October 31 is seen today as all about costumes, candy, and creepiness. However, October 31 also marks a day where God acted in a truly remarkable way, and brought about one of the most significant events of the past millennium. Today, the observance and celebration of this is known as Reformation Day.
On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a notice to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. He had produced a list of 95 issues concerning the practices of the Catholic Church that he wished to debate with his fellow university faculty. However, these 95 Theses, as we know them today, were taken by enterprising students, and soon spread through Europe like a wildfire. In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had drifted badly into corruption, unbiblical practices, and a perversion of Gospel truths; consequently, Luther’s hard looks at how the church had departed from Scripture were eagerly embraced by many, despite frequent repression and persecution.
This urge for Reformation—a return to Biblical fidelity, and the right teaching, reading, and preaching of the Word of God, was taken up not only by leaders like Luther, but soon thundered through all of Europe, thanks to men such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Knox. Women like Lady Jane Grey, Katharina von Bora, and Ursula von Münsterberg also suffered and fought for the recovery of an uncompromising faith directed by Holy Scripture.
Though the excesses, errors, and outright heresies the Reformers attempted to address were many, at the heart of the Reformation, we find this cry: “Sola Fide”, or “Faith Alone”. This was a rejection of the idea that mankind could do anything in its own works to earn salvation. No purchased indulgences, which promised divine forgiveness for a price, no veneration of fraudulent relics, no empty rituals could in any way change one’s standing before a just and holy God. Rather, as we read in Romans 1:17, “the just shall live by faith”. When we put our faith in Christ, we have his righteousness given, or imputed to us. We are not infused with righteousness, or righteous in ourselves, but ascribed a righteousness apart from ourselves—that righteousness of a perfect, crucified and resurrected Savior in Christ. When we have put our faith in Jesus, God the Father regards Christ’s righteousness as ours. Good works come from this living faith; they do not add to it for salvation. This is the great biblical truth that the Reformers fought for.
There is much else to celebrate in the Reformation—men such as William Tyndale, who helped give us an English Bible (and paid for it with his life); Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, who were burnt at the stake for spreading these truths to Scotland; William Hunter, executed for daring to read the Bible for himself; and countless others, men and women who saw that the words of salvation, and of the ability to know the reality of the Gospel and God’s Word were worth any amount of suffering.
This October 31, Reformation Day, let us not take the ability to hear and preach the Gospel for granted. May our churches ring with cries proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified. May we always seek adherence to what Christ commands for His church, and prayerfully be led by Scripture. Let us understand that God worked in His inestimable mercy to give us godly predecessors and examples that would fight for the recovery of that Holy Scripture. May we treasure God’s Word, understanding what mercy the Holy Spirit wrought in preserving it, and how dearly this privilege was paid for. Above all, let us remember the greatest gift is that rebels against God may be pardoned, regarded as righteous by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone.