Category Archives: Catholic Issues

Fifty-one Theses for the Twenty-first Century Ekklēsia

Painting of Luther nailing the 95 theses, by Julius Hübner, 1878.
This 1878 painting by Julius Hübner of Luther nailing the 95 theses is narrative art. It depicts the story, showing Tetzel in the lower left receiving adoration and money from those who have purchased indulgences by enriching the pope. This is contrasted with starving people who could better use the money begging on the church steps. Luther’s disciples are on the left teaching the people and followers on the right receive his message with enthusiasm. Luther’s enemies are seen in the lower right running off to inform the pope. Of course, this is all fanciful. Luther probably hung the theses as a matter of routine to inform other scholars that he would like to discuss these points. It wasn’t until scholars realized that the theses implied a challenge to the authority of the pope that the document caused a stir.

October 31, 2017: Today marks the five-hundredth anniversary of what has come to be considered the formal beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That’s because, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (1483–1546), then a Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and priest, nailed a notice on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He titled the notice, “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” but it became known as Luther’s 95 Theses.


Did Mary Have Other Children?

All of us are probably aware that the Catholic and Orthodox churches believe and teach that Jesus was the only child born to Mary. In 411, Augustine wrote that Mary, “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (Sermons 186, 1: PL 38, 999 as quoted in paragraph 510 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). We might also know that many Anglicans believe this. But we might be surprised that some Protestants believe this. In fact, Martin Luther, Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin all believed it. In his Commentary on Matthew, Calvin even called anyone who disagreed “pigheaded and fatuous.” Perhaps even more surprising is that the eminent Baptist theologian, John Gill, regularly waffled on this subject, seeming to believe it by comments he made, but never, as far as I know, making a clear statement committing himself to it. Is there clear, biblical proof one way or the other?


Q. The Catholic Church accuses that the doctrine of sola scriptura, or the Bible alone, makes every person his own pope. How do you answer this?

A. This is a false accusation. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that only the pope and the bishops in communion with him–referred to as “the Magisterium of the Church”–can authentically interpret the Word of God. The pope in Rome does not look to Scripture alone for his personal understanding as he is led by God through the Holy Spirit. Instead, the pope looks to Scripture and church tradition, along with his belief in his own infallibility, to make decisions that he then imposes on millions of other people.


Q. Are you a Nestorian? By saying that Mary is not the mother of God, are you not guilty of separating the two natures of Jesus?

A. The above questions are the essence of an email I recently received from a Roman Catholic. Referring to my article, “Was Mary the Mother of God?” this man said, among many other things, “I smell the stench of Nestorianism!” and “I hope you will recant of the heresy of denying that Mary truly is the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of God.” Because the remainder of his email is relatively level-headed and well-argued, and because his position represents the general position of the Catholic Church, I have decided to reproduce below my answer to him.