by Dan Hampton, Director of Growth Ministries at Holy Cross
October 31st, it’s Halloween. For many people, it is a day to dress up and make believe that we are something that we are not. This date has much more historical significance than the Party City Holiday it has become. Five hundred years ago, a simple man of God stood up and asked questions about current practices in the church. We know these questions today as the “95 Theses.” They were bold, articulate, and focused on the truth of God’s Word.
The year 1517 and most history from the Middle Ages is not full of great triumphs for the Church. Instead in many ways, religion became something akin to our Halloween practices – church officials and organizations were dressed up in costume pretending to be something that they were not. Popes and councils cared more for how much money could be raised and collected, instead of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ could save and comfort. Martin Luther changed that. What began as a few (95) questions for academic discussion, transformed into a movement, a movement we now call “The Reformation.”
But, what is it really about? Was Luther just trying to become famous? Had he grown tired of the practices of the church and wanted to make his own rules? No, when Luther wrote the 95 Theses he was a devoted member of the catholic Church. He wanted to ‘reform’ the church. In his mind, by exposing the lies and evil practices (such as the selling of the forgiveness of Christ), the leaders in the church would put an end to the evil practices. What Luther did not understand at the time however is that the church was corrupt, and those same leaders he was appealing to were in fact behind the scheme itself. Throughout the rest of Martin Luther’s lifetime, he would fight the authority of the church, with the authority of God’s Holy Word. He stood firm in the face of kings (who could have had him killed) and rested his faith upon the Word of God.
“Now, the way to receive God’s approval has been made plain in a way other than the laws in the Scriptures. Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets tell us this. Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no difference between people. Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory. They receive God’s approval freely by an act of his kindness through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free from sin. God showed that Christ is the throne of mercy where God’s approval is given through faith in Christ’s blood. In his patience God waited to deal with sins committed in the past. He waited so that he could display his approval at the present time. This shows that he is a God of justice, a God who approves of people who believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:21-26 God’s Word Translation
Through the study of Romans, Luther came to the realization that salvation, grace, and eternal life does not come from the Pope, from penance, or from purchasing an indulgence*. Salvation comes from the Son of God Jesus Christ who out of love, willing died on the cross to pay for our sins. Because of Christ, we now have been forgiven of our sins, have a relationship with God and may spend eternity with Him.
So what does October 31 really mean? Why is the Reformation worth remembering? In our world today it might be fun to think of October 31st as only a day of candy and fun with ghost and ghouls, but it is deserving of a much greater honor than that. It is the day that began a great change in the church. Martin Luther brought the Word of God back to the common people. He saw the Grace of God as a free gift and couldn’t keep it to himself. correspondingly to an Independence Day, October 31st is day to remember when freedom for the Christian under Christ, and became reality once again. May your remember October 31st by thanking God for the grace you have been given, and for sending people like Martin Luther who have had the courage to faithfully proclaim the Word of God throughout the ages.
* An indulgence was a grant by the Pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution. The unrestricted sale of indulgences by pardoners was a widespread abuse during the later Middle Ages.
Copyright Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado