Today is Reformation Day. Each year on October 31, Reformation Day is celebrated by Protestants who wish to commemorate an important event that happened many years ago on this date. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, who at that time was a Roman Catholic priest and theology professor, nailed his Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. In doing so, Luther invited debate over the selling of indulgences. Amongst other things, he took issue with some within the Roman Catholic Church that preached “that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.” (95 Theses #27) Many mark October 31, 1517 as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation is one of my favorite history topics. Learning about it helped me grow in my understanding of the biblical doctrine of justification and become more acquainted with important characters in church history like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. (It also provided me with a name for my favorite pet parakeet Zwingly. I miss that little guy.)
There was a time when I knew little about the Reformation. When my husband and I were fairly young in our faith, we realized there was a big gap in our knowledge about that part of church history. What exactly was this mysterious Reformation that we heard other Christians mention from time to time? Having both been raised Catholic and experiencing our own mini-reformation after we were both saved, we were more than a little curious to learn all we could about the Reformation. Back then, the Internet was not the resource it is today; so we utilized old history books from used book stores, new books, VHS movies and documentaries, and messages on cassette tape. Remember VHS and cassette tapes!?
To be thorough and fair, we drew from both Protestant and Catholic sources. We knew that there would likely be some bias on both sides. Reading wide on a topic helps make the “real” story easier to see.
Learn about the Reformation
This particular story is important to know. The Reformation happened for a reason, well many reasons actually. It had a profound impact on individual lives and countries in Europe, and was a true turning point in church and world history. I encourage you to look into it if you haven’t already. There are a lot of resources available to help bring the story into focus. You could begin your research by reading or watching biographies of key players. I would also recommend reading some of their writings. You could also study some relevant terms. Learn what they mean and study the theological ones in light of the Bible. This way you can examine both Protestant and Catholic positions biblically. It will only strengthen a biblical faith.
If you are Catholic, I recommend the same thing. Leading reformers were originally Catholic and even priests like Luther. They knew the teachings and practices of the Church. Through their studies they discovered teachings that could not be reconciled with the Scriptures, teachings that related to salvation. They knew how serious this was. It’s still serious today. Through the Bible we can know the way of salvation. If ones beliefs about salvation cannot be reconciled with the Bible, eternity is at stake. It’s wise to look and look carefully. Hold unto whatever holds up with the word of God.
Lastly, you could also study the Reformation by country. Here are some names/terms that are connected with the Reformation to help get things started. Searching for them online with the word reformation will help focus the results.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
King Henry VIII
Pope Leo X
Queen Mary I
Council of Trent 1545 – 1563
Diet of Worms 1521
Fox’s Book of Martyrs
Gutenberg movable type printing press
Marburg Colloquy 1529
Priesthood of Believers
While the events and characters of the Reformation are interesting and important to know about, the most important things to understand are the doctrinal issues that were central to its cause. There were critical doctrinal distinctions between the Roman Catholic Church and the reformers. These distinctions still exist today, although many seem less aware or concerned about them. Ecumenism is widespread and growing. Today’s politically correct and inclusive culture is fertile ground for minimizing or denying the distinctions that earlier generations of believers recognized and even died for.
Study the Doctrine of Justification
One of the central contentions was over the doctrine of justification. Justification deals with man’s guilty standing before God because of sin and how that changes to a righteous standing. Understanding this doctrine biblically is vital to salvation. It goes to the heart of the gospel and is entwined with other aspects of salvation like regeneration, adoption, and sanctification.
Differing from the Catholic Church’s teaching that justification is a process that spans a life time and involves faith and cooperation with God’s grace through works, the reformers taught that justification was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was not seen as a process, but an event. This remains the Protestant position today. These are opposing views, yet there is only one biblically correct view of justification. Which one is it? In the spirit of this anniversary of that historic October 31, I invite you to study it out if you have never done so before. It is a great way to grow in the knowledge of God and His word. Also, it can be part of being ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15) We should be able to give a biblical answer to the question how is one justified before God? The way of salvation is in the answer. Please see Studying the Doctrine of Justification for suggestions on how to approach this work.
Post Tenebras Lux
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Thanks for this post!
I heard a discussion on Christian Radio that said as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, surveys of today’s population at large are showing that we are just about back to Luther’s time in how God and salvation are viewed (i.e., most still believe that somehow they can work their way to heaven, and familiarity with the gospel message is ever decreasing). It might be time for new “door” postings…thanks for being a door poster, Sharon!
You’re welcome! I will post for as long as our Lord gives me opportunity. I pray that the light that shown forth during the Reformation shines brightly today wherever it is needed.