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What Is the Importance of Reformation Day?

What Is the Importance of Reformation Day?
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October 31 typically conjures up pictures of pumpkins, candy, and jack-o-lanterns. Despite the common association with Halloween, October 31 is also Reformation Day. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. This marked an important event for the Reformation, which greatly impacted the world.

Christians today can celebrate Reformation Day by reflecting on the day’s impact and influence on modern Protestant Christians and churches.

The Beginning of the Reformation?

Many Christians assume that October 31, 1517, was the beginning of the Reformation. However, historians debate the exact event that started the Protestant Reformation. Many historians of church history recognize a later date, June 12, 1520, as the official beginning of the Reformation.

On that date, Martin Luther burned the papal bull, which was an official document of the Pope that included statements about Luther’s deviation from accepted Roman Catholic doctrine, including indulgences.

While the papal bull demanded a recantation from Luther, he responded by burning the document. Because of this action, Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1521.

While the burning of the papal bull was a significant act, which catapulted Luther into the midst of the Reformation, with his refusal to recant his beliefs and his translation of the Bible into the common language of German instead of Latin, his publication of the 95 theses was the spark that ignited the fire of Reformation.

His 95 theses were basically statements about the Roman Catholic Church. These statements were mainly aimed at Johann Tetzel, who preached that buying an indulgence equaled receiving the forgiveness of sins. In Martin Luther’s time, people could buy indulgences to receive forgiveness of sins for themselves and for their loved ones who were supposedly in purgatory (Catholic teaching).

Through this money, the Roman Catholic Church earned revenue, which assisted in funding building projects, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However, to Martin Luther, such practices were equivalent to peddling, and he spoke out against such abuse.

In reply to the indulgence controversy, which abused and exploited many people in poverty, Martin Luther printed his 95 theses. Most of his statements deal with his theological questioning of the practice of indulgences. Significantly, in theses number 36, Luther stated, “Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.”

In his theses, he also pointed out the greed and corruption of using money from the poor while the Pope had plenty of money himself (Theses 50). As is stated in the Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, Luther’s statements “came to be viewed as a manifesto for reform.”

The Five Solas

Because of Martin Luther’s stand against the corrupt practices in the church at his time, there was a major change that developed in the establishment of Protestant churches and theology. The most celebrated theological points that emerged from the Protestant Reformation were the five solas: sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli deo gloria (glory to God alone).

Through Luther’s careful study of Scripture, he recovered the New Testament truth that individuals are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

These five solas corrected many of the key doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, which continue to be points of debate between Protestants and Catholics. Based on a study of Scripture, Luther and modern Protestant Christians agree with the five Latin solas. The first one is sola scriptura, which teaches that Scripture alone is authoritative, inspired, and without error.

As God’s Word, only the Bible should be seen as the final authority for all Christians (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21). This sola is contrary to the Roman Catholic teaching that tradition, papal authority, and Scripture are all equal in authority and infallibility.

In addition, solus Christus teaches that Christ alone is the Savior of mankind. His work on the cross and His resurrection is the only work that can save. Mankind’s works cannot save (Isaiah 64:6).

Jesus died in place of mankind to offer salvation, which is the only way to be justified and redeemed. Also, Christ is the only mediator and perfect High Priest (Hebrews 4:15). Catholic or any other priests are not mediators between individuals and God.

Sola fide, or faith alone, correlates with solus Christus since faith in Christ is the only requirement for salvation (Romans 10:9). There is no need to follow a set of works or sacraments to remain in grace. Believers are justified by faith alone, not by works (Galatians 2:16).

Sola gratia teaches that salvation is purely by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing within humans that forces God to show mercy or grace (Titus 2:3). Instead, His grace and love are unconditional, not based on anything done by humans.

Finally, soli deo gloria teaches that all glory belongs to God alone. Because God alone saves humans, based on His finished work, He alone deserves all glory and praise. Individual humans do not receive the glory, because they are the recipient of the Lord’s wonderful and undeserved love and grace (1 John 3:1; 4:10). Neither the church nor any church authority deserves credit since God alone is the one who has offered salvation to all people by sending His Son.

The Many Faces of the Reformation

Although Christians may be tempted to focus solely on Martin Luther on Reformation Day, there are many other reformers to recognize as well. Men like Urich Zwingli, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, Menno Simons, and Balthasar Hubmaier made many contributions to the Protestant Reformation as well. These reformers have influenced Protestant denominations and various practices based on their understanding of the Bible.

For instance, Urich Zwingli has influenced how many Christians view the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross. His view was based on Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, urging His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

John Calvin was also a reformer who made a great impact on Protestantism. Known as the theologian of the Reformation, Calvin contributed greatly to the development of Protestant doctrine. His work Institutes of the Christian Religion, published in 1536, continues to be influential in modern Christian churches from various denominations.

Similarly, Thomas Cranmer is remembered for the Book of Common Prayer, which greatly impacted the English Reformation. Today, believers around the world continue to use and be inspired by Cranmer’s most well-known contribution to the Reformation.

Finally, lesser-known figures of the Reformation, such as Menno Simons and Balthasar Hubmaier, have impacted major Protestant denominations. From Simons’ teaching and work came the Mennonites while Hubmaier influenced the early beginnings of the Baptists.

Although both men were members of the Anabaptists, their work and teachings influenced the development of later Protestant denominations with different points of doctrine. For instance, through Simons’ insistence on peaceful dealings with others, the Mennonites today continue to hold to pacifism and peace.

While there are areas that Christians will disagree with regarding Simons, Hubmaier, and the other reformers, these men have continued to impact modern theology, doctrine, and church practice based on their common insistence on biblical authority, justification by faith, and the centrality of Christ.

A Day to Celebrate Protestantism

Halloween may be commonly celebrated on October 31, but Reformation Day is an important day to remember and celebrate the history of Protestantism. Christians can take time to reflect on the impact of Luther’s 95 theses and the development of the five solas, which are defining marks for Protestant Christians.

Because of Luther, and others, who stood up to the corruption of the medieval church, the emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone has been restored, Scripture can be read in many native languages instead of Latin, and the ultimate authority of the church has been given back to the Lord instead of a church hierarchy. Believers can celebrate the Reformation and declare Soli Deo Gloria — Glory to God alone!

For further reading:

What Is Reformation Day in 2020? - Meaning for Christians Today   

What Is the History of Halloween?  

10 Things to Know about Martin Luther and His 95 Theses

What Is Sola Scriptura?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/SebastianHamm

Sophia BrickerSophia Bricker is a writer. Her mission is to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus through thoughtful articles, devotionals, and stories. She completed a BA and MA in Christian ministry, which included extensive study of the Bible and theology, and an MFA in creative writing. You can follow her blog about her story, faith, and creativity at The Cross, a Pen, and a Page.

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