Next to the holydays that commemorate the wonders of the grace of God in the fulness of time (Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost), the greatest holyday for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one we celebrate on the last day of this month: Reformation Day. It was on this day. October 31, 1517, that the Reformation of all reformations of the church of Jesus Christ, wherein we were liberated from the hierarchy and heresy, the bondage and blindness of the Roman Catholic Church, had its beginning. Certainly, there were other Reformations, before the 16th century and after. In 1834 there was one in the Netherlands, when under the leadership of Henry De Koch the true Reformed Church was liberated from the doctrinally and practically corrupt State Church of that time. There was another, though far more limited in scope, in 1924, when the churches that cast us out began to depart from the faith of the fathers. However, the Reformation that we celebrate this month was the father of them all, for it affected the entire church of all lands and all succeeding ages.
What actually took place on this date in the year 1517 is common knowledge. That night (afternoon, perhaps), the eve of All Saints’ Day, which the Catholics celebrate on the first of November and on which they pay their homage to all the saints and martyrs of the past, Dr. Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The shot that was really heard around the world! It was customary in medieval universities for those who wished to express and defend their opinions to post up in some public place “theses”, statements of their ideas, and invite all comers to debate on these issues.
In the main these theses, declarations, of the doctor of Wittenberg constituted a protest against certain vicious practices in the Catholic Church, especially the ungodly sale of indulgences as conducted in those days. Originally, an indulgence offered mitigation of pains in purgatory. Gradually they became certificates, signed by the Pope himself, that certified the forgiveness of sins. For a certain sum of money one could purchase the forgiveness of any sin, even those still to be committed, and any soul could be liberated from purgatory. Luther realized the devastating implications of this carnal traffic, saw how they led the church farther and farther away from God, and thoroughly aroused, he determined to strike at this vice with heat and force. This he did in his 95 theses, which he posted on the door of the Wittenberg Church, and in which he declared that indulgences, even though signed by the “Holy Father” in person, were worthless to affect souls in purgatory or remove guilt, and that the penitent sinner had his forgiveness of sin directly from God without any indulgences of any kind. Nor could the aroused Luther have chosen a better time and place to air his views, for the festival of “All Saints” was an important one in the Catholic Church and on this day the people would be certain to swarm to church in droves.
These days, which precipitated the entire Reformation, were intended merely as a protest, no more. Nothing was farther from the mind of Luther at this time than to break with the “Holy Mother Church”. Plainly, he did not begin to suspect what far-reaching effects this act of his would have. Who knows what even a fearless man like Luther would have done if he had realized the full import of his deed. Later, historians tell us, Luther was often amazed at himself and he could not understand how he had dared to do it. What he really had in mind was to defend and protect the church and the Pope himself against those that were making merchandise of the holy things. At best, he intended a reform within the Roman Catholic Church itself.
However, what Dr. Luther intended and did, by the grace and providence of God, were two things. He did not foresee that by his act the entire church in the world would be split right down the middle, yet,—that’s precisely what he did. These 95 theses precipitated a world-wide reformation. They struck a mortal blow at the very heart of the power of the hierarchy and its head, the Pope. They contained all the genus of the Reformation. They were the beginning of the liberation of the church from Roman Catholic bondage. Permeating these declarations were the principles that would presently overthrow the entire papal edifice. They were truly, Luther’s intentions notwithstanding, a Declaration of Independence for the church of Christ. By means of them the church was led out of the darkness of that time and the lights went on again all over the world.
That is the real significance of October 31, 1517.
How pitiful, Christian friends, more enthusiastically and conscious that this great day is not celebrated more enthusiastically and consciously and that in its place we have such a vain and nonsensical thing as Halloween. Certainly, the devil has invented something to obscure the great event that we should commemorate on this day. I know, other holydays, too, have their worldly counterpart. Think of Christmas and Easter. Even so, what is sillier and more off-color than Halloween. Covenant young people, let’s get away from this heathenish nonsense and return to the real significance of this day. Let’s celebrate Reformation Day, not Halloween. In all good conscience I ask: who have more right to do so than we of the Protestant Reformed Churches? Many in our day celebrate the Reformation and claim the reformers as their spiritual fathers, who have no right to do so at all. Even the modernists, who openly and vehemently trample under foot all the Reformers stood for, speak of the Reformation. They are like the Pharisees and others in Jesus’ day, who even while they laid a wreath on the tombs of the prophets murdered them who professed the same truth. Others there are, whom we do not deny the right to celebrate this event, but who have nevertheless begun to depart from the faith of the fathers and the basic principles of the Reformation. It is my sincere conviction, and it should be yours, that none have more right to rejoice in and for the Reformation than we: that no church today is nearer than ours to the principles of the Reformation; and that also our far more limited reformation of 1924 was a maintaining of the basic principles of 1517.
Mark, then, what God has wrought! Well may we be exhorted with a view to the riches of His grace which God has imparted, also by means of this wonder of the Reformation, “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
Next time we discuss the question: Just what did the Reformation contribute to the church of the new dispensation?