Today is my favorite autumn holiday: Halloween. But, more importantly, it is an important spiritual anniversary: Reformation Day.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of Reformation Day, here are five things you should know:
Pre-Reformation Day Context
It’s important to understand the context leading up to Reformation Day to properly appreciate the day itself. And, as Alex Duke labeled it, the context of the church in that day was, “Do, or be damned.”
The Catholic church was tethered to the state, and the common man was largely suppressed within the church. Justification was not solely through Christ alone, but something that was progressively earned bit-by-bit (or bought, as in the case of the church selling certificates called ‘indulgences’ that were sworn to absolve the purchaser of a certain amount of time spent paying the penalty for sin).
Scripture alone, sola scriptura, was not viewed as authoritative. The clergy were not pointing the people to the only one who could truly save, Jesus Christ. Instead, they were viewed as people who could impart grace and impact the salvation of their people.
In short, the situation leading up to Reformation Day was dark, dismal, and desperately needing the hope of Christ.
Who was Martin Luther?
Living in Germany, Martin Luther was a 33 year old professor of theology at Wittenberg University. He was a committed Catholic, and later described himself as someone who would have murdered (or been willing to watch murder committed) in the name of the Pope.
What led Martin Luther to the actions of Reformation Day?
While Martin Luther was a committed Catholic (and would hold that status for some time even after Reformation Day), abuse within the church began to anger him. He was specifically concerned about the practices surrounding the sale of indulgences, and had been consulting others and preaching about the matter for quite some time. While he never intended to do something that would drastically impact the church, he thought that there were things within the church that needed to be addressed.
What happened on Reformation Day?
On Saturday, October 31st, 1517, using what would have been considered a sort of public community board in that day, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (statements brought forward for debate) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The practice itself wasn’t very uncommon, but what was written on the document certainly was. You can click here to read all the theses.
What happened after Reformation Day?
To put it plainly, the reformation of the church was ignited. By the providence of God, through flawed humanity, the power of the Gospel would shine. Martin Luther once said,
“For who is able to express what a thing it is, when a man is assured in his heart that God neither is nor will be angry with him, but will be forever a merciful and loving Father to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous and incomprehensible liberty, to have the most high and sovereign Majesty so favorable to us. Wherefore, this is an inestimable liberty, that we are made free from the wrath of God forever; and is greater than heaven and earth and all other creatures.”
It was this assurance of grace that set the Reformation aflame, and we should all be grateful for it today.