2. A Question of Authority

2. A Question of Authority

Whose authority matters?

The reformation of 1517 started in Wittenberg Germany when a college theology lecturer and priest posted a list of 95 points of debate (the 95 theses).  The introduction reads,

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Source: Luther’s 95 Theses

Posting the 95 theses was when the reformation went public.  Reading through the 95 theses, it is quickly observed that those points of discussion challenged the authority of the Pope (Leo X) of the Christian Church in Rome.  Scanning through all 95, it is also possible to get a glimpse of what Marin Luther considered a higher authority.

Posting the 95 Theses

So, look at the original document (in translation) for yourself and come back for more on the question of authority.


Now Consider This:
  • How many references to verses from the Bible can you count amongst the 95 points of debate?

It was the Bible that Martin Luther (and other reformers before and after him) took as a higher authority than any church leader or political leader of their time.

First Consequences of Elevating Biblical Authority

Martin Luther was asked to retract his 95 points of debate by those in authority over him.

  • By university administrators soon after they were posted.  Answer: No retraction of the 95 Theses.
  • By Pope Leo X, leader of his church, in 1520.  Answer: No retraction of the 95 Theses.
  • By Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, ruler of his nation, in 1521.  Answer: No retraction of the 95 Theses.

In 1521, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo X and condemned as an outlaw by Emperor Charles V.

Like other reformers before him, Martin Luther was so convinced of the ultimate authority of the Bible he was willing to die for taking that position.  More on this in future posts.

One Comment

  1. Pastor Tim

    So in light of Romans 13:1, where Paul writes that “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in position of authority have been placed there by God”, seems to be at odds with Luther’s refusal to retract his theses even after he was asked to by the governing authorities. Furthermore, one could not say that Luther was unaware of this verse. For it was through his study of the book of Romans that Luther came to the understanding that Salvation by Faith and Faith alone as well as his bases for the 95 theses themselves.
    So what are we to say about this apparent counter-diction in Luther’s conviction about God’s Authority in Scripture?
    I believe that history answers that question. Look what happens to Luther as a result of his refusal to recant. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo X and condemned as an outlaw by Emperor Charles V. He was hunted as a criminal. Good or bad, right or wrong, there will be a cost for defying authority.
    I am not saying what Luther did was wrong, I believe he was acting by divine direction. In fact, God was using Luther to reform the Roman Catholic Church, which was Luther’s intent as well. However, there is a cost to following God’s call in your life. This was true for the prophets in the Old Testament as well. They became outcasts in their day when the people and authorities did not like the message they brought from God. Many of them were even killed, in fact, it was the authorities that even killed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    With all this being said, even doing the right thing, like what Martin Luther did, may cost you. Are you willing to pay the cost, even and up to your own life, to answer God’s call?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *