Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 1: Story - Martin Luther and the 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Make four copies of the story for volunteer readers.
  • Make copies of Leader Resource 2, Image of Theses.
  • Optional: If readily accessible, provide a few costume pieces (such as robes) and/or set pieces (desk, chair, pen, Bible or platform for speaking).

Description of Activity

Participants hear and discuss the story and the creation of the Protestant movement.

Seek four volunteers to help tell the story. Assign parts (narrator, three readers who will personify Martin Luther), give them each a copy of the story and a few minutes to look over their lines. If you are creating a set, the non-speaking youth can put the props in place while the speakers look over their parts.

Have participants perform the story. Thank the volunteers.

Ask for participants' initial reactions. What did they think of the story? What was most interesting about it? What did they think was most important?

Pass around copies of Leader Resource 2, Image of Theses, for participants to see the original text.

Continue discussion with the following points:

  • After he was declared an outlaw, Luther was kidnapped by a friend and taken to a castle where he hid for a year, wearing a disguise and going by an assumed name. Was this cowardly? Was it smart? He continued to write while he was in hiding, eventually returned to public life, preaching and writing prolifically, including rewriting the Mass and composing many hymns. In your opinion, would Luther have had more or less impact if he had allowed himself to be martyred-in other words, arrested, tried, and executed by the Church for being a heretic? Would his death have been more influential than his teachings? Could Jesus' impact have been even greater if he had hidden from authorities and continued teaching? Why or why not?
  • Luther translated the Bible into German so ordinary people could read it. Before, it was printed only in Latin, meaning only the well-educated had access. The Catholic Church disapproved of his translation; for the Church, Latin was the official language of the Bible, which insured that people needed clergy to deliver and interpret the sacred text. What do you think about Luther's decision? Was his wish to make the Bible directly accessible to more people worth disobeying Church authority? Would making the Bible available in the common language encourage independence among people? Would it have the effect of undermining Church authority? Why or why not? In your opinion, would that effect be a good thing?
  • There are now several dozen branches of Catholicism, but there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations. Why such a difference? Perhaps the initial "I don't agree with that; I'll do it differently" impulse of the Reformation continues, so every time a significant difference of opinion emerges, another denomination results. Is that impulse positive? What might some negative aspects be? How did the Protestant Reformation affect the history of Unitarian Universalism?
  • Many Christian denominations consider themselves the One True Church, believing that followers of other denominations do not have the truth and will go to hell. Consider the following questions carefully and with an open mind: Why would such a belief be appealing to believers? Would it confer a responsibility on believers toward other people? If so, what responsibility?
  • The Christian doctrine that Jesus was both fully God and fully man seems to be an irreconcilable contradiction. Unitarian Universalists believe that 1) each person is the ultimate authority to choose what faith is right for them, and 2) we are right in our conviction that people should have this freedom. Are these beliefs contradictions? Why or why not? Can contradictory statements both be true? Can you think of any examples?
  • Ultimately, Luther's most serious crime was encouraging independence: 1) independence for people to think for themselves and use reason in their faith; 2) independence from the Roman Catholic Church because a person's relationship with God was personal, not reliant on clergy, and only God, not the Church through indulgences, could forgive sins. Why was this independence so threatening? The Catholic Church feared that open debate of fundamental issues would destroy the Church. Has this turned out to be the case? Has active public disputation of theological issues ultimately strengthened or weakened Christianity?
  • Martin Luther opposed indulgences because they were a corruption, undermining the highest values the Church was supposed to be embodying. Invite youth to consider: is there a group or organization they are involved or familiar with that engages in practices that contradict or ignore the very values they espouse? (Examples: an environmental organization that wastes energy or water or does not recycle; a school that teaches good health but sells junk food on campus.) Ask:
    • If you were to write Theses, alerting some group or organization to what you consider abuses of power or inconsistencies, what would your document concern?
    • Are some kinds of abuses or inconsistencies more offensive than others? If so, what would those be? Why?
    • What organization would you want to give a wake-up call to?
    • Is there some area where you think you could use a wake up call, some way in which you are living in contradiction of your own values?