Among the 95 Theses that Martin Luther posted to the door of the Wittenberg Church on this day in 1517, is this:
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
As Reformed Christians, we are familiar with Luther’s protest against the common Catholic practice at the time of selling indulgences. In this way the church raised money from people who were primarily poor and uneducated, by persuading them that a donation would free a loved one from purgatory.
Besides being a kind of extortion from the least able to pay, the sale of indulgences outraged Luther because it was so contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture — people are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
These days, we don’t sell indulgences in the church. I think the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t even do it anymore. But I fear there are other things that have distracted us from the Gospel as the true treasure of the Church.
I’d like for us to turn to 2 Corinthians 4, starting at verse 7:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, by not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
What is this great treasure Paul refers to here? Let’s look at the previous verses. Paul has been talking about being a minister of a new covenant. Chapter 4, verse 1:
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”