Today, October 31, in the year 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Though it was Luther’s first attempt of many at writing or speaking against the theological thinking of his day, it was and continues to be a defining moment in history. The Ninety-Five Theses ushered in the dawn of the reformation.
Of the ninety-five theses, it is Luther’s ninety-fifth that leads us to consider what some say is the heart of understanding Luther’s theology. It reads: Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross! Luther is concerned with those who speak peace without the cross and offer glory without suffering.
In 1518, in another set of theses prepared for a debate at Heidelburg, Luther further defined his theology of the cross. He wrote: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He wrote further that he deserves to be a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
In the Heidelberg Disputation, it is important to understand that Luther is contrasting his theology of the cross with what he termed a theology of glory. A theology of glory was the medieval practice of theology that involved mere metaphysical speculation and attempted to find God by one’s own reasoning and wisdom. In contrast, a theology of the cross finds God on the cross through faith. Luther wrote that he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.
For Luther, to know God is to know him on the cross. Walter Von Loewenich writes in regard to this principle that God reveals himself in concealment, God’s wisdom appears to men as foolishness, God’s power is perfected in weakness, God’s glory parades in lowliness, God’s life becomes effective in the death of his Son.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. Would we have chosen the cross and suffering as God’s mode of saving the world? The cross is so scandalous and is only for the severest of criminals. Who would look for God on the cross? And yet Paul, and Luther, directs our gaze at God on the cross hidden in the midst of suffering.
Luther, beginning with his 95 Theses begins to direct the church of his day back to the cross. The question we must ask is do we need to recover a theology of the cross as a church? Do we prefer glory, strength, and wisdom compared to humility, weakness, and foolishness? Knowing that following Christ involves taking up our cross, are we willing to live sacrificial lives for the sake of gospel and others?
Douglas John Hall writes that a theology of the cross insists that God, who wills to meet us, love us, redeem us, meets, loves, and redeems us precisely where we are: in the valley of the shadow of death. As a result, will we engage the world around us and meet others with the truth of the gospel in the midst of their pain and struggle?
May we stand as Luther and proclaim and live life under the cross. And, may we daily remind ourselves that the word of the cross…to us who are being saved…is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18) Therefore, far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).