More and more Christians are celebrating Reformation Day on October 31.
Reformation Day is a holiday celebrated around the world that commemorates the day in the year 1517, when Martin Luther, a German priest, reportedly nailed a list of religious concerns to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
One reason we believe he posted the list on October 31 was because he knew many people would be coming to the church the next day, which was All-Saints Day. Martin Luther knew the list, called the 95 Theses, would cause a stir, but he had no idea it would lead to a wide-spread religious movement referred to as the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation started from a desire for Christians to see the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) reformed. At the time, the church allowed funds to be raised by selling something called an indulgence. In his book, "A Modern Guide to Indulgences," Edward Peters describes an indulgence as “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” The RCC taught that an individual could reduce the punishment for a specific sin by doing certain things, such as reciting a prayer, visiting a holy place, or performing an action the church declared could pay for sin. These indulgences were official documents that attested to the punishment for sins being reduced.
By the time Martin Luther served as a priest, there was wide-spread abuse of indulgences. They were being sold to the ignorant masses who were taught salvation came by works, not by faith. The indulgences raised funds that helped build massive cathedrals. Martin Luther was keenly aware of these abuses and so in 1517 he decided to voice his concerns. While reading the 95 Theses, it becomes clear that Luther’s main concern was to show that the Bible did not teach salvation through buying indulgences. He wrote, "Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”
Martin Luther’s actions on Oct. 31, 1517, are remembered today largely because of the printing press. Someone took Luther’s 95 Theses and began printing it on a press that was likely modeled after the Gutenberg press. Luther’s writing was circulated far and wide, and the Roman Catholic Church was compelled to address his complaints. The situation became more and more concerned with Martin Luther’s beliefs about salvation being by faith alone. This all culminated in a dramatic court case, called the Diet of Worms (a gathering that took place in the German city called Worms), where Luther was ordered to renounce all his writings. He refused, and as a result he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.
The story goes on to have a happy ending for Martin Luther. He realized the Bible does not forbid clergy to marry, and so in 1523 he married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, and had six children with her. He went on to do groundbreaking work in translating the New Testament from Greek into German, and with the help of the printing press distributed God’s word to the masses.
His life was filled with controversy because of his beliefs. Many today do not agree with everything he wrote and said, but if you study his life and work you will come to understand what he believed because he was a man of conviction and faith. His convictions regarding salvation and theology were at the heart of the Reformation.
He did not invent the Five Solas of the Reformation, but he would wholeheartedly agree with them: Sola Gratia - Christians are saved by Grace Alone; Sola Fide - Through Faith Alone; Solus Christus - In Christ Alone; Sola Scripture - According to Scripture Alone; Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.
I hope you will join us in celebrating God’s work in human history this year by celebrating Reformation Day on Oct. 31.