Happy Reformation Day!

It is a day that most people know as Halloween. A time to dress up in funny costumes, party, and hit the street to get bagloads of candy. For all of my childhood, that was the meaning of October 31st. Thus it was with some surprise that when I grew up, became a Christian, and went to college, I eventually heard the real meaning of the day that "Halloween" obscures - Reformation Day.

So what is this "Reformation Day," then? It is the day that a monk went up to the doors of his local cathedral and there nailed a piece of paper that would change the course of history. I am referring to Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses against Roman Catholic Church abuses in the year 1517. Although his action was not in itself particularly significant (he was simply calling for a scholarly debate over the question of how the Catholic Church was forgiving sins through the widespread practice of selling papal indulgences), it opened the doors for others to raise their voices and eventually led many back to the right view of the Bible and salvation. Thus, this day commemorates the symbolism of Luther's action - the whole Protestant Reformation is tied up within those first bold strikes of the hammer upon the nails.

Why did we need a "Reformation," anyway? It was because we needed to get to a right view of the Bible and salvation. The Catholic Church was teaching a false way of getting saved - by God's grace plus the works of our own efforts. Luther and the other Reformers, instead, emphasized that God's grace alone working through His gift of faith saved us from the wrath of the Lord. Even though we were completely helpless and dead in our sins, God decided to have mercy on us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered punishment on behalf of His people so that they could be saved to worship God forever. Salvation is all of God's grace; it is His work from the beginning to the end to open our eyes to see His glory, to give us the faith to trust in Him, and to preserve us on this earth until we see Him in His glory at the end of all things. This is, in a capsule summary, the message proclaimed by the Reformers. They simply wanted us to preach and teach true Christianity as it was given by Christ and His apostles.

"Reformation Day," then, is simply another way to celebrate the all-surpassing grace of God by recalling to our minds the courage of those who have gone before us to preach the pure Gospel of salvation. Let us remember Luther's uncompromising passion; John Calvin's systematic, logical, and pastoral heart; John Knox's fiery declamations against theological compromise; James Ussher's devout, precise, and learned scholarship; and not least of all the thousands of martyrs who gave their lives for the truth of the Gospel that the Reformation sought to recover and proclaim. And, lest we forget the urgency of the message these brave men and women risked their lives to tell, we must look around us and see the state of the current Church of Christ. How many are drifting away from the faith of our fathers, following the latest spiritual fads! How many are forsaking the true teaching which has been handed down faithfully, seeking the truth within themselves and their own experiences! If the Reformation is going to continue faithfully today, as we constantly seek to conform our lives everyday to God's truth in His Word, then we need to stick fast to our doctrine and to our confession.

This is not just a day of celebration of God's faithfulness, but is also a day of recommitment. Everyday we Christians seek to commit ourselves to the Lord's faithfulness and cling to the assurance of His everlasting mercy; let us then today, with a special view to what the hand of God has wrought in this world through His weak human vessels, be encouraged to press on with the work that lies before us, to be faithful to the truth. And because the Lord is sovereign, He will fulfill His promises and will complete the establishment of His Kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel and the gathering together of His Church.

I have provided this capsule summary of Reformation Day especially for those who would like to know why we have such a day, in the hope that they will turn their eyes and their hearts from commemorating the things of darkness and of fright to the things of light and of hope. It is not a mandatory day to be celebrated, of course, but is an infinitely better alternative to what is being widely observed this very day (and especially this very night).

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

- Romans 1:16-17