Second, the remark reported by Wengert tells an ocean about contemporary Protestant cheap grace, which no longer recognizes the theology of the cross.While Luther later abandoned the rhetoric of his theology of the cross, he never rejected the substance of his view: it is the theologian of glory who flees penalties and the cross, while the true theologian hates with divine love his old and sinful self.For the believer, consequently, genuine and divine punishment good: the Pauline wasting away of the old outer nature like the cocoon from which the new life of the butterfly will someday emerge.
It would not mean, I venture, a booster shot for habitual anti-Catholicism, nor would it remotely endorse “cheap grace” as the remedy for ecclesiastical profiteering.
Hearing and understanding the Theses in their original sense, I propose, would entail a willingness to be shaped by the cross of Christ, as expressed in Luther’s opening statement: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt.
” Surprisingly, for Luther divine punishment is for our good.
It may be understood as reparative rather than retributive when endured in solidarity with Christ, whose sacrifice once and for all satisfied retributive justice at the cost not of the offender but of the offended.
Try selling that on the religious marketplace, then or now!
of the religious marketplace was exactly Luther’s point.Why indeed then would anyone wish to short-circuit the purgation of their wayward desires through Christ, in holy preparation for eternal life with God?If purgatory means the purification of the Christian, beginning in this lifetime, then the message of Luther’s 95 Theses might well be stated: In his little book on the 95 Theses, Timothy Wengert tells of a contemporary layperson who, upon reading the 95 Theses, commented that “they aren’t very Lutheran!Luther was familiar with canon law, which had distinguished the guilt of sin from the punishment of sin.Guilt ruins the relationship of Creator and creature so that God alone can (and does) restore the relationship by the grace of forgiveness through the merits of Christ obedient to death, even death on a cross.The 95 Theses primarily attack the false security that is placed in one’s own pious works, including the “childish” work of buying salvation in the form of indulgences—bribes, really.The certainty of faith that can rest in God’s grace as delivered in Christ is not yet fully accented in the Theses, although in hindsight we can detect intimations of it in the thesis about the “true treasure of the church, which is the gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Most contemporary readers of the 95 Theses live in a Protestantism that, in H.” It may equally be the case that today’s Lutherans are not very Lutheran.Indeed, this revealing remark reflects a double truth.Luther’s analysis reduced the practice of buying and selling indulgences to virtual absurdity.Since true penitents welcome the cross that God lays upon them as divinely given for their ongoing purification, indulgences are nothing but concessions to the nominal Christians—“sluggards,” Luther called them—who fear punishment but not sin. They are works of the religion business, not the business of the kingdom of God.