60. Salvation can be sought for through the church as it has been granted this by Christ.

61. It is clear that the power of the church is adequate, by itself, for the forgiveness of sins.

62. The main treasure of the church should be the Gospels and the grace of God.

63. Indulgences make the most evil seem unjustly good.

64. Therefore evil seems good without penance or forgiveness.

65. The treasured items in the Gospels are the nets used by the workers.

66. Indulgences are used to net an income for the wealthy.

67. It is wrong that merchants praise indulgences.

68. They are the furthest from the grace of God and the piety and love of the cross.

69. Bishops are duty bound to sell indulgences and support them as part of their job.

70. But bishops are under a much greater obligation to prevent men preaching their own dreams.

71. People who deny the pardons of the Apostles will be cursed.

72. Blessed are they who think about being forgiven.

73. The pope is angered at those who claim that pardons are meaningless.

74. He will be even more angry with those who use indulgences to criticise holy love.

75. It is wrong to think that papal pardons have the power to absolve all sin.

76. You should feel guilt after being pardoned. A papal pardon cannot remove guilt.

77. Not even St. Peter could remove guilt.

78. Even so, St. Peter and the pope possess great gifts of grace.

79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross is of equal value with the cross of Christ.

80. Bishops who authorise such preaching will have to answer for it.

81. Pardoners make the intelligent appear disrespectful because of the pope's position.

82. Why doesn't the pope clean feet for holy love not for money?

83. Indulgences bought for the dead should be re-paid by the pope.

84. Evil men must not buy their salvation when a poor man, who is a friend of God, cannot.

85. Why are indulgences still bought from the church?

86. The pope should rebuild St. Peter's with his own money.

87. Why does the pope forgive those who serve against him?

88. What good would be done to the church if the pope was to forgive hundreds of people each day?

89. Why are indulgences only issued when the pope sees fit to issue them?

90. To suppress the above is to expose the church for what it is and to make true Christians unhappy.

91. If the pope had worked as he should (and by example) all the problems stated above would not have existed.

92. All those who say there is no problem must go. Problems must be tackled.

93. Those in the church who claim there is no problem must go.

94. Christians must follow Christ at all cost.

95. Let Christians experience problems if they must - and overcome them - rather than live a false life based on present Catholic teaching.

This document, known as the protestatio, or The Protest inadvertently placed the negative label of Protestant (Protester) on their religious descendants. The term is negative because it represents the Reform movement as being anti-Catholic rather than Pro-Reform. The result of making the Protestant movement anti-papal is clearly seen in the statements of many Protestant clergy persons. For instance: Fundamentalist Christian scholar C.I. Scofield (note 13) wrote:
There are two forms which Babylon is to have in the end-time: political Babylon (Rev. 17:8-17) and ecclesiastical Babylon (Rev. 17:1-7) ... Ecclesiastical Babylon is all apostate Christendom, in which papacy will undoubtedly be prominent; it may even very well be that this union will embrace all the religions of the world (SB. Rev. 18: 2 footnote).
Many Protestants continue to loath all things Catholic. For Protestants living after the Reformation, the Catholic Church became vilified as Babylon the Great, Mother of the Harlots even though very little theological diversity exists in the core teachings. This clearly was not the intention of the Reformers. The Protestant Fathers saw much good in the Roman Catholic Church and embraced most of its beliefs and practices. They still (incorrectly) regarded it as the Church Jesus had built. They merely wanted to purge it of certain abuses of power. The hierarchical inflexibility of the Church prevailed however and the Reformers were excommunicated.

As the United States was establishing it principles this ongoing conflict is part what inspired their determination to protect religious freedom while making sure that no sect would have the power to restrict the others nor to determine government policy.

The Papacy first ordered Luther's superior to silence him, but to no avail. The Reformers were adamant. Next, Luther was commanded to go to Augsburg, Germany for a hearing. There Cardinal Cajetan, the Papal legate, personally ordered Luther to desist and publicly withdraw his protests against the Church. Luther refused, demanding that scriptural evidence should judge matters of belief and practice. This resulted in a debate at Leipzig with Catholic apologist John Eck. During this debate, Luther was coerced into rejecting the infallibility of the Pope and Church. Because of this 'heresy', a papal bull was issued ordering the destruction of Luther's writings. Instead of obeying the order, Luther publicly burned the bull in protest. Shortly thereafter, Luther was excommunicated from the Holy Roman Catholic Church and, in 1520, he declared the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in his tract On Christian Liberty with the words: A Christian man is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all (IBC 78-81). This document is available for download from Gutenberg.org.

The Vatican had elevated Papal authority and Church tradition above the scriptures. Martin Luther was a biblical conservative, both politically and theologically, and he accepted no authority in either realm that did not arise from his understanding of the Bible alone (by which was meant the New Testament as he understood it). It is incidentally for this reason that Karaism is sometimes referred to as Jewish Protestantism. Luther and his peers, especially Calvin ("each in his own way"), stressed the importance of God's absolute transcendence, the importance of personal revelation and the subsequent faith it invoked, the preaching and ultimate authority of the Bible (even above Church Tradition and Papal authority) and the observance of rites prescribed in the New Testament only.

The Protestants also demanded a much higher standard of ethical conduct from the Church hierarchy. Again, even though all these points were already being discussed within the medieval Church, the Reformers believed them to be down played by the labyrinth of medieval theology and corrupted by the notorious abuses of the Church hierarchy and clergy of the day. In this Luther was doubtless correct.

While the Reformers sought to establish individual freedom and expression, what they created, according to Geddes MacGregor, were, "orthodoxy's too rigid and liturgies too limited to accommodate the light the Reformers sought to kindle" (DRP 507,508). Hence, the new Protestant communions, although established on the principles of individual religious liberty, quickly became as intolerant as their Roman counterparts. Indeed, as mentioned above, upon their return the Protestant exiles instigated the most brutal persecution of non-Christian British subjects experienced during the Burning Times.

Martin Luther himself was one of history's most notorious Jew haters. Consider a couple of Martin Luther's quotes:

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