Monday, October 31, marks an important day of remembrance. On the same day many are celebrating Halloween, an important event occurred several centuries ago. The world was forever changed in a big way when a Catholic monk posted a paper he had written on the community bulletin board in Wittenberg, Germany.
What is Reformation Day?
On October 31, 1517, a monk named Martin Luther nailed a letter entitled, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” to the church door in Wittenberg. This was a common practice of the day. And Luther was not trying to change the world. He simply wanted to have a debate with a bishop about his concerns and beliefs about the Catholic practice of indulgences. But when some in the community got ahold of his letter, it was quickly copied, printed, and became widely distributed.
At issue was indulgences. This was (and is) the practices of the Catholic church of granting pardon of sin in return for acts of penance. Indulgences had become an abusive practice, to the point that many were using guilt and fear to swindle the common folk out of their money. Most notorious was a man named John Tetzel, who was famous for going around in dramatic style telling of the horrors of hell and offering hope for the loved ones of people if they would but give money. He was famous for saying, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Binny Hinn wishes he could have had this kind of theology to back up how he rips off the poor.
Back to Martin Luther, his disputation is now known as the 95 Thesis. Several key issues were: the miss-translation of the word for “repent” as “do penance”, the inability of the Pope to actually offer remittance of guilt, and of course, exposing the shame of the whole idea of indulgences. Luther’s words soon transformed the nation and the world as more and more people were set free from bondage to the church with its power over the eternal state of people and freed by the truth.
Luther went on to write several papers and tracks that spread like a viral YouTube video. In many of these Luther expounded upon “justification by faith”. That is, that people are made right with God (justified), not by their works or acts of penance, but by the perfect obedience and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. In other words, Luther reclaimed for a large portion of the world the Biblical understanding of how man is restored to God. Luther also famously translated the Bible into the common language of the people. Soon, people were reading the Word of God for themselves for the first time, and it was quickly apparent that what the Catholic church taught (and continues to teach) does not line up.
When at the Diet of Worms (pronounced “dee-it of verms”, diet meaning “an assembly”, and Worms being the place it was held) Luther was told to renounce his works, he famously replied (after asking for another day to think about it, by the way. He was a man like us.)
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
The life of Martin Luther is an exciting one. Some of the resources below will help fill in the many other details.
Why Celebrate Reformation Day?
Reformation day commemorates this action of Luther. No doubt the stirs of the reformation were afoot before Luther, but he was the one God used to catapult the issues to the very doors of the Pope and the kings of the day. Reformation day celebrates his faithfulness and the many others God used to call his people back to His word and the Biblical understanding of salvation. It is good to celebrate this day for several reasons:
1. To teach our children both the Biblical truth’s recovered in the Protestant Reformation and about the historical context that God brought about this recovery of truth.
2. To remind ourselves of the importance of making the Word of God central (and accessible and readable).
3. To learn more about this pivotal time in history.
4. To give thanks to God for the grace he has shown us by using these men to recover His truth. We are all indebted to their labors and faithfulness to the truth.
More Information about Luther and the Reformation
If you want to read about Luther’s life, the classic by Roland Brainton Here I Stand is a great place to start.
If you would prefer the visual arts, the movie Luther is outstanding and highly accurate. Another great place to start. My household will be celebrating Reformation day this year by watching this movie.
If audio is your thing, Mike Reeves has some awesome lectures about famous people in church history. They are all worth listening to, especially his one on Martin Luther.
Of course, you can cut to the chase and read some of Luther’s works. They are all quite short (you can read many in one sitting) and very accessible. Luther is a powerful theologian, but not the ivy tower kind. He is easily understood by the average person. He can also be quite humorous and even quite crass at times. Here are some good works to start with:
Luther’s 95 Thesis