October 2016 – On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Because it was customary for scholars and clergy to post disputations to that door, there was no fanfare and no reason to give the act a second glance. Yet, Luther’s sheet of parchment on that wooden door sent shivers down into the very foundation of Christianity.
In a day when cultural Christianity had become so muddled that church fathers taught that a man could literally pay his way to heaven, Luther armed himself with the Word of God to dispel the confusion. God had already provided a way for man to have salvation: faith in Christ alone. It was that simple reminder that ignited the fuse of what we now know as the Reformation of the church, a calling back to the original foundation of God’s word without man’s additives.
After decades of growing fat with worldly prosperity and turning after the idols of religious living, the church was being shaken out of slumber. Light had finally pierced dark clouds of ignorance and shone down on a desert of gospel-thirsty sinners.
The Word let loose
Years after Luther made his bold assertions and the Reformation was in full swing, French minister and theologian John Calvin adopted this motto: Post Tenebras Lux – “After darkness, light.” His motto aptly described the atmosphere of the reforming church.
After countless years of being locked away in Latin, read only by clergy and privileged scholars, the Word of God was finally let loose for all men. Like wildfire in a dry field, the gospel spread in transforming power. Men and women were burned at the stake by the unbelieving religious establishment for holding fast to Christ and His truth, but their shed blood only nurtured the roots of change.
Because of God’s work through men like Luther and John Calvin, countless believers took hold of Christ alone, building their faith on the Scriptures alone and beginning a new life in the grace of God.
Jon Bloom, writer and cofounder of Desiring God (desiringgod.com), expounds on the impact of the Reformation:
Wherever the church opened the door to Jesus, repentance and reformation was like chemotherapy to the cancer of spiritual corruption, and recovered belief in the gospel of Christ spread spiritual health through much of Europe, then on to the New World, Asia, and Africa. It spawned massive evangelism, church planting, Bible translation, and frontier missions efforts. And in its wake, it brought about all manner of social good: stronger families, honest commerce, economic empowerment for the poor, hospitals and clinics for the sick, education for the masses, encouragement for the scientific enterprise, democratic forms of civic government, and on and on.
Celebration of grace
While many will dress up in ghoulish costumes in a thinly veiled celebration of death’s dominion over man, October 31 should mean much to the Christian. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).
Do not let October 31 go to waste. Reformation Day is a reminder of more than Martin Luther and the Reformers. It is a reminder of the mercy-rich life of the Christian and the privilege of being seated in the heavenly places with the Savior.
Learn more about Luther
Luther’s story Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton
Luther’s theology Commentary on Galatians
Luther’s legacy The Reformation by Stephen Nichols