Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Reformation Day (October 31st) is and three reasons to celebrate it

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 and tomorrow 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.  October 31st is celebrated by many Christians the world over as "Reformation Day". As I think about what this day means and the message it conveys, three reasons can be proposed as to why I find great cause to rejoice over what God did in the Reformation of nearly five hundred years ago. 

The Reformation was a movement back to the Bible
At the heart of the Reformation movement was the cry to get back to the scriptures. Dr. R.C Sproul tells the story of a monument dedicated to the Reformation in one of the key cities wherein the movement gained ground, Geneva Switzerland: "In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth century Reformation. This Reformation Monument is adorned with statues of the great leaders, Calvin, Beza, Farel, and Knox. Surrounding these figures is the phrase, post tenebras lux - "After darkness, light."
Below is a picture of the wall mention by Dr. Sproul, with credit to the link:

Thus we can praise God for the Reformation due to the fact that it was used of God to realign Christianity back to the Bible. But now notice the second and closely related reason...

The Reformation was a movement back to the Gospel.
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 alone. Justification by faith alone states that God declares the sinner righteous based upon the necessity and sufficiency of saving faith. Sadly 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 majority report teaching of the church of the Middle ages in 16th century 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. God used men like Martin Luther in Europe, John Calvin in Switzerland and Ulrich Zwingli to rekindle the Biblical Gospel that had become but a burning ember in the hands of a church loaded down by traditions of men. The Reformation is to be celebrated because of how God used it to get us back to the Bible, to the Gospel and then thirdly....

The Reformation was a movement back to the Biblical church
As men like Martin Luther began the reform process in the 1500's, a system of centuries old tradition needed confronted. 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. In such a system, saving faith would had been included in the defintion of salvation, but it would had not been sufficient for one to be justified. 

One man, a monk, a "holy man" in the Roman Catholic system of religion, was very troubled in his soul. This man, Martin Luther, had dedicated his life to achieving the salvation promised by the Roman Catholic church. In a freak thunder and lightening storm, history tells us that a thunderclap knocked Martin Luther from his horse and in a moment of desparation he pledged himself in service to the Roman Catholic Saint Anne and chose to become a Monk in the Augustinian order of the Catholic church. Despite Luther's 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. Luther earned Master's and Doctorate degrees in prestigious European Roman Catholic Schools and was even teaching Roman Catholic Theology prior to the great Reformation break through. Despite being at the top of the religious heap in the eyes of men, Luther could not find peace with the very God he professed to know but knew deep down that he had never known.

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. Martin Luther's reformation movement in German sparked the beginning call for Reform across Europe and thus the recovery of the true church of Jesus Christ committed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone. 

Tomorrow's post will feature a two part-challenge to apply the significance of Reformation Day to our daily lives.