Pastor's Blog

The Theses

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

As we’ve already discussed, Martin Luther hadn’t planned on disrupting or causing a schism in the church. His intentions behind the nailing of the theses was to stir up a debate among the other monks regarding some issues he saw some that were destructive both to the church reputation and to the local flock. From a pastoral perspective, Martin was grieved by the perceived ability of his flock to buy forgiveness, both for past sins and sins that they may commit in the future. This was the main driver for his posting.

The theses were 95 different points to debate in and around some of the abuses of the church. It should be noted that, while many today will suggest otherwise, the wording of these theses does not indicate that Luther was seeking to condemn or even directly critique the Pope. Here we’ll consider some of the theses and their meaning. At the end of the article there will be some links to both the English and Latin versions of the theses.

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. – This would be opposed to the church’s teaching on constantly returning to repent and seeking absolution and renewing repentance to get back into the kingdom. It also points to the believer understanding of his/her sin as a part of this life. It also flows into his second thesis condemning the act and role of penance.

Thesis 32: Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers. – This clearly and directly speaks to indulgences and the heart of those that seek remission of sins by the buying of forgiveness. This is clearly opposed to the teaching of scripture, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.’ (Heb 9:9) or ‘what must I do to be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 16:30-31), ‘the kingdom of God is at hand… Repent and believe.’ (Mark 1:15) and others.

Thesis 62: The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. – This speaks again to indulgences and also the ‘treasury of merit’. The treasury of merit is a ‘savings account’ of merit built up by saints who had more good works (merit) than they needed and one could buy this merit to get out of purgatory faster. It also speaks to the power of the gospel and the purpose of life, to glorify God and for the church to spread the gospel.


Take a look at the theses below and if you’re interested (or if you’re homeschooled) you can look at them in Latin!:


Technology and Church History

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

Developments in technology often allow civilization to expand and expand rapidly. We can think of the knowledge gained from the development of lenses. Certainly, it was a benefit for vision, but the use of magnifying lenses for microscopes and telescopes allowed scientists in the 15th and 16th century to get an understanding of how the very small things (like cells) and the very large (like planets) operate. This would make advancements in cell theory, medicine and astronomy (among other areas).

In this same way the reformation would not have happened in the same way as it did, without advancements in technology. As winds of protests were picking up, a seemingly inconsequential development was occurring in Europe. In 1438, a German goldsmith, by the name of Johaness Gutenberg, began tinkering with a prototype of a printing press. Over the next few years, financial messes and varying iterations, he had a working version of his printing press. Nothing in the way that we see now (for example this version had to be hand set), but it opened the world and especially the common people to reading in a way never available. For example, it is estimated that at the invent of the printing press only about 30% of Europe was literate, afterwards literacy rates exploded.

By 1455, Gutenberg had printed the first book, a forty-two line Bible. It was the start of a great flood of printing. During this same time a hunger for theology and a drive for the people to have material in their own language was nearly insatiable. Like all things, the timing of this was providential.

With the printing press growing and expanding throughout Europe, the pump was primed for the works of a German monk in Wittenberg to go to the people. Again, it is important to note that Luther had not intended on starting any great controversy and had only meant to debate the topics of his theses with his fellow monks. However, his students grabbed the theses, which were written in Latin, translated them to the common language and then had them mass produced for the laity.

While the literacy rates were increasing, the majority were still likely illiterate. Those who were literate, acting as heralds in the towns, overcame this issue. Luther’s work was copied, sent out and read in town squares and meeting places. Through this method, the ideas of the theses spread like wild fire.

Luther and the other reformers became prodigious writers, and with the help of the printing press, their works spread throughout Europe. Not only was there a flood or work but there was a great demand for it as well. So much so, that enterprising printers would sometimes pirate Luther’s material for financial gains. It would also provide the momentum for the reformation to get off the ground.


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Doors, Debates and Reformations

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

While much has been made of Luther’s posting of his Theses, it is probably best understood as a simple posting of topics of debate for clergy members. The door at the Castle church would have been akin to a community bulletin board in a library, post office, or town hall. This would have been a place that those passing by, visitors and colleagues would have been able to seen a notice quickly and efficiently. The act itself was common place in medieval Europe.

There is some discrepancy among historians as to whether Luther actually nailed, or pasted, the theses to the door on Oct. 31st or not. There is evidence of him mailing a letter to local bishops with his complaints and the theses on that day. However, the first mention of him nailing the theses on the door that day came from his friend and torchbearer, Phillip Melanchthon, who was not there as an eye witness. That being said tradition and many still consider the 31st the day of the posting.

Luther likely picked October 31th as the day likely because it was the day before All Saint’s Day (the day after Halloween).  During this time there would have likely been significant foot traffic through the town for All Hallow’s Eve and for the celebration of All Saint’s Day. This would have maximized, specifically those in the church, the reading of the theses.

It is also important to know that this was likely not a sort of showdown in the streets, Luther vs. the Church. The nailing of items on church doors was a common practice for churchmen to post items of discussion and debate amongst fellow churchmen. We might liken it to a posting with questions on Facebook amongst friends. Furthermore, Luther originally posted these in Latin. This was not the common tongue of the people, but of the learned and those of the church.

The controversy would have largely intensified due to his students acting without his consent. Upon reading his theses, they took it down and translated it to German and had it copied on new technology, the printing press. This allowed common people to read this and to discuss this amongst themselves and for it to be spread throughout the region. If we continued our analogy with Facebook, it would be akin to a friend who received your private post, then posting it publicly for all to see.

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Indulgences & Purgatory

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

As Tetzel was roaming the villages and town so Germany, Luther was becoming more frustrated with the actions. The issue was as much a theological problem as it was a pastoral problem. For example, as Luther was working with his congregation on turning from sin, they were being told that one could pay for the remission of sin and thus continue on sinning as long as the price was right. The selling of these indulgences would become one of the major driving points for Luther and the catalyst for his Theses.

But what exactly is an indulgence. To answer that one must understand the concept of Purgatory that was pervasive in the Catholic Church then (and now). Purgatory, which is derived from the Latin purgare, is the place where believers go after death to be purged of their sins. We should note, this is not Hell, but a holding zone for those believers to be wholly cleansed before glory. This of course would fly in the face of scripture and passages like the thief on the cross; ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’.  Nonetheless, this teaching was at least helpful in scaring people into obedience with the law.

The time spent in purgatory was based on the amount of sin you had to have purged. We should also note that these would be sins that do not fall in the confines of mortal sin, which could, even if one was a baptized believer following the sacraments of the church, send you to hell if you died without confessing them. These would be your everyday sins that would need to be purged. Your time in Purgatory could range anywhere from a few days or weeks to millennia. It depended on the level of merit you had.

That’s where indulgences come in. Some people have more merit then they need to go to heaven and skip purgatory. For example, Jesus had a wealth of merit in his ‘account’. His mother Mary, who would later be dogmatized as immaculately conceived (we’ll discuss this later), also had significant merit. The saints, too, had a large merit ‘account’. All this merit is stored in the ‘Treasury of Merit’ and the pope had the keys (think Matthew 16 &18) and could dole this out as he saw fit. Think of the Treasury as a bank and the pope at the time as the bank manager lending out savings to the people of the church. This could be used for you or for a loved one to get out of purgatory earlier.

In order, to access this merit indulgences were procured. Depending on the amount of sin and the amount of procuring one did, significant time could be removed from one’s time in purgatory. There are other actions that can reduce one’s time in purgatory, like travelling to see a relic, or visiting the Vatican, but at the time indulgences were the thing to do. Now, it should be noted that indulgences weren’t technically for sale. But with enterprising Popes, Bishops and Friars, all bets are off.

Albrecht first gained permission from Leo to sell them, which he received with the caveat that most of the proceeds went to Rome. In order to maximize the yield he solicited Tetzel a friar who was accompanied by a representative from the bank that Albrecht had borrowed money from to gain the bishoprics. The famous line, ‘When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs” originated from Tetzel’s parading through town.

To make it fair Albrecht set up a pay scale for different classes of people. Royalty had to pay the most for their indulgences and down the line. An English translation of his edict can be seen below. Even kinder was that you didn’t have to be a believer to buy an indulgence for someone else.

Perhaps one of the most ironic and problematic examples of this abuse this tradition happened to Tetzel. A Saxon nobleman, apparently frustrated by the contortion of the truth, approached Tetzel and asked if he could purchase as indulgence for a future sin he planned on committing. Tetzel affirmed that he could and gave him a letter of indulgence. Shortly after the fact, Tetzel left the town and was met in the forest by the nobleman and a few of his friends, who smacked him around and relieved him of his money. Tetzel was furious about this event, but had no true recourse since it was he who gave him an indulgence, and more or less permission, for the act. You can imagine how, as a pastor and a theologian, Martin was frustrated with the effect that this practice had on his flock.


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Money, Friars, Bishops, Popes, & Apostles

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

Before we understand indulgences, purgatory and a monk by the name of Tetzel, it is important to gather the backstory. Pope Leo X became pope in 1513 and to celebrate his papacy he threw quite an inauguration. It is estimated the total cost was 100,000 ducats. While the conversion is a bit hard to determine, this equated to about 1/7th of the whole treasury of the Vatican. He also enjoyed celebrations  and feasts. However, to live such a festive lifestyle required significant funds.

In order to raise these funds Pope Leo got creative. He found that the selling of indulgences (which will be covered next week) and church positions, called Simony after Simon the Magician in Acts, could really bring in a significant amount of money. It is estimated, that in 1517 alone this practice netted ‘the church’ 500,000 ducats. Aside from selling such items Leo was willing to bend the rules of the church to help increase revenue.

This worked wonderfully for Albrecht of Mainz. Albrecht or Albert was the brother of the Elector of Brandenburg. An elector was a local ruler and had the ability to elect the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and he and Albert were had lofty goals. Within a few years three Bishoprics opened in the region, Magdeburg, Halberstadt and Mainz, and the brothers saw this as a golden opportunity.

However, there were some issues. Church rules stated that a person could only have one Bishopric at a time. Furthermore, Albert at 23 or 24 was much too young, according to church rules to become a bishop, let alone an archbishop.

Luckily for them, the Pope was interested in ‘helping’. All they needed to do was settle on a price. According to R.C. Sproul, the Pope wanted 12,000, one for each of the apostles for the bishopric in Mainz. Albert offered 7,000, one for each deadly sin. However, they compromised on 10,000, one for each commandment.  After reaching an agreement Albert and his brother only needed to raise the funds.

While rich in land, Albert didn’t have cash on hand and had to borrow the amount from a German banking house. In order to speed things up he got permission, from Pope Leo, to sell indulgences to the people on a condition. Half of the money raised would go to the Vatican. Among other things, these proceeds would go to the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, the first ‘Pope’ of the church.

In order to raise the money Albert hired a Dominican Friar, Johann Tetzel to spread the word. Tetzel did more than that. Accompanied by a representative of the banking house, who held the moneybox, Tetzel walked through the streets of towns and villages proclaiming, ‘When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory rings!’ People flocked to pay.

Kindly, Albert had set a prorated amount based on your position. So whether you were a King or a peasant, you knew how much it would cost. Even kinder, if you wanted to free a dead loved one you could pay, even if you weren’t a believer.

None of this sat well with Luther, who was infuriated. So much so, he wrote a series of arguments, 95, to be debated with his fellow monks on the issues he saw with the church. But, that is for another time.


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Thunderstorms and Theological Training

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

As the story goes, and there is debate as to whether or not it actually happened, as Martin was walking a major thunderstorm arose. Lightning struck near and thunder clapped all around him. To escape the torrent Martin sought refuge under a tree. It should be noted that even before this, Martin Luther had a greater than average fear of death, God’s judgement, and Hell, though he would say his conversion would come much later. While under the tree he called out to St. Anne. St. Anne was the Catholic Church’s patron saint to miners. Due to his upbringing, it is likely that St. Anne would have been the most common saint, and the most oft prayed to saint, in the Luther household.

Martin, in his terror, made St. Anne – and by proxy God -a pledge. If she would save him, he would become a monk. Historians have debated whether or not this was already Martin’s plan or if the storm brought out this pledge, but none the less he would soon leave his path to lawyer and leave on July 16th, much to the chagrin of his father, to an Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt.

Martin entered the monastery in Erfurt in 1505 and took vows a year later. In 1507, Martin was ordained and entered into the University of Erfurt and studied theology. Five years later he earned his Doctorate in Theology. During his time there he was turned on to the Humanists and their motto, “Ad Fontes” or ‘back to the beginning’. Along with this motto can an earnestness to study the bible in the original languages (this will come integrally important to his salvation and theology years later).

Even with his studying Martin did not find the solace and assurance he had hoped for. That lack of assurance would lead Martin to the confessional with an intentness abnormal to his fellow monks, even to the frustration of the Father of the monastery. Perhaps as a way of boosting his faith, and perhaps cynically, to get Martin out of the hair of the Father, he was sent as a delegate to Rome. This pilgrimage of sorts, if anything, did the opposite. Instead of a shining beacon of holiness, he saw a city full of hypocrisy and corruption.

Upon returning to Germany, Martin became a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. Shortly thereafter, he would become the priest at the Castle Church of Wittenberg, the same church which would receive a nail and a number of debate topics a few years later. This background and growing corruption in the church would lead to the historical events of 1517. However, before we address that event, it will be important to discuss the concept of purgatory, indulgences and Tetzel, but that will be for next time.


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A Puritan’s Catechism: Question 1

Posted under: Uncategorized — by curt.fifer

Q.1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.


  1.  As we begin our study and use of this catechism, we should remind ourselves of the words of Charles Spurgeon, who originally complied this catechism from other catechisms: “I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labor to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass. May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore…”
  2. So we embark on our study of this catechism for our own edification and for the benefit of those who are under our care.
  3. We will usually go through one catechism question and answer per week.
  4. I will provide a brief teaching on each point and you have the opportunity to commit these truths to memory through the course of the week and perhaps teach them further to your children.
  5. Let’s get started!

I.  What does the word “end” mean?

A.  In this sense it means aim, purpose, ambition, or even design.

B.  What is it that your life should be pointing toward?  What is your overarching reason for existing?  When you get up each morning, why           do you exist? What are you on this earth to do?

C.  Do you think it is important to consider our “end”? Why?
1.  Because it is very powerful if rightly understood.
2. Because there is an answer to the question that is true.
3.  It is that which can coalesce all of our efforts, energy, and enthusiasm.

II.  What is implied by the word “chief”?

A.  That there is a dominant “end” or purpose in our lives, but that there are other ends, as well.

B.  One question is what might some of these other “ends” be? That is, the secondary, subordination, or even competing ends?

  • Perhaps it is one’s career
  • Animals
  • Family
  • Athletics
  • Entertainment
  • Art
  • Wealth
  • Hobbies

C.  We may have a number of interests and ambitions, but there is one “chief” ambition that must supersede every other.    In fact, we                     should make sure that all other pursuits, in some way, work towards our “chief end”.

III.  Chief end #1:   “glorify God”

A.  What is “divine glory”?
1.  “divine glory is the revelation of the divine perfections in the works of Creation, Providence, and Redemption.”[1]
a.  Consider Romans 1:18-20 and Psalm 19:1-3.
b.  “God’s glory stands originally in His possession of all being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth; and He is
glorified in the manifestation of himself to all receptive and responsive creatures.”[2]
                  c.  Calvin declared, “The glory of God is when we know what He is.”

2.  The Scripture calls us to glorify God. (Psalm 86; Isa 60:21; 1 Cor 6:20; 10:31; Col 3:1-4,16-17; Rev 4:11)

3.  Jesus describes what it means to glorify God in His prayer to the Father (John 17:4).
a.  What does it mean to glorify God?
1)  It means finishing the work He was given to do!
2)  So for us, What is our life’s work given from God?
b.  What is our daily work given from God?  These lead us to the fulfillment of this chief end!

IV.  Chief end #2: “and to enjoy him for ever” 

A.  Consider what Scripture teaches about the joy of the believer! (Psalm 16:11; 43:4; Matt 25:21,23; 1 Tim 6:17; Phil 4:4)

B.  “for ever” means never to end, eternal, everlasting.
1.  Our enjoyment of God will never come to an end.
2.  In fact, it will only grow more intense, especially as we enter into His presence. (Rev 21:3-4)


  1. We have an overarching purpose in life! One that should rule all others.  One that everything else should aim toward.
  2. It is a purpose that yields rich joy in the moment and everlasting joy in eternity!
  3. There is a very tight connection between glorifying the Lord, and our rich abiding joy!






[1] Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, Christian Focus Publications (Great Britain: 2004), 14.

[2] Ibid., 14.


Catechism Training

Posted under: Doctrine,Holiness,The Gospel — by curt.fifer

We are currently studying A Puritan’s Catechism, compiled by Charles Spurgeon from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and others.  It is a Baptist Catechism that is streamlined, but still very helpful for concisely expressing essential doctrinal truths.  I will provide the outlines from our sessions as posts on this blog.


Copper Miner’s Son: Martin Luther

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

About 70 years after the death of Hus at the stake, Hans and Margarette Luther had a son, Martin. Martin Luther, or Luder, was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. His family, historically, had been peasant farmers. However, Hans had success as a miner, ore smelter and mine owner. This success allowed the Luthers to move to the town of Mansfeld, where Hans owned rights to a copper mine a year later.

Further success allowed the Luther’s to enroll Martin into school. First Luther went to a Latin school in Mansfeld at age 7 and then, at age 14, he enrolled into a German ‘Brother’s’ school in Magdeburg. The discipline at the school was tough by any standard and Martin would later liken it to Purgatory and Hell. In both schools, Martin appeared to do well and by 1501 headed to Erfurt to university.

Hans, had wanted a better, and easier, life for Martin, and due to mining success was able to send him to train as a lawyer. Martin earned his Baccalaureate in 1502 (not quite equivalent to today’s B.A.). There he had, what we would now consider, a classical education. In preparation for law, Martin studied: Grammar, Rhetoric, Mathematics, Astronomy and other topics. He received his Master’s by 1505 and was preparing to study law as his specific field of training until a stormy summer day changed his direction.

As the story goes, and there is debate as to whether or not it actually happened, as Martin was walking a major thunderstorm arose. Lightning struck near and thunder clapped all around Him. To escape the torrent Martin sought refuge under a tree. It should be noted that even before this, Martin Luther had a greater than average fear of death, God’s judgement, and Hell, though he would say his conversion would come much later. While under the tree he called out to St. Anne. St. Anne was the Catholic Church’s patron saint to miners. Due to his upbringing, it is likely that St. Anne would have been the most common saint and the most oft prayed to saint in the Luther household.

Martin, in his terror, made St. Anne – and by proxy God -a pledge. If she would save him, he would become a monk. Historians have debated whether or not this was already Martin’s plan or if the storm brought out this pledge, but none the less he would soon leave his path to lawyer and leave on July 16th, much to the chagrin of his father, to an Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt.


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Jan Hus: The Goose before the Swan

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

John Huss or Jan Hus was born in or around 1369 in southern Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in a town named Husinec. As best that can be understood he took or had the last name of the town, just shortened to Hus. Actually, Hus translates to ‘Goose’ in Czech and will be relevant later. In order to avoid poverty Jan went into the ministry. He became a student in 1393, about ten years after the death of Wycliffe and about the same time as Anne’s death. As Anne’s court was returning to Bohemia many of Wycliffe’s teaching was coming with them. This on top of the work of the Cyril and Methodius in the same region made the late 14th and early 15th century in Bohemia ripe for reformation.

During his formative years in college, Hus was able to read much of Wycliffe’s work and was impactful. While he did not subscribe to all of Wycliffe’s work, such as no transubstantiation, there was much commonality. By 1402, Hus would become the Priest of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, one of the largest churches in Europe, as well as the director of two colleges in connection with the Chapel. Unlike many churches of the time, across Europe, the preaching was done in the native language and not in Latin. Hus would continue to preach reform and, largely orthodox teachings from the pulpit, even when it ran against that of the Catholic Church.

A year after his appointment to Bethlehem Chapel, forty-five of the Wycliffe’s articles was condemned by the Germanic faculty at the university. Within a few years the Archbishop of Prague would call for an all-out condemnation of these articles by all those in Bohemia, both Germanic and Czech. However, Hus had been and continued to preach and advocate for these articles. With the help of both patriotic clergy and citizens and Good King Wenceslas (of the carol fame), the Czech reformers forced out the Germanic faculty and the held the Archbishop at bay for the time.

However, the archbishop appealed to the pope in Rome, who, in 1409, officially condemned Wycliffe’s teachings and by proxy Hus’s. While papal confusion and turmoil would buy Hus some time, he too would be excommunicated in 1411. While, this initially backfired and caused the archbishop to flee Prague, the larger church structure that was Rome could not be controlled as well. Both a desire on the part of the government to share in parts of the indulgences, which Hus was against, and the papal bull that prevented any in Prague from taking communion until Hus was gone, forced Hus to leave Prague and go into semi-exile.

Hus, however, continued to write and advocate for reform, which still had influence and sway in Prague. His continued influence in the area caused the Catholic church to convene the Council of Constance in 1414. The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, encouraged Hus to come, granting him safe travel. However, what ensued was more a kangaroo court than actual hearing. Hus was not provided with an opportunity to defend himself and in July of 1415 was found guilty of heresy. There was little Hus could do and to add to this condemnation, all offers of safe travel were rescinded on the basis that any promises previously did not have to be honored to heretics. Hus was then sentenced to burn at the stake and prior to this was allowed to recant. Instead of recanting Hus offered a short prayer reminiscent to one of Christ’s last sayings; “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray to the to have mercy on my enemies.” Accounts from his execution  suggest that he died reciting the Psalms.

While death at the stake was cruel enough, those responsible for burning him then collected the ashes from the fire and dumped them into the lake. These actions only infuriated the Bohemian Czechs increasing the zeal for reformation.  A number of groups would eventually come out of this region and would stand for reform, including the Moravians.

Tradition says that before being lead to the funeral pyre Hus said, “They will roast a goose now, but after a one hundred years they will hear a san sing, and him they will endure.” (Keep in mind that Hus means goose.) Whether this was actually said or if this was the exact words or not is hard to say. However, this specific quote is one that Martin Luther, who came approximately 100 years after Hus used in his own writings. Upon reading Jan Hus’s work Luther was perplexed as to why such a great many was killed. Luther would go on to say that he, his mentor Johann von Staupitz, Augustine and even Paul were all Hussites (those that followed the teaching of Jan Hus).



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