Johann Tetzel was the grand commissioner for selling indulgences in Germany in the early 16th century. Indulgences began as a fundraising endeavor from the Roman Catholic church and consisted of the forgiveness of sins in exchange for money. He even had a simple rhyme that helped him in his marketing that went like this: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." The story is told about a group of men who approached Tetzel, asking if the indulgences could be bought and forgiveness procured for sins committed in the future. They were assured that, yes, they could, but it would cost them one thousand pieces of gold. The money was paid, and all parties went on their way. That night, however, Tetzel's caravan was attacked by bandits and the money chest was stolen. When the thieves were caught, they produced the indulgences that had been granted them the day before, buying forgiveness for the act they planned to commit.
This very issue of indulgences was one of the church's practices that caused Martin Luther to nail his 95 Theses to the church door on what we now celebrate as Reformation Day: October 31, 1517. He had recently discovered the true meaning of the words of Paul in the book of Romans, "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17), and he felt like this practice was contrary to the words of scripture. A Christian need not rely on the forgiveness of sins from a human being, but salvation through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. This weekend as we celebrate Reformation Day, let's thank God for the reformers who have gone before us and remember that the only way to forgiveness is through faith.
Living by faith,