On October 31, much of America will be focused on candy, costumes, and haunted houses. However, there’s something more noteworthy to celebrate that day. It’s the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day. Do you know what happened that particular day?
Reformation Day prompts Protestants to not only reflect on the history of their religion, but also to recognize the core belief of Protestantism. The word “Protestant” is based on the root word “protest.” The Protestant Reformation was a 16th century European movement to reform the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Corruption had an effect on the Church’s spiritual authority.
Martin Luther, (a law student turned monk), hammered a document to Castle Church’s door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. That manuscript contained 95 theses, which led to the religious transformation of Western society, like when the apostles first preached the gospel. These dissertations were copied and distributed throughout Europe.
Studying the New Testament led Luther to oppose the medieval church on issues concerning the superiority of church traditions over the Bible, the church’s attempt to sell salvation through buying indulgences, and the means by which we are found righteous in God’s eyes. While previous reformers attacked the corruption in the life of the church, Martin Luther focused on the perversion of the church’s doctrine of redemption and grace. He contended that the pope had no authority over purgatory and that the merits of the saints had no foundation in the gospel. He asserted that Scripture alone is authoritative and justification is by faith, not by works.
The bishops and priests of that period taught that good deeds and money could earn forgiveness and buy one’s salvation, despite the Bible stating that salvation is a gift from God. Scripture teaches that we’re forgiven of sin and considered righteous in God’s sight when we confess our sins and repent, believing that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. Jesus took the sins of humankind and paid its penalty; furthermore, He imputes His perfect righteousness to those who believe in Him as Savior and Lord (1John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-24). The Bible also says salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works are a result of one’s faith (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Luther’s rediscovery of biblical truths led to other church and societal reforms. He translated the Bible into German so the common people were able to read it for themselves and learn. Luther reclaimed the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers, and that all people could serve their Creator in their work. A confrontation with the papacy occurred and Luther was excommunicated in 1521.
Today, Luther’s legacy lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant churches worldwide. Other reformers — John Calvin, John Knox, Zwingli, and Wesley — followed Luther and contributed to the understanding of biblical doctrine and practical application of God’s Word. While there are different denominations within the Protestant faith, the differences are minor, (how to celebrate the sacraments), bearing no eternal significance. Today, the Bible is translated into many languages and published, so the gospel can be read by all people.
How have you benefited from reading the Bible yourself? Have you ever given a Bible to someone who didn’t own one or contributed money to the distribution of Bibles in another country?
As we acknowledge the contributions of Martin Luther this Reformation Day, let’s also become studiers of God’s Word, the light and salt of the world, and stand firm on biblical truths. Perhaps we could spark a new reformation or revival in our secular society today.