Reformation Day - the Alternative to Halloween
When I was about four years old, my family stopped celebrating Halloween. We stopped trick-or-treating. For the last time, I dressed up in my Tinkerbell costume accessorized by my plastic bucket of potential candy. I walked the streets of my neighborhood on my last Halloween obliviously begging for treats that for some reason were passed willingly into my accepting but ignorant hands.
We stopped celebrating Halloween, but we started celebrating something else - Reformation Day.
What is Reformation Day, you will probably ask. Not many people in America have actually heard of this holiday. Halloween overtakes October 31st and leaves hardly any room for anything else. But fear not (though death's heads and haunted houses lie on every corner this time of year), for I will attempt to clear the air about Reformation day, explaining a bit about the historical roots of this meaningful holiday.
Reformation Day is essentially a celebration of the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s. It was a time of great cultural change and idealogical revolution. Over the course of the centuries preceding (also known as the Dark Ages), the Roman Catholic Church had grown into an overwhelming power in the Western world. This power the church leaders abused in such practices such as indulgences and simony. In addition to this, the common people had no access to the Scriptures. Only church leaders and the well-educated who could read Latin were able to read the Bible for themselves. Because of this, the Catholic Church was hardly ever questioned or called to account for its teachings. Heresy seeped under the church doors like an ill vapor, and corruption was the result.
The Morning Star
These dark days could not last forever. Like the first pale glimpses of dawn, a few godly men prepared the way for the greatest upheaval in the history of the Christian church.
John Wycliffe (c. 1324 - 1384), called "The Morning Star of the Reformation," was one of the first to question the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Wycliffe translated much of the Bible into the English vernacular, enabling the common people of England to read the Word of God in their own tongue.
In Bohemia, John Huss (c. 1372 - 1415) was another founder of the Reformation. Huss, a well-educated priest, realized the errors taught in the church after reading the Scriptures for himself, and he was eventually burned at the stake as a martyr for what the church called heresy.
Even before these strong men of God, there was an undercurrent of unrest in the church. Peter Waldo (1140 - 1218) started a movement in the 12th century that questioned the dogma of the established church. Waldo called out the Catholic heresies of transubstantiation and purgatory and was instrumental in translating the Bible into the vernacular of Lyons. His followers, the Waldensians, were persecuted for centuries.
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Set the World Aflame
On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation exploded when a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" on the church door at Wittenburg, protesting false teachings propagated by the Catholic Church. These and other writings of Luther opposed Catholic doctrines such as those of indulgences, absolution, and justification by faith plus works.
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) had been a devout monk, seeking to mortify his flesh by depriving himself of comfort. He sought to please God by his good works, but failed to find satisfaction in his own "goodness." But as Martin Luther learned more of the Bible and what it really taught as opposed to what the Catholic priests and their traditions taught, he awakened to the reality of the Gospel and dedicated his life to the truth.
In risk of his life, Martin Luther called out the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and questioned the teachings and traditions that were weighing the people down and leading them astray. Luther held that the Word of God is the only authority and that the head of the church is Jesus Christ not the Pope. He believed that man is justified by faith alone, and not by anything he can accomplish. He was instrumental in bringing the German people the Bible in their own tongue.
A film worth watching
Of course, the Church reacted in kind by burning Luther's books, excommunicating him from the Church, and declaring him a heretic. But despite their efforts to stifle the flames, the Protestant Reformation was well on its way to change the world. Monks and nuns changed by the true Gospel rejected their vows and married. Relics were destroyed. The people were armed with the Word of God in their own language. The Dark Ages were a thing of the past.
The Word Spreads
The Protestant Reformation swept over Europe, changing the hearts and lives of both the clergy and laity. Although Martin Luther is most often the name associated with the Reformation, many other men helped in spreading the Gospel.
John Calvin (1509 - 1564) was very instrumental in the Reformation in France and Switzerland. A brilliant theologian, Calvin served as a pastor in Strasbourg and Geneva. He was a prolific writer, managing to write his heavy-duty Institutes of the Christian Religion, a catechism, and extensive commentaries on the Bible as well as sermons every Sunday. John Calvin is known for his teachings on predestination, also known as Calvinism.
John Knox (c. 1510 - 1572) was once a Catholic priest, but eventually became a leader of the Reformation in Scotland. He is looked on today as the founder of the Presbyterian denomination. Knox served in Scotland during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and boldly opposed her Catholicism.
The world was a different place after the Protestant Reformation. The truth of the Gospel as it was originally intended replaced the man-made traditions of the Catholics, changing life and culture. The Protestant Church has surged into all the corners of the world, bringing light into dark places. We owe so much to the men who dedicated and often sacrificed their lives so that we could know and believe in the Word of God unfiltered by a hierarchy of oftentimes corrupt priests and church leaders.
On October 31st, we celebrate this rebirth, this Reformation, looking back on the day so long ago when Martin Luther bravely stood up for truth.
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