When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, the action sparked a reformation of the Church that has continued as a great triumph of truth over the lie even to this day. It’s an event we mark with much thanksgiving to God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised His disciples so long ago, that He would lead them, and us, into all truth.
Not that all was lost before the Reformation. For centuries God had led His people deeper into the truth. Out of much controversy over the correct understanding of the Trinity and the exact nature of the Son of God had come the early Christian creeds. Then God led men like Augustine (born in A.D. 354) and Gotteschalk (born in A.D. 806) to see the truths of Scripture more clearly. They understood how election and reprobation meant salvation was all of God’s sovereign, particular grace and no work of man’s at all. But there was always controversy. The Catholic Church did not like the teachings of such men. Gotteschalk was cruelly whipped and left to rot in prison. Except for God’s continued work of preserving His truth, the pure doctrines of grace would have rotted in prison with him.
The Middle Ages are also known as the Dark Ages. Men call them so because of the general lack of education and knowledge that characterized this time, along with many false and superstitious beliefs. The days were very dark spiritually. The Church developed in the lie that man can and must do work for his own salvation. The Church of Rome hid the truth from the people. No one was allowed to own their own copy of Scripture. Bibles were only on church pulpits, and these were only in Latin—not the language of common men. Even if Scripture had been in the everyday tongue, most people couldn’t read. The days were dark indeed.
Yet a light began to break through on the day before All Saints in 1517 when Luther nailed his theses to a church door in Wittenberg. Did Luther know the effects this simple act would have on the Church, and even the world? Did he know this event would be remembered almost 500 years later? What brought Martin Luther to write down all the 95 items to discuss concerning the problems he saw with doctrines and practices in the Church of his day?
Let us look at some of the stories behind this celebrated eve of All Saints Day…