Forget Halloween; October 31st is Reformation Day!
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The 95 Theses were Luther’s arguments against the selling of indulgences, which were documents declaring forgiveness of sins granted by the church as a result of some act of the repentant sinner. Indulgences were being aggressively marketed at this time–sold for cash–as a means of paying for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and so Luther’s opposition to the sale of indulgences not only had doctrinal implications, but also had financial repercussions.
The posting of the 95 Theses is often looked at as the catalyst that started the Protestant Reformation. The word Protestant comes from protest, which today has a negative connotation. When we use the word protest, it implies that we are against something. Those who protest abortion, or the war in Iraq, or Obama’s health care program, are against those things. But we should think of Protestantism in a much more positive way. The first Protestants—such as Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and John Calvin—were not just against the doctrinal and moral corruption of the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church, they were for something. After all, the prefix in Protestant is pro-, not anti-. They were for the testimony (therefore pro-test) of gospel truths that had been buried or obscured over the centuries, such as the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone.
Some Christians believe it is wrong to celebrate the Reformation, thinking that to celebrate it is something like celebrating a divorce. It is indeed sad that Christianity is divided into Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (the result of an earlier schism), and Protestant, and that the Protestant church is divided into thousands of denominations. But what is sad isn’t that the Reformation occurred, but that it was necessary in the first place. The Reformation, in my mind, what an incredibly good thing.
Consider the following quote from Martin Luther, which describes the great exchange (we give Jesus our sin; he gives us his righteousness):
“Learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.'”
The great exchange is found in a number of places in both the Old and New Testaments. Here are a couple examples:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53:6 ESV
Grace and Peace in abundance!