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Christian Living

In Jesus We Are the Same

It’s Time We Start Embracing One Another

Paul writes that when we follow Jesus there’s no real difference between being Jewish or Greek, slave or free, male or female, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, or uncivilized (Colossians 3:11). He’s advocating Christian unity.

Stop to think about this, to really contemplate the ramifications. He tells us to break down all divisions over ethnicity, social status, gender, and religious practices.

Paul wants us to function as one and live in unity. In the same way Jesus wants us to live as one, just as he and his Father exist as one (John 17:21).

Today we need to apply this vision for unity to the church Jesus started. We need to add that when we follow Jesus there’s no real difference between being Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant; Mainline, Evangelical, or Charismatic.

Division

But to our shame we divide Jesus’s church. We live in disharmony. We fight with each other over our traditions and our practices and how we comprehend God.

We spar over worship style, song selection, and a myriad of other things that relate to church practices and right living. Or to avoid these errors we simply ignore one another, and that’s almost as bad.

But the world is watching, and they judge Jesus through our actions. They test what we say by the things we do. And we fail their test.

With our words we talk about how Jesus loves everyone and with our deeds we diminish our brothers and sisters in Jesus with a holier-than-thou discord. If we can’t love those in the church, how can we love those outside the church?

Disunity

It’s no wonder the world no longer respects the church of Jesus and is quick to dismiss his followers. We bring it upon ourselves with our church splits and 42,000 Protestant denominations, with our petty arguments over practices and theology and everything in between.

But with a couple billion Christians, mostly living life contrary to God’s will by not getting along with each other, what can you and I do to truly make a difference?

Be the Change

We can change this one person at a time. Find another Christian who goes to a church radically different than yours (or who has dropped out of church) and embrace them as one in Christ.

Diversify your Christian relationships to expand your practice of following Jesus. Click To Tweet

If you are a mainline Christian, find a charismatic follower of Jesus and get to know him or her. If all your friends are evangelicals, go to Mass and make some new friends.

If all the Christians you know look just like you, find some who look differently. Diversify your Christian relationships to expand your understanding of what following Jesus truly looks like.

Unity in Jesus

It’s time we embrace one another. The whole world is watching.

How can we live out Paul’s command to break down our divisions? What is the biggest obstacle to us living in the unity Jesus prayed for?

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Saturday Evening Mass

A few months ago, we went to church on Saturday morning. Now we head off for a Saturday evening mass.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #50

1. The worship leader directs us to “page one in the white book,” but what we find doesn’t match what they say. We’re confused and can’t follow along. 

How can you make it easier for people to participate in your service?

2. For the Eucharist, the priest says nothing about nonmembers, though I know we’re excluded. Still, I can have the spiritual encounter of Holy Communion without physically taking part. 

How can you serve Communion in a way that includes everyone?

3. The tradition of sharing the chalice still disgusts us. Most participants receive the wafer and bypass the cup. I suppose some must avoid alcohol, while for others it’s a sanitary issue. 

What traditions should you change to address the concerns of today’s visitors?

4. Afterward I chat briefly with the priest. He knows we’re visiting but doesn’t ask our names. This might be because a member hovers about, anxious to talk to him. Though I don’t feel slighted, many people would. 

What behaviors do you need to change to be more visitor-focused?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Martin Luther’s Concerns

Martin Luther’s 95 Concerns Were Distributed in Printed Form and Essentially Went Viral

Martin Luther lived five hundred years ago. He was born at the dawn of the modern era. He became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation. A key technology in birthing the modern era was the printing press.

The printing press also helped drive the Reformation. It propelled the spread of information. This moved a premodern society into the modern era. (A similar change occurs today, as the internet helps us move from the modern era into the postmodern era.)

This printing technology broadcast a message of spiritual enlightenment to a people poised for religious change. We politely refer to the transformation that emerged as the Protestant Reformation, but the word revolution might better describe the spiritual rebellion that followed.

Luther’s List of Concerns

The fuse that ignited this came from a list of ninety-five concerns that this German monk had about the abuse of one specific church practice: the sale of indulgences, which, at the risk of oversimplification, allowed people to buy their salvation.

We call Martin Luther’s concerns, his talking points, as his ninety-five theses. He wrote it in Latin, so the masses wouldn’t know about his concerns.

However, without Luther’s knowledge, well-meaning followers translated his ninety-five theses into German and printed copies for the people to read.

This turned his handwritten list into a printable tract, which saw wide distribution throughout the country and spread his concerns to a much larger audience.

Widespread Distribution

Though not all Germans could read German, they could understand it as others read to them. What they heard disturbed them, likely in part because many of them had paid for full indulgences, which Martin essentially outed as a scam.

Then others translated his ninety-five points into other European languages. This spread his message across the continent. Though five centuries prior to the internet, his list of ninety-five theses went viral—long before the information super highway and Twitter existed.

The private discussion Martin Luther sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead... Click To Tweet

Outrage ensued. The private, internal discussion he sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead, a revolution resulted.

But Martin never wanted to lead a rebellion or become its figurehead, he didn’t intend his ninety-five points to attack the Roman Catholic Church, and he certainly didn’t mean to spark a revolt.

Martin wanted to work for change within the system. But the laity, now aware of his concerns, were poised to rebel against what they saw as an unsympathetic Church that exploited them and didn’t care about them or their plight. The people wanted a religious revolt, and that’s what they got.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Early Years of Martin Luther

Martin Luther went to school and studied to become a lawyer to please his father

Hans Luther, a German peasant, and his bride, Margaret, who came from the middle class, committed their lives to each other. Though having different social backgrounds, Hans pledged to work his way up in life. He promised to provide for Margaret and their future family in the way she grew up.

Devout Catholics, Hans and Margaret welcomed their firstborn into the world on November 10, 1483. The couple baptized their baby the next day on St. Martin’s Day. It seemed fitting to give their son the name Martin.

As Hans worked in the mines, Margaret, a stern disciplinarian, taught little Martin the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed. The Luthers celebrated Mass each week. They instilled in Martin a love for singing, both in the church choir and at home with family.

Consistent with the Church’s teaching of the day, young Martin learned of a Jesus who not only came to save but who also judged, demanding holy living and exacting a dreadful wrath over those who fell short. This tough teaching gripped Martin and caused him great agony for the first part of his life.

At eight years old, Martin started school. He learned Latin from strict teachers who governed with harsh discipline. Despite the school’s rigid setting, he performed well.

At age thirteen and showing promise, Martin continued his education. He progressed through a series of schools, as was the practice of the day for students with potential.

Luther’s Career Dilemma

This prepared him for a professional job, possibly in law, which his father desired for his son. For the most part, Martin accepted his dad’s career preference. A highly respected occupation, a career in law would provide Martin with a good income.

But Hans could afford to pay for only part of Martin’s schooling. As the accepted practice of the day, the lad would try to make up the difference through begging and street singing.

Despite this, Martin relished learning. He desired to honor his dad by becoming a lawyer, even though young Martin felt occasional pulls to serve God and the Church, a profession that lacked both the pay and the prestige of law.

Martin Luther struggled to balance spiritual concerns with his father’s push to pursue law. Click To Tweet

At eighteen, Martin began the final phase of his education, which his dad could now fully cover. An excellent student, Martin soon earned his bachelor’s degree and then his masters two years later.

Yet he continued to struggle to balance his personal worries about spiritual issues of sin and punishment, as taught by the church, with his father’s push for him to pursue law.

Martin vacillated between honoring the wishes of his dad—a man he both loved and feared—and responding to God’s call. Despite not liking the legal profession, Martin chose to follow the wishes of his father.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Turning Point for Martin Luther

God used a lightning storm to get Martin Luther’s attention and change his life

While studying law and not yet 22, Martin Luther went home for a visit. What he experienced along the way reminds us of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). It was the turning point for Martin Luther.

Martin Luther’s Storm and Turning Point

Caught in a thunderstorm, a nearby lightning strike knocked Martin from his horse. Fearing death from the next flash of electricity, he pledged himself to a lifetime of service to God if Saint Anna—who protected the miners—would also save him.

The nearness of death and fear of eternal judgment gave him the push he needed to pursue God’s will instead of his father’s. Martin stopped his education in law and entered a monastery under the order of Saint Augustine.

Despite following God’s call on his life, Martin’s struggle with his perception of God’s high demands and inevitable punishment continued at the monastery. There he engaged in extreme, self-inflicted practices of mortification, which he later called his martyrdom, to try to conquer his desires of the flesh.

His mortifications included fasting to the point of being unable to move, locking himself in an unheated cell for prayer until anxious friends broke down the door to save him, and praying at the altar until he passed out.

Yet none of his efforts lessened his terror over God’s judgment. In fact, the harder he tried to keep God’s commandments, the worse he felt. Even participating in the Church’s sacrament of penance failed to provide the relief he sought.

Though many in the monastery tried to ease Martin’s internal spiritual struggle, no one had much success.

Later, in 1510, while on a trip to Rome, what Luther saw there shattered his idealism over Church practices. Rome had become anti-Christian, with the pope and cardinals giving in to worldly pursuits and corrupt practices.

They strayed far from what the Bible taught and made up doctrines that suited them to wield power and amass wealth. In doing so, they pushed God aside.

Disillusioned, this experience scarred Martin, and his despair deepened.

Teaching Others

Two years later, he received his doctor of theology degree, which permitted him to teach. He chose Wittenberg University.

There he continued to wrestle over church teaching that emphasized doing things to earn salvation from what he read in the Bible, which says that righteous people will live by faith (Romans 1:17, which references Habakkuk 2:4).

Martin Luther continued to study the Bible, and he struggled with what he read. Click To Tweet

Students flocked to his classes. They embraced his bold teaching and his fresh examples that gave his words meaning, so different from the methods of other professors. In 1516, Martin published his first book, based on his lectures on the book of Romans.

His renown as a scholar, professor, and preacher grew. Over his lifetime, many more books would follow.

Martin continued to study the Bible, and he struggled with what he read.

Though a devout Catholic and not a rebel by nature, his anxieties wormed their way into his teaching. Martin loved his Church, its traditions, and its common people—which he was by birth.

Yet out of integrity, he spoke with honesty instead of blindly repeating what the Church leaders decreed; he saw some of the instruction from Rome as heretical. This prepared him to act, something that would change his life, along with the rest of Christianity.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

The Concerns of Martin Luther

Martin Luther studied the Bible to see if it supported Church practices

As Martin studied the Latin translation of the Bible, he grew worried about the lack of biblical support for the Church’s misuse of indulgences, of essentially allowing people to buy their salvation. Instead, he found the Bible overflowing with grace. This disconnect alarmed him.

The practice of indulgences confuses many outside the Catholic Church. A simple explanation is that an indulgence offers a way to reduce the amount of punishment for sins by taking a specified action.

These acts might include repeating a prayer a certain number of times, traveling to a specific place on a pilgrimage, or performing an assigned task, such as doing a good deed.

Indulgences can tie in with the sacrament of penance, which involves remorse, confession to a priest, acceptance of punishment, and absolution. Among other things, penance is a partial indulgence that can reduce the time spent in purgatory for a sacramentally absolved sin.

Though his view seems to have changed later, Martin viewed the practice of indulgences as acceptable. His alarm centered on their abuse.

Here’s What Happened

Some overeager church leaders had turned the concept of indulgences into something more. Taking indulgences to an unhealthy extreme, they offered them in exchange for money to raise funds for a church building project—rebuilding Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could buy their way into heaven, without repenting. Click To Tweet

This overzealous application changed indulgences from taking a conciliatory action to making a monetary payment.

This fundraising scheme escalated out of control and further impoverished already poor people, as they spent what little money they had trying to make themselves right with God.

Also, these misguided church leaders sold a full indulgence, which guaranteed a quick release from purgatory upon death—a complete pardon, if you will. In effect, they sold the promise of eternal salvation.

Martin objected to the idea that people could essentially buy their way into heaven, with no need to repent. This led the concerns of Martin Luther

This, and the heretical teaching that accompanied this abuse of indulgences, prompted him to act.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Revisiting Roman Catholicism

Discussing Church 18

Today we visit our second Roman Catholic Church. I’m excited—and nervous. We are revisiting Roman Catholicism

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #18:

1. The large sanctuary is grand without being ostentatious. Contemporary and airy, it seats several hundred. It’s the largest we’ve seen so far. 

Does your building facilitate worship or limit it? What needs to change?

2. This Catholic Church seems even more steeped in ritual than Church #5. While they announce hymns, the rest of the liturgy proceeds without direction. We think we’re prepared, but we aren’t. 

How can you help people better engage in your worship service?

3. After the Eucharist is a ritual where we exchange the greeting “Peace be with you” to those around us. This is the only interaction we have with anyone the entire morning. The priest dismisses us, and the people scatter. 

What can you do to interact with people at your church and foster community?

4. I leave feeling empty. Though their traditions have meaning to those who understand them, it’s a roadblock to visitors. 

What can you do to help outsiders better follow your church’s practices and not walk away empty?

Overall, I’m glad we spent Sunday morning revisiting Roman Catholicism.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Reflecting on Church #50: Best in Class

Should Your Church be Best in Class?

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #50.

This church holds five services each weekend, and we attended the first one. I was disappointed over the lack of college students present, despite its proximity to campus. I doubt many students would attend the two Sunday morning services either, but I wonder about the two Sunday evening ones.

I suspect a different demographic shows up then. Maybe I’ll make a return visit but on a Sunday evening, hoping to meet some college students. Would those services be different or are all five the same?

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

Of the three Roman Catholic churches we attended, this one interests me the most. The people were more friendly, the structure less formal, and the message more accessible than my other two experiences. To me they represent the best in class for their stream on Christianity.

Even so, they still have a way to go to match some of the more engaging Protestant churches we’ve attended.

If I wanted a Catholic experience, this would be my go-to church. Yet I also know a steady diet of it wouldn’t be good for me. It’s a nice place to visit, but finding true community there would be a challenge there.

[See my reflections about Church #49 and Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Martin Luther Sought Reform and Unity

The Church Opposed Martin Luther and Eventually Excommunicated Him

Longing for unity, Martin Luther didn’t want to see the church divided. But when reconciliation didn’t happen and he was excommunicated, he had no choice but to form a new church practice aligned with what the Bible taught and apart from the Church he loved.

A new faction of Christianity emerged, one separate from the Catholic Church.

In the end, Martin realized the changes he sought, but instead of the Catholic reformation he desired, he ended up with the Protestant Reformation he never intended.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century

Not only did October 31, 1517 mark a turning point in the history of the Christian church but also in the life of Martin Luther. At that moment, just short of his thirty-fourth birthday, his life would forever change.

At first Pope Leo X dismissed Luther’s ninety-five theses as the work of a drunk monk, who would think better of his words once he became sober. As the Church tried to ignore Luther, the groundswell of interest that followed the publication of his theses made this impossible.

The Church attempted to silence him, using increasingly severe methods. First they made several attempts to force him to recant his views.

When that failed, they tried to manipulate him into making a public statement they could label as heretical. Though they came close to succeeding, Martin dodged their carefully-planned scheme before they could snare him.

The Church also ordered Luther to appear in Rome to defend himself. Martin, along with his supporters, knew this ruse would result in his death. For, once in Rome, he could be easily arrested, imprisoned, and left there to die.

A change in venue, perhaps through the intervention of an ally, removed the immediate threat of death. However, he still needed to evade a rumored arrest attempt as he traveled to the meeting’s new location.

These were not the only occasions he faced danger. Other times, in fear for his safety, supporters—often students—armed with sticks and clubs went with Martin to protect him. On one occasion they numbered two hundred.

Pope Leo X demanded Martin Luther recant his views or be excommunicated. Click To Tweet

Yet another time, Martin’s adversaries maneuvered him into publicly admitting that the pope could be in error. This provided the damning evidence they sought. Pope Leo X demanded Luther recant or be excommunicated.

Attempts by his supporters to broker a solution failed. The pope expelled Martin Luther from the Church on January 3, 1521.

After that, Martin hid in a castle in Wartburg, posing for a time as a knight. Safely protected there, he translated the New Testament into German. Though other German translations existed, these all had a regional focus and weren’t accessible to all Germans.

Luther’s translation addressed this and connected with all the people in his country.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Roman Catholic Church is Not the Enemy

Martin Luther Supported the Roman Catholic Church and Did Not Want to Leave Her

The name of Martin Luther remains unknown to most in the Roman Catholic Church, and many of those who know of him blame him for dividing Christianity and causing disunity. Yet remember Martin was a Catholic.

He tried to bring about change within the Catholic Church. He didn’t want to start a revolution against her. Only after Church leaders expelled him did Luther resort to pursue a new church practice apart from the Roman Catholic institution.

However, Protestants lessen their Christian heritage if they view Catholics with disdain for pushing Luther away. In the same way, Catholics miss a greater faith perspective if they regard Protestants as rebels. We’re on the same side. We pursue a comparable faith in the same God, we just go about it in different ways.

The Bible is common to our faith. Christian unity in Jesus should be the mutual intent of Protestants and Catholics. We must strive to get along. Our unity will point people to Jesus. Our lack of harmony will repel them.

Protestants can celebrate that the Roman Catholic Church later went through its own mini-reformation. This Counter-Reformation corrected many of the errors Luther had pointed out.

Though the Roman Catholic Church leaders’ reactions to him (and others like him) sparked the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church is not the enemy of Protestantism. We are not at war.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century

Christian Unity

Though not his intention, Luther, however, did divide the Church. He diluted the Christian stream of Catholicism.

Furthermore, note that Protestantism never enjoyed unity within itself. It started as multiple opposing factions. These groups further divided over the centuries that followed to become 43,000 splintered denominations today.

For all the good the Protestant Reformation accomplished, the painful outcome produced massive division, something the Roman Catholics have smartly avoided.

The Roman Catholic Church’s initial response to Luther and his criticism of their practices was opposition. This stands as a typical posture of an institution when attacked.

Yet, their attitude went beyond resistance to Martin’s words. They grew hostile, both vicious and vile, toward his person. Though not excusable, we can understand this reaction.

The Catholic hostility toward Luther continued for over four centuries. A turning point came in 1937 when Joseph Lortz, a Catholic professor, published a two-volume book on Luther.

His work provided a balanced, scholarly review of Luther. This advanced a better understanding for Catholics of this much-maligned man. Lortz’s work provided a path to thaw Catholicism’s icy attitude toward Luther.

Aided by the later ecumenical efforts of Pope John XXII and the second Vatican Council (1962-63), the culmination of Lortz’s work may have occurred in 2011 when Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Germany, to Lutherans, about Luther in a positive way.

Though this didn’t resolve the issue, it served to reorient attitudes.

Christian unity should be the mutual intent of Protestants and Catholics. Click To Tweet

Move Toward Unity

To move forward, we can embrace both Catholicism and Protestantism as equal facets of Christianity. We both follow the teaching of Jesus, albeit from different historical traditions. With much more to unite than to divide, both groups must acknowledge that neither approach to faith is error-free or superior, just different.

More importantly, Jesus desires we pursue Christian unity. In his prayer before his death, he pleaded that we, his future followers, would be one, just as he and the Father are one. This harmony will let the world know that the Father sent Jesus to us, John 17:21, 23.

May Catholics and Protestants work together to point the world to God the Father, through Jesus.

May we pursue unity.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.