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What’s the Big Deal about the Reformation?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 24, 2022 12:01 am

What’s the Big Deal about the Reformation?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 24, 2022 12:01 am

In the 16th century, some people thought they could buy their way into heaven. But not Martin Luther. Today, Stephen Nichols examines the indulgence controversy that drove Luther to write his 95 Theses.

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In the 16th century, this little rhyme became popular. Every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs. And you would drop your gilder in the chest, and Tetzel would pull an indulgence off the pile, and he would stamp it, and he would hand it to you. And you could get yourself out of purgatory. With that indulgence, all of your sins, past, present, and future, would be paid for. Johann Tetzel, a 16th century Dominican friar and a noted indulgence peddler in Germany. As Little Tune danced its way across the German countryside, it moved from village to village, finally finding its way to the ear of a young Martin Luther. Hello and welcome to this edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. October 31 marks the day that Luther nailed his protest of those indulgences to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. It sparked one of the most important events in history.

Our teacher today is Dr. Stephen Nichols. The Reformation motto was post tenebras, looks, out of the darkness, light. What we need to remember for a moment is the darkness. In fact, I've been given the title for this talk as what's the big deal about the Reformation? And the big deal has everything to do with the darkness, the darkness that had descended upon the church, the darkness that reigned even in culture.

Perhaps to put a little texture on this moment in history of darkness, let's take a visit to a little town of Halle in Germany. We're standing in the marketplace, in the shadow of the steeple and the cathedral tower of St. Mary's Church. And we hear the cathedral bells chime.

It's time to enter the sanctuary for the mass. Now, this Sunday in October of 1517 was not a normal Sunday. We were told that there would be a homily this Sunday in this cathedral in October of 1517. That's unusual, you see, because usually homilies were only given at Advent and at Lent.

And as far as the parishioners could tell, there was no special feast day on this Sunday. But sure enough, they walked into that cathedral and they heard a homily. It was a sermon that had been prepared and sent ahead to the minister of that church.

It was written by a monk named Tetzel. And Tetzel worked for the archbishop of that region, and his name was Albert. Albert already had an archbishopric.

He wanted a second. The normal fee for an archbishopric was 24,000 ducats. I don't know exactly how much money that is, but that was a lot of money. And it was also against canon law to have two bishoprics. So to get an exemption and to be able to have a second bishopric, the pope Leo X and this archbishop Albert of Mainz struck a deal. For an extra 10,000 ducats, he could have the bishopric.

If 24,000 ducats was a lot of money, 34,000 ducats was really a lot of money. And enters Tetzel into the story, the enterprising monk. And he had the advantage of the pope handing over what was at the time called the Peter's Indulgence, named ostensibly for the apostle Peter. But it was really named that because it would be used to finance the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. And so Tetzel, the marketer that he was, crafted homilies and sent them ahead for parish priests to preach.

And so here we are, Sunday morning, in St. Mary in Kirk in Halle. And it's quite a dramatic sermon. The priest was told to use drama, to tell of the suffering. Can you bend your ear to the ground and you will hear your dead relatives crying out in pain and purgatory? How shameful that you sit there hoarding your guilders, your German coins, when all you need to do is give over a few of them and your relatives will be freed from their suffering in purgatory.

Our father, Leo X, has made it possible for your relatives to be freed. People cried out. People fainted. They were ready to turn over their entire checkbook to make it happen. Well, on Monday, Tetzel's carriage would roll into the marketplace. You couldn't miss it. It was preceded by the blowing of trumpets and fanfare.

An entire detachment of the emperor's guards surrounded the carriage. Banners unfurled. A table was laid out. On one end was a chest. And on the other end, a pile of indulgences. And in the middle sat Tetzel.

And he had a jingle every time a coin in the coffer rings. And in German, the word was klinkt. A soul from purgatory springs.

Sprinkt in the German. And you would drop your guilder in the chest and Tetzel would pull an indulgence off the pile and he would stamp it and he would hand it to you. And you could get your relatives out of purgatory.

And what's better? You could get yourself out of purgatory. With that indulgence, all of your sins, past, present, and future, would be paid for.

That little slip of paper that you would preciously fold up and set inside your pocket would be your assurance of salvation. And my mind wanders to a particular member of that congregation. A particularly astute member. A member who from time to time would latch onto a few words that were said on the rare occasions that the church would recite the Nicene Creed.

That member would hear these words, propter nos et propter nostrum salutum. For us and for our salvation. For us and for our salvation. Why did the priest never preach on that?

Why was that never explained to us? This one who came for us and this one who offers us salvation. Instead, we listen to this clod selling indulgences. In my mind, I have this person asking almost out loud, is there anyone, is there anyone who will come and help us? Who will explain these words, propter nos et propter nostrum salutum. Well, at the end of this month, on October 31st, 1517, there was an Augustinian monk who came to the aid of those people in Halle. Those people who were caught in the snare of Tetzel's false gospel. When he posted his 95 theses on the church door, he also sent a copy in the mail to Albert of Mainz. And when he sent the copy of the 95 theses, he included a letter. And in the letter, he said this, these poor souls, even these souls in Halle, these poor souls believe that if they were to purchase these letters of indulgence, they would then be assured of their salvation.

Likewise, that souls immediately leap from purgatory when they've thrown a coin into the chest. Oh, great God, Luther exclaims. In this way, excellent Father, addressing Albert, souls committed to your care are being directed to death. A most severe reckoning has fallen on you.

Above all others is indeed growing. For this reason, I could no longer keep silent about these things. Human being does not attain security about salvation through indulgence preachers. Christ nowhere commanded indulgences to be preached, but he strongly commanded the gospel to be preached. Therefore, what a horror, what a danger to a bishop, if while the gospel is being silenced, he only permits the clamoring of indulgences among his people, and is more concerned with the sales of his indulgences than he is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you know what Luther actually writes at the bottom of this letter?

He says, but what can I do? Luther did it. By the grace of God and the mercy of God, Luther did exactly what he needed to do. The answer was right there in those 95 theses. Don't have time to read all 95 to you.

I'll just mention two. Number 56, the true treasures of the church are not sufficiently preached or known among the people of God. What an indictment that Luther lays at the feet of his church, that these people who were living in darkness, and the church was to be the light of salvation. And yet the true treasure of the gospel was not even talked about, and little known among the people.

Oh, how they longed to have someone come and tell them about this God-man, who for us and for our salvation, came and lived a sinless life, and kept the law and atoned for our sin and satisfied God's wrath. How they longed to hear that message from the pulpits of the church across Europe, and the pulpits were silent to the message of the true gospel. And number 62, Luther simply says, the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. And that's what Luther could do. And that's what Luther did. Into the darkness, Luther preached the light of the gospel, the gospel of the grace, and the gospel of the glory of God. We need to return to Halle.

We've left a few things unresolved there, so let's go back. For some reason, Albert of Mainz liked Halle, and it was one of his bishop's seats, but he liked being there. But the people did not like him. And they heard what was happening over in Saxon, Germany, over in Luther's region. And they heard about the freedom and the truth and the beauty of the gospel. And they complained against the preaching that they were hearing. It took some years, but finally by 1541, Albert simply vacated the pulpit. At this time, it was known as the market church of our dear lady in Halle.

Its towering twin steeples are still there to this day, casting their shadow over the market square. Well, we need to back the story up to 1519. There was a young scholar, very much like Martin Luther. He had been trained at the University of Erfurt and at Wittenberg and had taught it both back and forth, just like Luther in the 1510s.

In 1519, he was at Erfurt, and he was detached as an official delegation from Erfurt to be president at the Leipzig Disputation. This was the debate that Luther wanted, the debate with Eck, the debate in which Eck forced Luther into the corner to declare sola scriptura. How do you proclaim these things, Luther, these things that are contrary to our church?

By what authority do you stand on? And Luther would say, my authority is the word of God, and we cannot declare any doctrine that is not found within its pages. Eck is responsible for sola scriptura. He helped Luther articulate it in 1519, and Luther was so compelling and so persuasive that Justus Jonas, this scholar from Erfurt, was immediately convicted and immediately with Luther. He resigned his post at Erfurt and went to Wittenberg and was by Luther's side. And when Luther published his first hymnal, not really a hymnal, a song book, it had eight hymns in it, was it? You had more hymns in your first hymnal, Dr. Sproul.

It had eight. And four of them were by Martin Luther, and two of them were by Justus Jonas. You can see why Luther liked this guy. And when Luther heard that the pulpit at Halle was vacated, this made his day. This is a beachhead in the region that was dominated by Tetzel and by Albert. This is the region that started it all. And so immediately Luther dispatches Justus Jonas to this place where Tetzel used to reign. And in 1541, Jonas stepped into the pulpit at Halle and preached the Gospel, the Gospel of this God-man who came, Propter-nos et Propter-nostrum saluda. What's the big deal about the Reformation?

I can't believe at Ligonier we're even asking that question. The big deal is this. There is only one thing that can chase away the darkness, and it's the light of the Gospel. And it was needed in the 16th century because no doubt darkness reigned in the 16th century.

It's as if the truth were right there, present but hidden. And God was pleased to use the Reformers, even a monk like Martin Luther, to bring the light of the Gospel into the darkness of the 16th century. And may we simply have a prayer before God that if He did it before, may He do it again, for there are many in darkness.

There are many in our own day in darkness. A new darkness has descended, it seems like, and it will only be chased away by the light of the Gospel. That's Dr. Stephen Nichols explaining why the Reformation was a big deal, and it still is. Over the next few days here at Renewing Your Mind, we are pleased to air highlights of Ligonier Ministries Reformation 500 celebration.

Dr. R.C. Sproul and our teaching fellows gathered to explain not only the historical significance of the Reformation, but why it does still matter. And in just a moment, we will hear a Q&A session from that conference with Dr. Sproul and Dr. Nichols. But first I'd like to give you an opportunity to request a couple of resources that we're offering today. When you give a donation of any amount, we will send you R.C. 's detailed introduction to Luther and the Reformation. It traces the major events of Luther's life and explores the Gospel recovered by Luther and the other Protestant Reformers. You'll receive both the 10-part teaching series and the book for your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries today.

You can make your request online at, where if you prefer, you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. Well, before we go, here's a portion of that Q&A session that I mentioned. Our president and CEO Chris Larson moderated it, and you'll hear from R.C.

along with Dr. Nichols and Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. In your assessment, what one personal quality or characteristic made Luther such an effective instrument in God's hands to reform the church? He was a beggar who found where he could get bread and told everybody who would listen to him, how can a guy stand against the whole world like he did? And the only way to understand that is you have to get back into his personal struggle with his lack of assurance of salvation, with his violent search for justification in the presence of a holy God, and visit with him in his utter despair. See, Luther understood who Luther was, and that's our problem.

We don't understand who God is, and we don't understand who we are. It's like Isaiah in chapter 6. When he saw the Lord, I lifted up.

He's all of a sudden said, whoa, wait a minute. Woe is me. I've got a dirty mouth, and I'm not alone.

I live with a whole people of unclean lips. So that was an awakening in his sin. You didn't have to teach Luther that he was a sinner. He was a brilliant student of jurisprudence of the law. He read the law of God. He examined himself in light of the law of God, and he was helpless to save himself. And when he tasted the gospel, his soul was set on fire, and he said, I'm not going to give this up for anybody in the whole world.

I have tasted the fruit of the gospel, and if all of the devils in hell oppose me, I will say to them, here I stand. He was passionate, and he was passionate about the gospel. He was passionate about people. He was passionate about life.

He was passionate about enjoying life. You know, the question I want you to ask is, who would you like to go out and have lunch with, Calvin or Luther? And I really do want to go and have lunch with Calvin, because I studied Calvin at some level, and I owe him, and when I see him in heaven, I'm going to have to say, you know, you occupied ten years of my life. And I really have a bunch of questions, but I really want to have lunch with Luther, because I think that would be way more fun.

And a lot less healthy. Others of you, what do you appreciate about Luther? I think it's his courage and his boldness. We were talking about this just before we came out here, with Luther and his debate with Erasmus. To be a real Christian, you make assertions, and Luther recognized that Christianity is about assertions, and those assertions need to be made. His boldness did not spring from his own intellect or from his own abilities.

It sprung from the idea that he was standing on what God had declared. But there was a boldness and a courage to Luther, and God used it. It doesn't take any courage to do what you're not afraid to do. So the one necessary ingredient for courage is fear. And in one sense, Luther was a terrified man, and that's why I love his courage like you do, that in spite of his fears, you know, his rage we can't endure, for lo, his doom is sure, you know. Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. But he did tremble. He was scared to death of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But he held on to the gospel and found his courage there. So good to hear R.C. 's voice there, isn't it? It's fitting that he was able to reflect on a man he so admired, Martin Luther. Well, this is just the beginning of our focus this week on the Reformation, and we hope you'll join us again tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-13 16:21:17 / 2022-11-13 16:29:59 / 9

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