Happy Reformation Day!

For those of you who were expecting a “Happy Halloween” on October 31st, I’ll say it: Happy Halloween! Neighborhoods all across the United States will be covered with kids in costumes hoping to fill their bags with treats. However, I would like to take a moment to encourage you with a brief history of something far more significant to celebrate on the last day of October: Reformation Day.

Reformation Day is a religious celebration for Protestants all over the world. On October 31, 1517, a Greek monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, an event that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s document represented a public invitation to academics and theologians of his day to discuss and dispute the church’s practice of selling “indulgences” to secure the forgiveness of sins. Many theologians say that October 31 commemorates a cosmic move of the Holy Spirit reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost.

What follows is a very brief picture of the importance of this day in the history of the Christian church. Martin Luther identified the problems of works-righteousness, merit-based practices, and extra-biblical traditions that were rooted in Roman Catholicism. Luther essentially revived the true Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, as 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 should have supremacy as it related to faith and practice. Tradition can certainly play a role in the church, but it must never be elevated to the level of infallibility. In God’s providence, at the time Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, the printing press had been invented and was ready to copy and circulate the Bible that Luther had translated into German in order to put the Word of God into the hands of the common person.  Luther also recaptured the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” which meant that every person mattered. Luther taught that there was no sacred-secular split; every person, regardless of their occupation, is in full time ministry service to God when what they are doing is done for God’s glory. 

As you might imagine, the Roman Catholic Church was greatly displeased, Luther was brought before the church and told to recant of his position. 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 of Germany and spread through Europe. The torch was picked up by other courageous giants in the history of the church: John Calvin in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. The Reformation that Luther led sparked the Anabaptist (free church) movement and the English Reformation, which expanded Christianity across the water all the way to America. Make no mistake, Luther’s hammer hit a nerve that vibrated throughout the world, reclaiming the good news of the Gospel, that salvation is by grace, not good works . . . mercy, not merit.

Sometimes we wonder what difference one person can make. Well, the difference Martin Luther made will echo into eternity in the lives of untold millions of Christian believers. 

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 the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, ‘It is finished,” He meant what He said, and He said it to you. Let me also encourage you to do as Luther did by telling others that God so loves them that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!


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