Today is a day that is pathetically and commonly overshadowed by Halloween, and yet it is a day of tremendous significance for Christians and Americans. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The firestorm that ensued has been dubbed the Protestant Reformation.
I know that we have a diverse readership here at PS.C, but all of us have been touched by this significant event whether we know it or not, and I think it’s a pity when things like this are forgotten.
More often than not, they are forgotten because the Church has become apologetic. We are embarrassed or sorry at the prospect of offending others because Christians are supposed to be loving and charitable. This is true, but Christians are not supposed to be spineless or silent when Christ’s honor is called into question. We ought not consider it loving to withhold the uncomfortable truth. Martin Luther knew this and did not fear men. Let’s take a brief lesson from that salty character, Mr. Luther.
His 95 Theses spoke out against the sale of indulgences. In layman’s terms, the Pope had launched a special fundraising campaign for the construction of St. Peter’s Church in Rome. So church officers were sent throughout Europe to sell indulgences. That meant that the Pope had access to a repository of righteous works of the saints that could be applied to accounts of deceased family members currently in purgatory…for a price. If a son were to pay the right sum to the Catholic church on his mother’s behalf, he’d receive a certificate authenticating that his deceased mother had been credited with righteous merits from the surplus works of dead saints. As the saying went, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
Now, this all sounds silly to me, but I don’t have peasants in my care giving up buying groceries so Aunt Gretel could be sprung from purgatory due to some hoax fundraiser. That was the case with Luther, and he was absolutely incensed by this outrage. If you ever read his 95 Theses, he raises some good points:
If the Pope had access to these righteous works, and he actually cared about people the way he should, why not just go ahead and apply them to people in purgatory rather than requiring money to do so? If the indulgences could only be bought with money, that should have been good news, because the Pope had access to more wealth than any other man alive, right? He could pay for them with his own money rather than bleeding the already destitute in his charge.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Just like the Catholic church, the Protestant church has some black marks on its history (e.g., 2012?). And I don’t particularly endorse all of Luther’s methods or Theological positions. And yet there’s no denying that he was a courageous and passionate champion of the gospel, of justification by faith alone, and of the glory of God. The fact that he had plenty of flaws puts him in good company…with the rest of humanity.
As for how we’ve been touched by the events of October 31, 1517? Well, there’s no disputing that the foundation of the United States and many of the opportunities and freedoms we enjoy today are directly connected to the establishment of the Protestant church…which happened in the wake of what we can call Reformation Day.
Celebrate today by expressing thanks to God for His abundant kindnesses to you, for the work of saints gone by on whose shoulders we stand, and for the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Happy Reformation Day!