It took 500 years, but Martin Luther finally has gotten the credit he deserves. He's been accepted for a gold card.

Luther, the 16th-century leader of the Reformation, received a letter at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington this week informing him that a gold card with a $6,000 credit limit is now reserved in his name.

Martin Luther becomes part of a "unique and distinguished group" at Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank, the letter says.

"At Chevy Chase, we recognize and respect your expectations," says the letter signed by a bank vice president, Dennis C. Moroney. "It will be our greatest pleasure to meet and exceed them all."

Bank officials spent yesterday scurrying to unravel the mystery of how the gold card invitation was sent to Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic priest who galvanized a religious movement that led to the birth of Protestantism. An official at Chevy Chase Federal Savings said the bank was trying to trace the letter back to its source.

But, to be sure, the bank's generous offer -- including purchase protection, travel accident insurance, access to cash -- legitimizes Martin Luther in a way that some Christians have yet to do.

Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church partly over issues of church credit.

The German challenged the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, a means by which sinners were pardoned if they contributed money to a cause.

After nailing his famous Ninety-five Theses on a castle door challenging what he saw as a cruel money-raising system, Luther was drawn into direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. The Lutheran Church was eventually founded on the doctrines and beliefs that he espoused.

The Rev. John Steinbruck, whose church received the letter, said that he is impressed with the gold card invitation. The preacher is not so sure he can get one for himself.

"If Chevy Chase sees fit to give Martin Luther a gold card, I think Rome should reconsider its attitude," said Steinbruck, delighted at the news regarding the new gold card invitee on the eve of the Reformation Festival Season that is observed on Oct. 28.

Steinbruck quickly fired off a tongue-in-cheek response to the bank.

"He's out of town at the moment resolving some credit problems in Rome with the Vatican Banko Spiritu, Inc.," the pastor's letter said, signed in the name of Martin Luther's wife, Katherine Von Bora-Luther.

"But I do know what would be his stand on your proposal. Since we are already offered unlimited free credit (grace) -- at no interest -- 24-hour customer service -- with no VISA required and eternal life insurance tossed in for the sheer love of us, we enjoy as 'preferred' a status as we will ever need."