This year, Halloween happens to fall on a milestone anniversary: the 500th celebration of Reformation Day. On October 31, FIVE HUNDRED years ago… 500… five 100s… in the year 1517, Martin Luther launched a reformolution*. Legend has it that Martin the monk nailed 95 statements (known as theses), to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther’s statements challenged his contemporary culture’s treatment of Scripture and decried as heresy the questionable consumer-based methods of the Church.
Martin was a priest who had, at that time in history, the unique role of teaching the Bible at Castle Church. Most priests and monks in Europe, at least, were not concerned, nor deeply familiar, with the Bible. At that time in many church circles, the Bible was viewed with a kind of disdain or disregard. It was often given a back seat to other works (such as those written by Aristotle) in theological studies. The Bible was only available in Latin and spoken only in Latin during mass. Luther’s theses launched a challenge against this lack of biblical foundation and contended that through Scripture alone, not the administration of the Church, could a person come to know salvation.** Sola Sriptura.
Secondly, through his study of Scripture, Martin Luther learned that salvation came from Christ alone. Contemporary religious practice of that day instructed that salvation could come through buying your salvation, whether through good works or through the monetary purchase of “indulgences” that gave you reprieve from Purgatory in proportion of your price. No, Luther discovered by reading the Bible, no one can earn salvation. It is only through reliance upon Jesus’ grace through the cross that people may be forgiven and restored. One of the passages from the Bible that gripped Luther’s soul was Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Sola Fide.
In the end, all of this points to Christ. In Christ alone, our hope is found.*** Sola Christus.****
The Anniversary, according to Eric Matexes in his recent biography of Martin Luther, is not quite accurate. Prior to October 31, Luther most likely actually mailed his 95 theses to the archbishop who oversaw the sales of indulgences. After October 31, he likely pasted the theses to the Wittenberg doors in an effort to drum up a theological debate with other priests and monks. The fact that his 95 statements became the focal point of a historical catalyst was most likely not in Luther’s scope.
For the most part, because of Luther, Christianity is much healthier around the world today. And, in some ways, the Church still needs further realignment. Luther’s refreshing rediscovery of the Word of God, much like Ezra and Nehemiah before him, urges us in our day to avoid the trappings of consumeristic faith and instead to dive deeply into Scripture— a posture which inevitably leads us to look to Christ alone.
*Reformolution – my made up word to celebrate the revolution of religious reform that Martin Luther launched on Oct 31, 1517.
** Luther worked on a Germanic translation of the Bible, and as a result, is often referred to as the father of the German language.
*** Psalm 121:1-2 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. NASB
**** For a quick overview of Luther’s five focal solas: http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/the-five-solas-of-the-protestant-reformation.html