Nov. 9, 2019
Subject: The Reformation Part 1: The Significance of October 31 is not Halloween
Galatians 2:21 “I do not set aside the grace of God. For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
“I hated Paul with all my heart when I read that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. Only when I learned that the righteousness of God is His MERCY, and that He makes us righteous through it, was a remedy offered to me in my affliction. For it is faith alone, not good works, that makes the true Christian. For it is faith in Christ that makes a man good; his good works follow from that faith.”
This was the revelation that sparked the greatest movement in Christianity since Pentecost, known as the Reformation. But Reformation Day, an annual celebration that began 502 years ago on October 31,1517, has been replaced in American culture by Halloween. What is fascinating is the connection between them that most people don’t realize, which forms the basis for the Protestant movement.
Reformation Day celebrates Martin Luther’s posting his 95 Theses on the Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. This ignited the Reformation, as his Theses were distributed across Germany in a matter of weeks. Luther had rediscovered the Biblical doctrine of JUSTIFICATION, explained in our verse for this week, which is eternal life by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
But the Reformation was also the protest (hence the name “Protestant”) against the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. As priest Justin Holcomb explains, “The century before the Reformation was marked by widespread dismay with the corruption of the leaders in the Roman Catholic Church and with its false doctrines, biblical illiteracy, and superstition. Monks, priests, bishops, and popes in Rome taught unbiblical doctrines like the selling of indulgences, the treasury of merit and salvation through good works.”
And it was Halloween, along with the “Treasury of Merit”, that finally drove Luther to action. Halloween originates from the Celtic practice of sacrificing to Samhain, the lord of death and evil spirits. As Holcomb explains, “Those doing the pagan rituals believed Samhain sent evil spirits to attack humans, who could escape only by disguising themselves as evil spirits (i.e., ‘Halloween costumes’). Christians offered an alternative festival to celebrate the lives of faithful Christian saints on November 1, calling it ‘All Hallows’ Day, hence the name Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) for the preceding evening.”
Then came the “Treasury of Merit”, where “Spiritually earnest people were told to justify themselves by charitable works, pilgrimages, religious performances and devotions. They were encouraged to acquire this ‘merit,’ which was at the disposal of the church, by purchasing certificates of indulgence. This left them wondering if they had done or paid enough to appease God’s righteous anger and escape his judgment.”
It was in this month of October when Luther, now grasping the doctrine of justification, confronted the State Church with the biblical truth that God’s grace was FREE and available to everyone through Jesus Christ!. God the Father would credit any of us willing to place our trust in Jesus Christ with the righteous character of Christ Himself! Those spiritually oppressed people who were duped by the State Church into purchasing indulgences for access to heaven now realized they were wasting their money.
Here’s Martin Luther in his own words: “God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore, no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God, neither can he do the work of God, but he remains confined within his own work and makes of himself a fictitious, ostensible, false, and deceitful saint, that is, a hypocrite (Luther W.A. 1.183ff).” The message of the Reformation, proclaimed by Luther, has always been the message of the Bible. But as is the case in today’s American culture, our illiteracy has led to our forgetfulness.
The true hero of our annual Reformation Day is not Martin Luther. It’s the Bible. What Luther discovered was that the true teaching of the Bible had been hidden for centuries by manmade tradition.
Reformation Day is about releasing the power of the Word of God and the beauty and the truth of the gospel. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The gospel is like a caged lion. ‘It does not need to be defended, it simply needs to be let out of its cage’”. That’s why we celebrate Reformation Day.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.