Thursday, October 31, 2013

The reason to rejoice over October 31st

Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

I want to share with you today why I find so much joy over October 31st. One of the Greatest Revivals of all time - the Protestant Reformation, began almost 500 years ago on October 31, 1517.  This movement was used of God to realign Christianity back to the Bible and the centrality of the Gospel. Jesus promised his church in Matthew 16:18 - "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." Spiritual darkness had increased in the period of history called the Middle Ages (variously defined, but for simplicity we'll assign 800-1517 A.D). 

The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though dimmed by the human traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, was not quenched. True to Jesus' promise, the scriptures remained intact and throughout the centuries a handful of Bible teachers like John Wycliffe, John Huss and others preached the Gospel's central message of Justification by faith. Nevertheless Justification by Faith Alone was not the North Star doctrine of the church, but rather was on the outer edges of the firmament of the church's teaching.  The guiding light of the church in Europe was the Papal system, the Roman Catholic church's system of sacraments and centuries of tradition mixed with Christianity.  

Justification by Faith alone, taught by the Prophets, Christ and the Apostles needed to be front and center once again.  The Biblical Gospel needed to be in not just a few mouths of travelling preachers and groups journeying throughout the regions of spiritually darkened Europe, but central to the preaching of pulpits everywhere. In today's post I want to urge every Christian to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with at least one person over the next week. We will be surveying what took place in that move of God that began on October 31, 1517 called the Reformation. Below is the main reason I rejoice over October 31st.  May it be your primary reason by the end of today's post.

As already noted, nearly 500 years ago the Roman Catholic Church had a repressive system of religion that had people buying what was in their minds a right standing with God. Over the centuries a whole system of church tradition had accumulated, telling people that in order to be right with God, they had to make pilgrimages to certain churches and make financial contributions to secure their place with God both in this life and the one to come. In addition, the church also manipulated people to make contributions, alleging that once paid, their dead relatives would be freed from an imagined place called purgatory, and thus go to heaven.


One man, a monk, a "holy man" in the Roman Catholic system of religion, was very troubled in his soul. He had dedicated his life to achieving the salvation promised by the Roman Catholic church. Despite his best efforts, he felt more guilty and alienated from God, even though he confessed to the priests, prayed hours a day and went on long fasts. That man's name was Martin Luther.


Martin Luther was so troubled that he began searching the scriptures and read these words in Galatians 3:11 - "The just shall live by faith". God's Grace was at work, and suddenly Martin Luther saw that all of the pilgrimages, the contributions to the churches, the confessions, fastings, being baptized into the church, even being a Monk - all of it - contributed nothing to his salvation. Alas, Luther rediscovered the heart of the Christian Gospel that all but a faithful few had forgotten over the centuries - that a man is made right before God by faith alone in Christ Alone.


Luther did a 16th century equivalent of facebook - He made a post. Only this post was pen and paper nailed to the door of a church (much like if we were to post on facebook or announcements on a bulletin board). Luther wanted to make a public announcement for all to see, posting what was called his "95 theses" on a church door in Wittenberg Germany. These 95 reasons or "theses" aimed to protest the Roman Catholic system to which the Bible revealed to be corrupt. Luther did this on October 31, 1517, sparking the greatest move of God in the past 500 years - The Protestant Reformation.  Luther's main objective was to oppose the system of Indulgences wherein the church promised to those who paid money access to the overflow of grace contained in the Roman Catholic Church's treasury of merits. 

The root or formal cause of Luther's call for Reform had to do with ultimate authority in the Christian life and church.  The big question Luther needed to answer was: is the Pope and his statements concerning who went to heaven and who did not the ultimate authority for the church, or is it sacred scripture that God alone revealed to communicate matters pertaining to this life and the one to come? As Martin Luther wrestled over such questions, his conclusion was - Scripture alone! 

As Martin Luther denounced the Catholic Church's system of indulgences, a second question emerged: how is a man or woman made right with God? It was in his reading of Paul's letters to Galatians and Romans that God showed him that God's gifting of faith is not only the necessary, but also sufficient means in which the sinner receives Christ's accomplished work of salvation. (compare Ephesians 2:8-9)  

Roman Catholicism of 16th century Europe, as well as today, communicates faith to be necessary for salvation - however it teaches that faith by itself is not sufficient.  According to Rome, one must participate in the Roman Catholic church system of baptism, confession, penance and Mass to be deemed right by God and to stay right.  

In contrast, Luther and those after him re-asserted the Biblical truth that faith alone is both the necessary and sufficient means of receiving the gift of salvation.  Following God's declaration of the sinner's righteousness in saving faith, the Christian life proceeds in Godly living with a faith that is not alone, but produces the fruits of Godliness. 

Thus Justification by Faith Alone became the central doctrine or material cause driving the vehicle of the Protestant Reformation.  The doctrine of scripture alone (sola scriptura) was Luther's fuel in the engine that drove His call for reform - Justification by faith alone (sola fide).  Luther himself noted that Justification by Faith is the one article upon which the church rises or falls.


Soon the then newly invented printing press was utilized to distribute copies of Luther's 95 Theses all over Germany.  As we already explained, the heart and sole of the Reformation centered around the re-discovery of the unique authority of scripture which proclaims the truth of Justification by faith Alone.  This is the main reason I find reason to rejoice over October 31. The Gospel shined forth not as a candle but as a brilliant sun, outshining all other would be contenders. Because of God's movement in the life of one man, the Gospel, preached by the prophets, Christ and the apostles, would once again shine.1  

It is time to take back October 31, and use this day to proclaim the truth of scripture and the reformation, sparked on October 31, 1517.  Gospel Light, not darkness, should characterize our lives as Christians.  October 31st has been for years by Wiccans and people of the Pagan/Witchcraft worldview to observe one of the so-called "spirit nights" on their yearly calendar.  Rather than promoting a day of darkness and wickedness, witches and ghosts, Christians need to take a God-centered event like the Reformation and remind themselves of how God led His church back to the Bible and salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.  

The Reformation was about calling forth people from spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus Christ.  Someone once said: "It is more effective to light a candle than merely curse the darkness".  Lets light the Gospel light and shine the glory of the Gospel.  As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 - “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."   

End Notes______________
1 As with all major movements of God, the Protestant Reformation was not without God having moved upon prior people and groups who lived before Martin Luther.  Men like John Wycliff and John Huss, who both lived and ministered at the end of the 1300's.  John Wycliffe produced the first complete English translation of the Bible from what was then the prevailing Bible translation of the day - the Latin Vulgate.  John Huss preached 100 years before Luther came on the scene and ended up dying in Martyrdom.  Men such as these are referred to as the "morningstar" of the Reformation, since they signaled a precursor of the cry for Reformation that would ring throughout Europe in the 16th century.   

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