What Christians Need to Know about Reformation Day
- Meg Bucher Writer and Author
- 2020 2 Oct
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21
Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” Reform signifies an improvement upon or ridding of oppression/evil by providing a better way. Reformation exposes corruption in an aim to make things better. As Christ-followers, we are in constant reform. “Since Christians are always sinners,” wrote W. Robert Godfrey, “the church will always need reform.” Contrary to what the Catholic Church of Martin Luther’s day proclaimed as truth, Luther poured over Scripture to find there was no penance required or good work needed to earn righteous standing with God. Through Jesus, our faith allows us to confess our sins and repent, becoming more sanctified by the day as we reach closer to the gates of heaven.
The Origins of Reformation Day
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:17 ESV
The 16th Century Protestant Reformation was born out of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. The reforms, particularly in regard to indulgences (payments taken in place of penance), were posted to a cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany as a proclamation. The 95 Theses were written in Latin and wouldn’t have attracted the attention of the German-speaking people on the way in and out of the church the day he nailed them to the door. His intent was to reform the Catholic Church. “True revivals are provoked by the sovereign work of God through the stirring of His Holy Spirit in the hearts of people,” wrote R.C. Sproul, “They happen when the Holy Spirit comes into the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37) and exerts His power to bring new life, a revivification of the spiritual life of the people of God.” Though Luther did not intend to start a new denomination, he was accused of being a heretic and was excommunicated in 1520.
Luther was born into a society heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. He and his family were devout Catholics, and Luther was a monk and a professor of theology. Inspired by his study of the Bible, in particular, the New Testament letters, Luther’s Scriptural revelation upheaved what many had become accustomed to and assumed biblically true. The Message paraphrase of Galatians 2:21 reads: “I am not going to back go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship to God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.”
Martin Luther’s personal struggle and revelation continue to remind us of the freedom and peace we have in Christ, despite our constant dysfunction and sin. Should we feel the burden of guilt and shame, we should remember Luther, run to God in Scripture, and embrace the Truth ourselves. Luther said, “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church, how could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?” We are forgiven, once for all, though we all fall short. No penance on earth could erase the effects of our sins. Christ accomplished it once and for all on the cross.
Reformation Day History
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
Martin Luther didn’t agree that the pope had authority over all Scripture, rather Scripture had authority over the pope and all church leaders. Some of the unbiblical doctrines taught by the church in that day included: the selling of indulgences, the treasury of merit, purgatory, and salvation through good works. These worldly ways and religious rule systems did not reflect the truth in Scripture. “Faith is a living, daring confident in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times,” Luther is quoted.
Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517. The purpose of Luther’s call for reform came to be known as the Five Solas, latin for slogans: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soil Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone.) Luther sought to return the focus of faith back to the source of it …Jesus. He stood trial at the Diet of Worms, after which he hid under the care of Frederick the Wise under the name Junker Jorg and translated the New Testament into German. He made it possible for people to read and sing in their own language at church, contrary to Catholic mass which was solely in Latin at the time. In hiding, Luther clung to Psalm 46, which the hymns he penned echo. The Psalm begins, “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
Through Luther’s work, people read and understood the truth for themselves. “The Protestant Reformation was the rediscovery of the doctrine of justification-“ Justin Holcomb explains, “that is, salvation by grace alone (Galatians 2:21) through faith alone in Christ alone.” Luther believed Scripture and singing God’s praises were dually important attributes of faith to be fostered by all people, and everyone should be granted access and opportunity to do so. “The apostle describes the spiritual or hidden life of a believer,” Matthew Henry further explains Paul’s words to the Galatians, “the more simply the believer relies on Christ for everything, the more devotedly does he walk before Him in all his ordinances and commandments.”
Reformation Day Traditions or Activities
October 31st officially marks the celebration of Reformation Day, though many churches celebrate the holiday the last Sunday in October with special services to commemorate Reformation Day. In the Lutheran church, the liturgical color for Reformation Day is red. Traditional celebrations include attending services to honor the holiday, at which many will sing the hymn written by Luther to inspire us to find strength in God’s love and salvation amid the woes of mortality. The lyrics to the hymn are listed here. To listen to the hymn, click here.
Other traditions and activities center around conversations about who Martin Luther was, and school plays reenacting scenes from his life. Young children may eat gummy worms to connect to the Diet of Worms or attach a replica of the 95 theses to their doors. In our modern age, documentaries and accessible resources, and craft-inspired projects, abound to celebrate Martin Luther’s extraordinary and historically transforming efforts.
Ask your church if they're going to have any Reformation Day activities this year, and if not, maybe you can host a small group from your church with family-friendly activities to celebrate the history of the day. For ideas on activities check out the links below.
- JanelleKnutson.com offers craft ideas like carving Martin Luther pumpkins, bobbing for 'solas,' or a Diet of Worms relay race.
- ProverbialHomemaker.com offers a great printable pack with paper activities for preschool and elementary school children.
- Thinkingkidsblog.org offers family resources like a 7-Day family Bible study on the Reformation, Reformation day snack ideas, and a Might Fortress Is Our God hymn study.
Does your kid like costumes and dressing up? There are plenty of Renaissance-style costumes on Amazon that are budget-friendly.
Reformation Day during COVID This Year
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 ESV
The landscape of what church looks like for many of us has changed during pandemic life. Consider reflecting on the events of the Reformation, whether we are able or choose to attend a service in person, or honor what God accomplished through Luther at home. Perhaps this year more than most we, as Christ-followers, should hold the Five Solas close to our hearts and place them purposefully at the top of our minds.
The world has consistently been met with challenges, heartache, and pain, and will continue to until Christ returns. As we wait in the middle between Christ's ascension to heaven and His return to take us home, we can celebrate the Scripture He has blessed us with. It is the whole Truth. Jesus is the Living Word, present throughout the entirety of Scripture.
Though we live in a tumultuous time, so did Luther. It didn’t stop him from seeking Christ first and putting God at the center. Now is our time. We’ve been set in this generation, purposefully, to proverbially nail our own declaration of faith to the door of our hearts, homes, and in our communities. Through Christ, alone, we come to God, forever redeemed. Luther said, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
10 Quotes from Reformers
1. Martin Luther: "A Christian lives not to himself, but in Christ and his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love, as Christ says in John 1:51, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.'"
2. Thomas Cranmer: "Lord of all power and might, which art the author and giver of all good things; graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy help us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord."
3. Desiderius Erasmus: "The sun itself is not more common and open to all than the teaching of Christ.... I wish the scripture were translated into all languages, so they might be read and understood, not only by Scots and Irish, but also by Turks and Saracens.... I wish the farm worker might sing parts of them [scripture] at the plow and the weaver hum them to the tune of his shuttle, and the traveler might beguile the weariness of the way by reciting them."
4. John Calvin: "We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God's; let us, therefore, live and die to him. We are God's; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God's; to him, then as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed."
5. Philip Melanchthon: "But what sweeter comfort can be given than these words of Paul in Romans 8:1, 'There is therefore no condemnnation to those who are in Christ Jesus'? That is, even though the regenerate are not without sin, yet God has received them and pronounced the believers righteous for the sake of His Son."
6. William Tyndale: "God giveth no man his grace that he should let it lay still and do no good withal, but that he should increase it and multiply it with lending it to others, and with open declaring of it with the outward works, provoke and draw others to God."
7. John Knox: "I write, that you, knowing this of the holy word, and most blessed gospel and voice of God, which once you have heard, I trust to your comfort, may now, in this hour of darkness, and most raging tempest, thirst and pray, that you may hear yet once again this amiable voice of our Saviour Christ, 'Be of good comfort, it is I, fear not.'"
8. Jan Hus: "I write you this letter in my prison and with my shackled hand, expecting after tomorrow my sentence of death, and have an entire confidence in God that he will not forsake me; that he will not suffer me to renounce his word, or abjure errors wickedly ascribed to me by false witnesses. When we shall meet again in a happy eternity you will know with what clemency the Lord deigns to assist me in my cruel trials. .... Lastly, I appeal to you to love one another, to shut out no one from the path of divine truth, and to watch that the upright be not oppressed by violence. Amen."
9. Katherine Parr: "O Lord Jesus, most loving spouse, who shall give me wings of perfect love that I may fly up from these worldly miseries to rest in thee? O when shall I ascend to Thee, Lord Jesus, that the sighings and desires of my heart may move and inclince Thee to hear me."
10. Girolamo Savonarola: "Send the fire and the power and the love of the Holy Spirit upon your Church. Your Church is so weak and feeble, dear Lord. There are so many millions in this world who have not yet heard the words of truth and salvation from the holy gospel. May the day not be far when all shall confess you as their Father and know you as their Savior."
*Quotes taken from ‘10 Quotes from Reformers to Strengthen Your Faith’ on Crosswalk.com. These quotes were originally published in Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation, a devotional by David Teems. Used with permission.
A Prayer for Reformation Day
You are the Author of every life, the whisperer of our unique purpose, and we pray for Your will in our lives. We celebrate Martin Luther, for the faithful life he led in bringing glory to Your name and pointing people to Jesus. Please work through us, as you did in Luther’s life. Help us to stand firm in the truth and work for Your Kingdom, spreading Your Word to the hearts of those who do not yet know You, Christ Jesus. Give us opportunities to speak with people who need to hear of Your hope and peace. We thank You for the way You work through every life, not just those we celebrate in moments of history, but for all the stories we may never know. There will always be one thing we can cling to, and that is the truth of Your Word through Scripture. You never change, Father. You are always in control. God, thank you for defending us, sustaining us, and providing for us. Thank You for Your compassionate care and whispers of wisdom. We pray for more of You, and less of us.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Scripture alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. Christ alone. For God’s glory, alone. We exist to bring glory to God, each in our own unique way. We cannot earn grace, nor lose our salvation. God is the Author of our hearts, and Jesus is the Savior of our souls. The very breath of God, the Holy Spirit- remains in every Christ-follower. No matter how the church changes over time, nor the trouble we endure societally, God and His Truth remain unchanged.
- Christianity.com, The Five Solas - Points from the Past That Should Matter to You
- Christianity.com, The Connection between Reformation Day and Halloween
- Relevant Magazine, 18 Martin Luther Quotes That Still Ring True
- The Gospel Coalition, 9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day
Related Reformation Day Articles:
- 10 Things You Should Know about the Reformation
- 10 Things to Know about Martin Luther and His 95 Theses
- Don't Celebrate Reformation Day Until You Know These 10 Things
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/typo-graphics
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.