The 96 Theses – About Us

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following topics will be the subject of a public discussion at:
reformation20.org, under the presidency of Christ alone. We request that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.

  1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. Not just Sundays.
  2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by an institution, but by Christ alone.
  3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs, not just “in spirit” but also “in truth”.
  4. As long as hatred of sin abides (i.e. true inward repentance) then we need not be self-deprecating “worms”, rather we should expect unapologetic boldness in the company of believers.
  5. The clergy have neither the will nor the power to remit or assign any penalty or power beyond those imposed either at its own discretion or for practical administrative purposes. Christ alone directs the Spirit and power.
  6. Clergy titles alone cannot bestow gifts, but only declare and confirm what has been given by God; or, at most, can bestow responsibility in administrative cases reserved to their discretion. Except for these cases, the gifts remain untouched and the jurisdiction of Christ alone.
  7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ alone, His son.
  8. Our ministry is to the living, not to the dead.
  9. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, acting as Christ pleases, not by human whim, manifests grace to us, by the fact that the human laws cease to apply at death, or in any case where Christ calls one to contend with those laws.
  10. It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when men distribute spiritual titles of any kind within the context of Christ’s Church. Titles must be reserved for practical administrative roles, not convey pretentious spiritual significance.
  11. When the office of “pastor” became so prominent in the protestant tradition, surely it would seem that wolves entered the pen while the sheep were sleeping. Christ alone is shepherd.
  12. In former days, clergy tied up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but we have been reformed and should not return to that vomit.
  13. Nothing justifies the claims of the institution of church; it has no authority but what Christ alone distributes at His discretion to the sheep of His pasture.
  14. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of men is cowardice.
  15. We need not ostracize in a vain attempt to shelter other sheep. Our shepherd, Christ alone, is real and able. In denying such we’re more likely to remove our nose to spite our face. Excommunication should be reserved strictly for physical threats.
  16. There seems to be the same difference between church and Church, as between ornaments and flesh. Only one is necessary, the other is vain.
  17. Of a truth, the pains of souls ought to be abated here and now, and charity ought to be proportionately increased. With no concern for what is in it for you. Our reward comes from Christ alone.
  18. Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace simply because the institution has not acknowledged them. Therefore institutional acknowledgement is meaningless.
  19. Nor does it seem proved to be always the case that people are certain and assured of salvation, even if the institution has acknowledged them and we are very certain ourselves. Again institutional positioning is meaningless.
  20. Therefore the institution, in speaking of the plenary status of individuals, does not mean “all” in the strict sense, but only those imposed by itself. Which are strictly practical and administrative with no spiritual significance themselves.
  21. Hence those who preach institutional promotion are in error when they say that a man is elevated and subject to the institution’s opinions.
  22. Indeed, the institution cannot itself distribute spiritual gifts, so the titles are meaningless representations of a committee’s whims and prejudices.
  23. If spiritual status could be judged rightly of anyone at all, it would be only in the cases of the most perfect, i.e. very few.
  24. It must therefore be the case that the major part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of institutional promotion.
  25. The same power as the institution exercises in general over institutional promotion is exercised in particular by every single adherent that it has promoted.
  26. The institution does excellently when it recognizes gifts  on account of Christ alone, and not by the power of the keys (which it cannot exercise for them).
  27. There is no divine authority for preaching that a man becomes whatever the institution of church claims he is.
  28. It is certainly possible that when we allow the institution promotional liberties then avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends on the will of God.
  29. Who knows the heart of any man?
  30. No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of brokering plenary title.
  31. One who bona fide buys spiritual title is as rare as a bona fide penitent man, i.e. very rare indeed.
  32. All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of committee promises alone, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences and institutional promotions are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.
  34. For the grace conveyed by these indulgences relates simply to the penalties of the sacramental “satisfactions” decreed merely by man.
  35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who win political campaigns within church institutions, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need for Christ’s approval. Hence the pomp is meaningless.
  36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without institutional authority.
  37. Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without the need for any man’s approval.
  38. Yet the body of believers are in no way to be despised, for they proclaim the divine family. Within which we are all brothers, and greatness is only measured by service, not by title.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, to extol to the people the great bounty contained in the spiritual gifts, while, at the same time, praising humility as a virtue.
  40. A truly contrite sinner seeks out, and loves to pay, the penalties of his sins; whereas the very multitude of institutional flattery dulls men’s consciences, and tends to make them hate the penalties.
  41. Spiritual gifts should only be preached with caution, lest people gain a wrong understanding, and think that they are preferable to other good works: those of love.
  42. Christians should be taught that Christ does not at all intend that the spiritual gifts should be understood as at all comparable with the works of mercy.
  43. Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he speaks prophecy.
  44. Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by merely speaking, he does not become a better man, but only casts his bread upon the waters and hopes.
  45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a truly needy person, but passes him by without regard, gains no benefit from the gifts available to him, but only incurs the wrath of God.
  46. Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it. There are times of need when believers must humbly accept the receiving end of charity. Need, not greed!
  47. Christians should be taught that donations are voluntary, and they are not under obligation to do so. Any believer’s only obligations are to the will of Christ. Not to the institutions or committees.
  48. Christians should be taught that the body of Christ has more need, and more desire, for devout prayer on its behalf than for ready money.
  49. Christians should be taught that the gathering together of believers is beneficial only if one does so voluntarily, but most harmful if one loses the fear of God through it.
  50. Christians should be taught that, the exactions of the committees and institutions that represent the church of St. Peter should sometimes be reduced to ashes, rather than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.
  51. Christians should be taught that the whole body would be willing, as we ought if necessity should arise, to sell the church of St. Peter, and give, too, our own money to many of those from whom the charlatans conjure money.
  52. It is vain to rely on direction by letters of ordination, even if the commissary, or indeed the pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity.
  53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences such as “leadership”, or “prosperity”, “vanity”, or “authority”, than to that word.
  55. The Church cannot help taking the view that if vanities (very small matters) are celebrated by one bell, one pageant, or one ceremony, the gospel (a very great matter) should be preached to the accompaniment of a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The treasures of the church are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That these treasures are not temporal are clear from the fact that many of the merchants do not grant them freely, but only collect them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, because these merits are always working grace in the inner man, and working the cross, death, and hell in the outer man.
  59. St. Laurence said that the poor were the treasures of the church, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.
  60. We do not speak rashly in saying that the treasures of the church are the keys of the church, and are bestowed by the merits of Christ alone!
  61. For it is clear that the power of the institution suffices, by itself, for the arbitration of administrative cases.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  63. It is right to regard this treasure as dangerous, for it humiliates the proud.
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of grace is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets which, in former times, they used to fish for men of wisdom.
  66. The treasures of the vain indulgences, such as titles, and superficial honor, are the nets which today they use to fish for the wealth of men.
  67. Those vain indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favors, are seen to be, in fact, a favorite means for money-getting.
  68. Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.
  69. Those granted authority and title by man, in duty bound, must receive the commissaries of their human masters with all reverence and propagate the farce.
  70. But they are under a much greater obligation to watch closely and attend carefully lest these men preach their own convictions instead of what their earthly masters prefer.
  71. Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the earthly masters!
  72. On the other hand, let him be blessed who is on his guard against the wantonness and license of the power-broker’s ploys.
  73. Of course! In the same way, the institution excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in vain indulgences.
  74. It is much more in keeping with Christ to excommunicate those who use the pretext of vain indulgences to plot anything to the detriment of holy love and truth.
  75. It is foolish to think that vain indulgences have so much power that they can bring about God’s kingdom.
  76. We assert the contrary, and say that the vain indulgences, such as institutional promotion, are not able to establish the least pebble of foundation for the Church of “Spirit and Truth” from John 4.
  77. When it is said that not even St. Peter, if he were boss, could grant greater titles, it is blasphemy against St. Peter and Paul.
  78. We assert the contrary, and say that he, and any follower of Christ whatever, possesses greater graces, viz., the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as is declared in I Corinthians 12 [:28].
  79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross on the wall of a building are of equal value to the cross on which Christ died.
  80. The theologians who permit assertions of that kind to be made to the people without let or hindrance, will have to answer for it.
  81. This unbridled preaching in opposition of Christ, makes it difficult for learned men to guard the respect due to the body against false accusations, or at least from the keen criticisms of the laity.
  82. They ask, e.g.: Why does not “the church” appoint everyone “pastor” for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile, it instead promotes men for vanity, a most perishable thing, with which to build and run a building, a very minor purpose.
  83. Again: Why should titles and worldly honor continue to be distributed like candy? And why does the body not reject this opposition to Christ?
  84. Again: Surely this is a new sort of compassion, on the part of the power-brokers, when an impious man, an enemy of God, is allowed to claim the place in another’s life that is reserved for Christ alone.
  85. Again: Why are Paul’s miscellaneous and often random organizational precepts, which in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves,—why are they, to-day, still used to justify violation of Matthew 23, as if all the Paulian canons were fully operative?
  86. Again: since these power-brokers have so much authority, why do they not build their buildings with their own income from all of their wise deeds, rather than with the money of indigent believers?
  87. Again: What can these people add to or take away from the gifts, authority, and grace already given by Christ?
  88. Again: Surely a greater good could be done to the church if the power-brokers were to bestow these powers and dispensations, not just to those that flatter them, but a hundred times a day, for the benefit of any believer whatever.
  89. What the institution of church seeks by its power-brokering is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does it disqualify some who have been forgiven by Christ while enduring others who sin daily?
  90. Of what importance is the Biblical canon bibliolatry when even those that ascribe to it pick and choose what to emphasize and deemphasize depending on the hour of the day?
  91. These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.
  92. If therefore, indulgences were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of Christ, all these difficulties would be easily overcome, and indeed, cease to exist.
  93. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.
  94. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.
  95. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.
  96. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.
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8 comments

  1. 1
    Tim Centa says:

    83. Again: Why should titles and worldly honor continue to be distributed like candy? And why does the body not reject this opposition to Christ?

    Are role assignments not necessary for organizational effectiveness? Should all churches be small enough organizations such that the titles do not have to be clearly defined in order to operate with efficiency or in a manner that people can understand? If an organization wills compensation to a person to allow for full time devotion to the organization how might this practically be done without a title or job classification. Does your argument require that all church members be non-compensated?

  2. 1
    Tim Centa says:

    93. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.

    I get that prosperity and peace are risky as sole propositions as to the “why” in following Christ. But does becoming all things to all people allow that some of us may focus Biblical teaching on the more candy like parts?

  3. 1
    Tim Centa says:

    11.When the office of “pastor” became so prominent in the protestant tradition, surely it would seem that wolves entered the pen while the sheep were sleeping. Christ alone is shepherd.

    If the church is an organization of us for His service. Who in the organization takes personal responsibility “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:eph 4:12” Does the formal assignment of “pastor” minimize the risk associated with “wolves” in the organization? Can anyone who comes to the church perform tasks of the ministry? Is there vetting or at least a personal relationship a requirement to act in one of the eph 4:11 roles. One might argue that we are asked to act in the historical role of shepherd. I have not really read up lately but it sure feels like there is a bunch of allegory in the OT on a prophet leading God’s people per God’s direction as a shepherd, acting as judge, king and whatever. Is there any wisdom in the OT profit/priest/king concept or would it have any bearing on how we might organize ourselves in service to Christ?

  4. 0
    Jeff O'Neal says:

    “Again: Why are Paul’s miscellaneous and often random organizational precepts, which in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves…”

    On one hand you seem to understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom then you foolishly criticize the Word of God and make yourself the arbiter of Truth.

    “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Th 2:13 ESV – written by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of Paul)

    This thesis is neo-orthodoxy – this “reformation” is in full force and is ongoing. Assertions like this taint your other theses that seem good. It exposes your “good” assertions as the plastic formalism you seem to rail against. What we need is reformation from the likes of you and your ilk.

    For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pe 1:16–21 ESV written by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of Peter).
    Verse 16b or 2 Peter 3 seems to apply well to you:

    And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Pe 3:15–18 ESV).

    1. 1
      Les ( User Rank: 397 ) says:

      Dear Jeff,

      I should hope you’ve never grown your hair long, or “allowed” your wife to speak in church, or reveal her hair by uncovering her head. That’s what was meant by the words: “miscellaneous and often random organizational precepts”, so unless you are still practicing all of those then you should and would admit that “in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves.” Most mature believers agree that even beloved sacraments like communion are “dead” in-and-of themselves. So I will try to be patient in my response to your rebuke, as we all have plenty left to learn.

      “What we need is reformation from the likes of you and your ilk.”
      – Don’t worry, people like you far outnumber people like me. So you are safe and sound in your bibliolatry. You’ve got entire wealthy denominations that exist for the sake of defending your position. I imagine Paul said the very same about Peter at that point in their relationship. Ironic that you mention both in the same comment as Paul set himself against Peter, and against Jesus in Matthew 23 by his hierarchical church (and the predictable result when his teachings are not interpreted in light of the words of Jesus) about which he even admitted his writings were opinions. Just because Peter wrote less, or Paul wrote later, doesn’t make Peter the one that is wrong. Do you think when Peter says “we” he’s referring to Paul? At some points, perhaps, at other points, probably not.

      Paul, Peter, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen… If you follow men, they will fail you. Follow Christ alone and let Him be the lens through which you interpret every other. The worship of Peter used to be called Popery. The worship of Mary, Catholicism. The worship of Paul, Protestantism. The worship of Jesus… who even knows what to call that anymore? “The Way”? That’s been hijacked. Christianity? Vague at best… Nazarene? Who knows?

      “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
      – My favorite part of your contribution, thank you very much for this. Obviously a warning not to read Paul in a way that contradicts Jesus as so many do. Arguments like yours have been used to drown Christians who are baptized as adults, because to do so meant denying the validity of infant baptism. Burn those who will not kiss and worship images of not just Peter and Paul, but Mary, and even random other people through history that the “reincarnation of Peter” decides is also a “saint” in need of your allegiance. I imagine you recoil at the idea of worshiping Mary, yet defend the worship of Paul with vigor and passion. You wouldn’t call it worship, but to claim his words are the words of God himself, entirely, completely, without flaw, without blemish… Holy… You see where I’m going with that. bibliolatry is worship, and it’s misplace worship. The trinity consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … NOT the Holy Bible. The Bible is my favorite book, I’ve read it through, and seldom go an hour without considering something from it, but I WILL NOT WORSHIP IT, not today, tomorrow or ever. Even if you throw me on a burning pile of wood as has been done millions of times before.

      Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteriesa wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

      “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:6-12

      I know it’s going to bug a good baptist like yourself to no end, but I’ll repeat it again, I have more than 3 witnesses as to the red letters (words of Jesus) in the Bible. 4 if you count the suspicious book of John, which is mostly consistent with the 3 witnesses. Of Paul, we have many known pseudepigraphs written by his contemporaries looking to boost their own credibility by using his name. Without the Gospel of Christ we cannot read or hear anything else rightly. However, I read the whole Bible, I appreciate Peter and Paul’s teachings. I just refuse to elevate them above Christ as Paul Himself warned against in so many places, in fact he even said he doesn’t qualify to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9) so what, was that magically not God speaking at that moment? What about those he disqualified from elder-ship? Shall we disobey one and obey the other? Bibliolatry is illogical, detrimental, and disturbing. Jesus said He was sending us the Holy Spirit, “The Counselor”, “The Comforter”, but nowhere did He say He was sending us more books to go with the other books… Ironic isn’t it, that the SBC has managed to use “The Holy Bible” to eradicate many of its own teachings about “The Holy Spirit.” Now you tell me who is the one twisting Paul’s words? “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” – 1 Corinthians 14:18 … Defend that at a Bible-believing-Baptist-Bible-Study, then tell me about “my ilk”.

      Don’t worry, my “ilk” are nearly extinct. Your “ilk” have been murdering my “ilk” since the beginning of the world. You’ll get your “reformation from the likes of you” soon enough. Probably in your lifetime, but if not, soon after. In the meantime, please consider worshiping Christ Alone. Please, if you must follow words in a book, then start with and exalt the red ones! Please, in the name of Jesus, please consider allowing the Holy Spirit to rule you more than the “Holy” Bible, especially when your opinions of the meaning of the words in that book are so skewed by yet more people that reject the sovereignty of Christ and attempt to get directly to God by making Paul synonymous with God and then twisting his words and the importance of them. The Bible is the basis, foundation, and a starting point for knowledge. Not its entirety. Jesus is King. Christ Alone is Worthy. Paul is a brother, Peter is a brother, and I sure hope you are as well.

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