For those of you who might have been expecting a different “Happy” greeting on the morning of October 31, let me say, “Happy Halloween!” Neighborhoods across this country will be flooded with kids in costumes carrying bags full of candy. At Cross Community Church, we will be interacting with our local community by handing out candy and Gospel tracks, while sharing the love of our Lord Jesus Christ with a great many families who normally don’t attend church. However, I would like to take a moment today to encourage you with a brief history of an event to celebrate on the 31st of October that is infinitely more significant: Reformation Day!
Reformation Day is a religious celebration for Protestants all across the world. Many theologians assert that October 31 commemorates a cosmic move of the Holy Spirit reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost. It began in 1517 when a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The specific day of celebration varied for two hundred years, but in 1717, at the two hundredth celebration of Reformation Day, October 31 became the official date of remembrance.
What follows provides a very brief picture of the importance of this day in the history of the Christian church. Martin Luther had identified the problem of works-righteousness, the merit-based practices embedded in the extra-biblical traditions of Roman Catholicism. In a phrase, Martin recovered and declared the true Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone as it is set forth in sacred Scripture.
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Luther believed that the Word of God was to have supremacy (that is, preeminence or “first place”) as it relates to faith and practice. Tradition can certainly play a role in the church, but it must never rise to the level of being regarded as infallible truth. In God’s providence, at the time Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, the Gutenberg printing press was ready to copy and circulate the Bible that Luther had translated into German in order to put the Word of God in the hands of the common person. He outraged Rome with his unflinching declaration that “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.” Luther also recaptured the “priesthood of all believers,” which meant that every person mattered. There was no sacred-secular split. Every person—whether cleaning a stable, manufacturing a pair of shoes, or preaching the Gospel to hundreds—was in full-time ministry service to God when what they were doing was for God’s glory.
As you might imagine, the Roman Catholic Church was greatly displeased with Martin Luther! Luther was brought before the church and commanded to recant of his position, and his response left an indelible mark on the history of the church:
I cannot choose but adhere to the Word of God, which has possession of my conscience, nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.
The Protestant Reformation exploded out from Germany and swept through Europe. The torch was picked up by many of the giants in church history, men like John Calvin in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. The Reformation Luther led sparked the Anabaptist (free church) movement and the English Reformation, which expanded Christianity across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to America.
Make no mistake, Martin Luther’s hammer hit a nerve that vibrated all over the world! The Reformation reclaimed the good news of the Gospel: that salvation is by grace, not good works . . . mercy, not merit! Sometimes we wonder if one person can really make a difference. Well, the difference Martin Luther made will echo throughout eternity.
So on this Reformation Day, let me encourage you to rest in your redemption, knowing that everything you need has already been given to you by virtue of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He meant what He said . . . and He said it to you!
Let me also encourage you to do as Martin Luther did: Go out and tell others that God so loves them that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!