October 31st is a day that is always met in one of three ways by protestants all across America:
- A satanic holiday in which Christians are not to have any part of whatsoever.
- A day in which kids can dress up, go out and get candy, and it’s nothing more.
- A day in which we thank God for the courage of one man sparking a theological tinderbox that lit the religious world afire.
If you are reading this then the chances are pretty high that you consider yourself to be a part of some protestant denomination. Whether that be Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran or some other branch. Though we vary widely on doctrine, we all can thank the man that started it all: Martin Luther. Though the result of many before him, his work and that of his contemporaries, and many after him, we credit his actions on October 31st, 1517 with starting what is known as the Protestant Reformation. When we say reformation what are we saying was being reformed? To put it bluntly: the church.
Up to this point the church of Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) had a stranglehold over the theology, doctrine, practices, and sacraments available to the people. This led the catholic church to a point in which it put power above principles and profit over people and led to great abuses. For example, bishops had to be of a certain age, could only be bishop of one area, and could not also hold the title of Archbishop, but in the days of Martin Luther, a young bishop sought to do just that. This too young bishop, Albert of Mainz, held two bishoprics and sought to become archbishop of Mainz and so he petitioned the Pope of Rome. To sum up the lengthy episode, Pope Leo X granted his desire in exchange for Albert to begin the practice of selling indulgences. Indulgences were intended to be a way in which people could purchase forgiveness of past, present, and future sins and were seen as a way for the church to make a lot of money.
Enter Martin Luther. As a monk of the church of Rome, Martin knew his bible and knew that a person could not purchase forgiveness of sins nor purchase their way into heaven. Luther knew that he had to speak out and so he chose to make his move on October 31, 1517 which coincided with the church’s very important holiday: All Saints Day. November 1 would be All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows Day) which is a still practiced holiday where all the saints that have “attained heaven” are celebrated. It must be noted that this stands in contrast to All Souls Day which commemorates all those who have died but are likely to be in purgatory. Basically, Martin chose to make his stand when he thought it would have the most effect; when the most people would see.
Being that a new exhibit of relics (supposedly holy objects) was to be on display at Wittenburg (Luther’s home city) there would be many pilgrims coming to view the objects and, in doing so, take time off of their sentences in purgatory. Knowing all of this stood against the teachings of the Bible and the commands of Scripture, Martin nailed what has become known as his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. His intention was to start discussion and debate around the practices of selling indulgences, the corruption and false teaching of the church, and was a way that he hoped to bring renewal to the church. His intention was to help the current church of his day, but instead he opened a door revealing just how far beyond rehabilitation the catholic church had become. He had, unknown to him at the time, started a theological whirlwind that would engulf generations to come. In fact, many today would say that Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming, should be a desire of faithful Christians; a desire to promote biblical truth and to dig ever deeper into God’s word in a way that brings glory to him.
Reformation Day, October 31st, is the day that the gospel once again took root in the minds of men and led to a flurry of evangelistic fervor. At one time the gospel was understood and preached by many to many, but over the centuries it had become watered down, bogged down, and perverted by the very church that had claimed to know Christ. On Reformation Day one brave man stood against the tide, boldly proclaimed the truth of Scripture and sent shockwaves through all of Christendom. While we hold very different positions and while there is much need for truth to pierce the darkness of some positions, the fact of this remains, if you claim to be of a protestant denomination (not of the Catholic church) then you have Martin Luther to thank for starting the theological revolution in which you are, in some small way, taking part.