Reformation Day is an important liturgical festival that is celebrated by Lutherans and Christians of many Protestant denominations. Within the Lutheran church, Reformation Day is officially referred to as The Festival of the Reformation. It commemorates the day that a Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and priest by the name of Dr. Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed a notice of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Back then it was customary to post public notices on the Castle church door. However, this act triggered the movement in world history known as the Reformation.
WHAT WAS THE REFORMATION?
While it had profound and lasting impacts on the political, economic, social, literary, and artistic aspects of modern society, the Reformation was at its heart a religious movement. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the doctrine of justification, that is, the good news of salvation by grace through faith for Christ’s sake.
The Reformation gave us the Bible – now freely available in our own languages. Few people today realize that the first Bibles printed into English had to be smuggled into England, and that the Bible translator, William Tyndale, was burnt at the stake for the crime of translating the Bible into English. Seven mothers were burned alive at Coventry for teaching the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed to their children – in English.
WHY WAS THE CHURCH IN NEED OF REFORM?
At that period of time, the Roman Catholic Church had been plagued by superstition, ignorance, and corruption. Since most ordinary Christians were illiterate and had little knowledge of the Bible, they relied on their clergy for religious instruction and guidance. Tragically however, monks, priests, bishops, and even the popes in Rome back then taught unbiblical doctrines like purgatory and salvation through good works. Spiritually earnest people tried to justify themselves by charitable works, pilgrimages, and all kinds of religious performances and devotions, but they were left wondering if they had done enough to appease God’s righteous anger and escape His punishment. The truth of the gospel — the good news that God is loving and merciful, that He offers each and every one of us forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us — was largely forgotten by both clergy and laity. The Holy Spirit used an Augustinian friar and university professor named Martin Luther to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity. Today the Roman Catholic Church has done away with the practice of purchasing indulgences and of course allows and encourages the Bible to be translated into many languages. Much of what Luther fought for is practiced today by the modern Roman Catholic Church but back then he was seen as a rebel and an outlaw.
The fact that Reformation Day coincides with Halloween may not be mere coincidence. Halloween, being the Eve of All Saints’ Day, might have been an entirely appropriate day for Luther to post his 95 Theses against indulgences since the castle church would be open on All Saints’ Day specifically for people to view a large collection of relics. The viewing of these relics was said to promise a reduction in time in purgatory similar to that of the purchase of an indulgence. Dr. Luther was clever in his choice of that day to post his theses.