You probably remember learning in Christian education or world history classes about Martin Luther's objections to his church's sale of indulgences — after all, those 95 Theses helped spark the Protestant Reformation. But at the ELCA Archives you can actually see one of these glorified hall passes that unscrupulous "pardoners" used to "sell" forgiveness.
But more importantly, you'll find what is arguably one of the best archives in the country and a treasure trove of artifacts, documents, photographs, films and recordings that bear witness to the history of Lutherans in America.
For its part, the 500-year-old indulgence in the ELCA collection is an immediate visual reminder of why Luther's insistence on justification by faith (sola fide) matters. Based on its size, "it was probably intended for display on a church door," said Joel Thoreson, archivist.
The indulgence came to the ELCA in 1988 when the denomination inherited the archives of the now-defunct National Lutheran Council (a cooperative effort of several ELCA predecessor bodies), said Catherine Lundeen, archivist. It was a gift from a German production company that worked with the council and Lutheran Church Productions on the 1953 film Martin Luther.
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