October 31st isn’t just the day little kids dress up in costumes and knock on strangers doors demanding candy. It is a date far more historically meaningful than any ghost, goblin or Disney character. It is also the date that marks the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That glorious event that reclaimed many of the biblical truths you may take for granted today and reshaped the world in sweeping and dramatic ways.
This October is especially important as it marks the Reformation’s 500-year anniversary.
I have obsessed over the celebration of this momentous event. So much so that my wife is sick of hearing the names Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly. But not everyone is equally enamored with Reformation Day. Many ask the question, “Why does the Reformation matter?”
A great deal has happened in the half millennia since Martin Luther nailed his theses to the chapel door and you are its beneficiary. But from what have you benefited?
The Reformation is not a date on the calendar or a mere historical event but as something alive and active in your life today. Below are two reasons the Protestant Reformation matters today.
1. The Bible you hold in your hands or keep in your pocket.
Reading the Bible for yourself was not a common or acceptable practice 500 years ago. The church told you what it said, what it meant and what you were to believe. The concept of a commoner with a Bible in their language was so unthinkable that it got John Wycliffe in trouble nearly 200 years before Luther. Wycliffe died before he could finish translated the Scriptures into English, but that didn’t stop authorities from digging up his body, burning it and throwing the ashes into the river. That’s what you call opposition to an idea!
The reformers picked up Wycliffe’s torch and ran with it by translating the Bible into the languages of everyday people. They put the words of God into the hands of men and women to read and learn for themselves.
While facing martyrdom Luther declared, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves–I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.”
If your heart and mind are to be held captive to the Word of God, you have to be able to read and know what it says. Without the tireless efforts of the reformers, you may not have the access and knowledge of exactly what the Bible says.
2. Justification by faith alone.
The reformers reclaimed the very heart of the gospel. The sweet and simple message of the good news of salvation was corrupted by the Roman Catholic Church. A system of penance and religion had replaced the finished work of Christ. Luther led the charge to recover the truths of the gospel—namely that salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone.
The Westminister Catechism expresses this clearly in question 70:
Question: What is justification?
Answer: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
Talk about an issue worth standing and ultimately dying for!
Luther was right that justification is, “the article by which the church stands or falls.” It was the case 500 years ago and it remains so in our day. Too many have abandoned the truths of Scripture delivered to us, chief among which is how a man is saved. The church needs to hear the call of the gospel again today and every day.