October 31st is popularly celebrated as Halloween in the Western world today, but it’s also (and I’d argue more importantly) Reformation Day. Reformation Day is the day that Protestant Christians celebrate Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation of the Christian Church.
To help mark the day I though I’d provide some material to help explain Reformation Day a little better.
Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five theses to the church door on October 31, 1517, provoked a debate that culminated finally in what we now call the Protestant Reformation…
Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God.
This last issue is probably Luther’s most significant contribution to Christian theology. Though preached clearly in the New Testament and found in the writings of many of the church fathers, the medieval bishops and priests had largely forgotten the truth that our own good works can by no means merit God’s favor. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes (Eph. 2:8-10). Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, forgiven of sin, and righteous in His sight comes because through our faith alone the Father imputes, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German put the Word of God in the hands of the people, and today Scripture is available in the vernacular language of many countries, enabling lay people to study it with profit. He reformed the Latin mass by putting the liturgy in the common tongue so that non-scholars could hear and understand the preached word of God and worship the Lord with clarity. Luther lifted the unbiblical ban on marriage for the clergy and by his own teaching and example radically transformed the institution itself. He recaptured the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers, showing all people that their work had purpose and dignity because in it they can serve their Creator.
- Reformation Day celebrates Martin Luther’s nailing his ninety-five theses to the church door Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
- While the historical date for the observance of Reformation is October 31st, most churches celebrate it on the last Sunday in October.
- On the first “Reformation Day”, when he posted the ninety-five theses, Luther was not yet a “Protestant.” (He would later say that at the time he was a committed Catholic who would have murdered — or at least been willing to see murder committed — in the name of the Pope.) In fact, the theses were not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, were not included.
- The only countries in which Reformation Day is a national holiday are Chile and Slovenia. (Though in Chile it’s called Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes—National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches.)
Be Faithful Even at the Expense of Being Well-liked
When you read the stories of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and others you are struck by how little they concerned about being well-liked and how bent they were upon being faithful. You think of Calvin being expelled out of Geneva or Luther before the Diet of Worms, these guys had spines of steel. Instead of working bargains, softening doctrine, or lowering their volume they guys turned it up. I am concerned about our generation. Amid cultural pressure upon the church to conform and evangelical pressure to not be divisive, there does seem to be a spirit of conformity. When people take a stand for doctrine they are often labeled mean or legalistic. It is a badge today to talk about what you are for instead of against. But, at some point the preacher of God’s Word needs to be clear about what God is against. They have to be point out false doctrine. How many pastors today are willing to say that the gospel that the Roman Catholic Church teaches is a damning doctrine? It’s ironic: what we like about the Reformers, and what has lasted, is their faithfulness. But, you only get that faithfulness when you count the cost and value faithfulness to God over the approval of men.