It’s NOT The Holiday You Think


Happy anniversary, Christianity. Today commemorates the beginning of the Reformation. Some might think only Protestants can celebrate this anniversary, but as the name Reformation suggests, the idea Martin Luther had was to bring needed change to the Church, not to divide it.

What resulted was eventually what he hoped: the Catholic Church has reformed. But other denominations have also developed, each emphasizing something a little different from the others. As a result, I say, Happy anniversary, Christianity, because the Reformation called believers, Catholics and Protestants alike, back to things the Church in the first century emphasized.

In recognition of this special day, I’m re-posting an article (with some editorial changes) from 2011 that discusses Reformation Day.

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October 31—what holiday is the first that comes to your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the holiday that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen scary commercials and trailers for the latest horror movie or store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory?

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION! (First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, Newsbreak, 2011)

And the holiday has become known as Reformation Day, most often celebrated as Reformation Sunday on the Sunday prior to October 31.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

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According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction [between believers] … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

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[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

in 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.

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Reformation Day


Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)Reformation Day, the commemoration of Martin Luther’s bold challenge to the Church, is 497 years old today. While Luther contributed a great deal to Christendom, specifically regarding the value of Scripture over tradition, his greatest gift to theology came that afternoon 497 years ago.

Luther did not intend to split the Church or start his own denomination. Rather, he wanted discussion about practices in the Church that conflicted with his understanding of Scripture—specifically the selling of indulgences or the release from purgatory for and salvation of a loved one for a price.

The corrupt practice was lucrative and enriched the papacy at the expense of the clear teaching of Scripture. Luther boldly confronted the practice.

Luther taught that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo, before God, confronted face-to-face by God. This led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the Church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Within months, Luther’s views went viral. The papacy reacted and Luther sought protection from a powerful landed aristocrat.

But through the centuries Luther’s views have spread and today are influencing the church he confronted.

The great celebration of Reformation Day, then, is not that Protestantism was born. Rather it is the reforming truth that a person is not dependent upon his own finite efforts to reconcile with God but that God, because of His lavish love, gifted us with grace through faith, resulting in the removal of our offenses which created a barrier between us and God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In preparation for the 500th celebration of Reformation Day coming in three years, German Protestant and Catholic scholars are once again studying the 95 theses and finding some common ground.

“The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline,” [Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann] Bode said. The bishop’s views reflect the ideas of many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, have come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable just a century ago. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Fifteen years ago there was movement of this nature, too. A Joint Declaration of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church was issued.

The Joint Declaration represents a measure of convergence between Catholic and Reformational understandings of that article of faith by which the Church either stands or falls, to cite a favorite Lutheran saying. For example, the Joint Declaration asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

What a celebration, to see believers of various persuasions united by a return to faith and not works, to trust in Scripture and not tradition. Certainly there are differences that remain between Catholics and Protestant, but Reformation Day seems as if it may at last be a celebration of widespread Church reform, pointing people to the truth of the Bible, not the corrupt ideas of men.

Now, about the reform that’s needed among Protestants . . . 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on Reformation Day  
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Defining Who We Are


Two years ago, I watched an unpopular senator get re-elected though many thought she’d finally met her match. However, she got ahead of her opponent and defined her for the public. By the time the challenger came out with her ads saying what she would do as a senator, few people were listening. They already had her labeled, courtesy of Ms. Unpopular.

That political race told me a lot about how the public works in this day and age. We deplore attack ads, but we listen to them. We may not even realize we are, but it shows when people start saying what they believe about this or that candidate — the material is often straight out of the opponent’s playbook.

In the same way, Christians are allowing non-Christians to define us, to the point that we’re buying into it ourselves. Worse, we are parroting the ideas, as if they have merit, as if they are true.

I heard one on Sunday that really bothered me: Protestants don’t like to think about Jesus on the cross. All that blood and death makes us want to look away. The Catholics, now they embrace this dark side of salvation. By implication, the idea was, So should we.

I admit, I felt a little defensive — mostly because the accusation is scurrilous. In my church we regularly take communion, and until recently that was a time of reflection on Christ’s sacrifice, His broken body, His shed blood. How many times have I sung “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or “‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow” or “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”?

That contemporary song writers are not writing about Christ’s suffering doesn’t mean that Protestants don’t or haven’t put an emphasis on what Christ did in dying.

In addition, I’ve heard from our pulpit more than one sermon about Christ’s death, none more powerful than “Death on a Cross” that graphically took Christ through the scourging and beating and humiliation and nails and hours writhing in pain, to the spear piercing his side and proving his death. (You can listen to a sermon from the same text in the book of John by the same pastor, this one entitled “Jesus: A Lamb Led to Slaughter”)

I find it ironic, though, that we should be taken to task for focusing on Christ the resurrected Lord seated at the right hand of God. I’ve heard more than once that the cross Protestants display is barren because Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is, in fact, a risen Savior. Easter is a joyous time.

The cross is significant, no doubt. Paul says clearly that our “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. Without Christ’s death, we’d still have the burden of what we owe — an insurmountable burden.

The cross affected Christ in every facet of human existence. He was forsaken, betrayed, denied, humiliated, rejected, tortured, misunderstood, condemned, doubted, and killed. For me. For you.

Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it was pain, like few have experienced. But focusing on the physical alone is to miss the wider scope of what Jesus did. He bore our sins. The Man who had the nature of His Father, who lived accordingly, took on the stench of his fallen brothers — that which separates us from God.

How can that be? A Holy God, bearing sin? An immortal God, dying?

It is by Jesus’s blood we are sprinkled, by His precious blood we are redeemed. How can anyone say, Protestants look away from the cross? Perhaps they’ve mistaken our weeping for closing our eyes.

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (5)  
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