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What is Reformation Day?


October 31st is a controversial day among many Christians. This is, of course, because it is the day that shows on many of our calendars as Halloween. Halloween has a fascinating history that goes back over 1000 years to the church in the 7th century. But we are not here to talk about Halloween, but something that happened on a particular Halloween. Many people are familiar with the Reformation, at least to some extent. Like with many other things, there are some wildly varying ideas about what the Reformation was/is. Depending on who you ask, you will get significantly different answers. Roman Catholics, in general, see the Reformation as the time when the true church was split and a bunch of heretics attempted to destroy the church. Among non-Roman Catholics, there are still more varied views. Some believe that the Reformation was the rebirth of the church and that it was a rejection of the past. Others think, rather simplistically that the original purpose of the Reformation was to break away from the Roman church. Even stranger is the idea made famous in 1931 by Dr. J.M. Carroll that the Baptist church was not part of the Reformation but has existed outside of any other church since the time of John the Baptist. This idea is commonly referred to as the Trail of Blood. But what was/is the Reformation all about? What are the central ideas of the Reformation? How did it start? And why does it matter? These are the questions we will be looking at over the next little while. This week, we will start at the beginning with Reformation Day.


History Can Be Messy


To start with, Reformation Day is a bit of a misnomer. When someone asks what it is, the short answer that is usually given, including by myself, is that it is the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. But this is an oversimplification of things. In the first place, assigning a specific start date for the Reformation is a difficult task. Like with many things in history, things are not as clean-cut as we would like them to be. For certain, Martin Luther was indeed a major player in the Reformation, but he was hardly the first person in the history of the church to attempt a Reformation. For example, men like John Wycliffe (1328-1384) worked to reform the church long before Luther started to challenge the church in 1517. One of the charges that is laid at Luther's feet when the Reformation really gets rolling is that he is a disciple of John Huss (1369-1415). Both these men, Wycliffe and Huss, and many others, saw the corruption in the church and, in their ways, sought to reform it. That being said, the information does not get moving on a wide scale until Martin Luther comes on the scene. This is why many attribute the start of the Reformation to him. Like the men who came before him, Luther started to see the corruption in the church, and as a pastor, a theologian, and a professor, he saw it as his duty to help remove the corruption.


That Famos Monument


What may surprise many is that the way that Luther started to go about making changes was, for the time, perfectly ordinary. He put together a list of debate topics, or thesis so that the other theologians and faculty of the city could discuss the ideas. What may be even more surprising to many is that the 95 theses that Luther posted are not the first ones that he published in that time period. Earlier in that year, in September of 1517, Luther actually posted a serious on 97 theses. To continue the surprising realities, it is unlikely that Luther himself posted the theses to the church door. See, it was a normal thing to post things to the church door. It was the community bulletin board, if you will. People would post all kinds of things there. And Luther, being a professor at the University, most likely had someone else go run and post the theses on several church doors. Luther wanted to discuss the topic of selling indulgences, as seen in the thesis title "Disputations on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences."


Summary

So, if Luther was not the actual start of the Reformation, his theses were not really meant to start anything other than a debate, and he probably did not even post them himself, then why do people celebrate Reformation Day? I think there are two reasons. First, and I think sadly the more prominent reason, is that it provides an alternative to Halloween. If you have not noticed, many people love to hate Halloween. The second reason that people like me celebrate Reformation Day is because it is an important reminder of the need for continual Reformation in the church. It serves as a witness to what can happen when men stand up and are faithful to God's word. The essential truths of the Reformation, often referred to as the Five Solas, need to be held on to and fought for every time. These truths are going to be the subject of our devotionals as we advance. The most important of these truths is the centrality of scripture in all things. So, as you go about your day today, think about the importance of the Reformation. Give thanks to the Lord for men Like Wycliffe and Luther. Men who were willing to die rather than deny the truth of scripture. And more than anything else, Pray that the Lord would continue to raise up men like them. Men who will stand firm in the truth, no matter the cost.


Soli Deo Gloria

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