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What Is Reformation Day, And Why Is It Celebrated on Halloween?

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What Is Reformation Day?

The State Church

In the 16th century, the official religion of Rome was Catholicism, or what you would call Roman Catholicism. And as the new successor to the previous Pope, Pope Leo X decided to build a new church to make it the church of the holy Roman Empire.

So, Pope Leo decides to construct St. Peter’s Basilica (a royal palace)! And in order to decorate the most excellent building, who else would you hire to paint but Michelangelo, the painter of the Sistine Chapel.

A painter of this skill and greatness would be costly — so this causes the church of Rome to go bankrupt. What do you do know to gather in more money rapidly? Sell something costly.

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In 1513, Leo reestablishes the sale of indulgences in order finance the building of the basilica in Rome. What is an indulgence? An indulgence offers the penitent sinner the means of discharging this debt during his life on earth through some sort of due penance, payment, etc.

But indulgences are not only for those still alive — sinners also have the ability to pay and discharge the guilt of a loved one who is suffering in purgatory for their mortal sins they committed.

Purgatory Purchases

Leo X hired a man named Johan Tetzel to patrol Germany as a traveling salesman in order to collect the purchasing of these indulgences from laity there. Tetzel even had a sales pitch: “Once a coin into the coffer (money box) clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

Rome claimed that Jesus’ death removed eternal guilt, i.e. hell — but the sinner must still work off and remove the temporal guilt and punishment due him on this earth when he sins. And those who sinned on earth would go to purgatory — a temporal punishment to burn away and punish sins in this life — which Rome believed almost all people would experience.

Naturally then, this gave the clergy of Rome great power and financial favor in their land. The buying of these indulgences takes merits done by great saints from an eternal reservoir and applies them to the sinner, whether dead or alive.

Martin Luther and Righteousness

During this same time, a German monk named Martin Luther was teaching and lecturing on the Scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, Germany in 1512 (a year before the reinstitution of indulgences).

At the time, there were numerous German translations of the New Testament, but they were either incomplete, poorly translated (from the Latin), or were not in the common vernacular of the people.

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Through much study and the readings of Augustine, Luther came to a foundational shift in his theological understanding. The words of Romans 1:17, ESV, were the watershed moment for Martin Luther: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”

Prior to this, Luther would read these words and had said that he “raged with a troubled conscience” against the righteousness of God and his perfect standard.

But, by God’s grace Luther would have his eyes opened to see the reality of this text. He discovered upon his own reading of God’s Word that this righteousness of God was not referring to God’s divine attribute of being righteous, but the righteousness of God that is imputed or given to the sinner through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-28; Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

For Luther, his discovery that man is counted righteous before God — not by works but by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ on the cross by faith and faith alone — undid him.

Luther writes this: “Here, I felt that I was altogether born again and the very gates of paradise opened up before me.” Luther was born again; he was now a lover of Christ, counted righteous by his life, death, and resurrection from the dead for sinners.

Providence and the Protestant Reformation

In God’s gracious providence, Martin Luther began to then lecture through the book of Romans with these new, gospel-filled discoveries in the year 1515 — 2 years after the reinstitution of the sale of indulgences.

Then, 505 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther wrote up his 95 Theses. These are 95 objections against Rome, including the buying and selling of indulgences.

His document found its way to be printed, distributed, and passed all along Germany. This document was nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, which functioned as a type of bulletin board for the community. Trouble began to brew, and then this document found its way to Rome — to Pope Leo X.

This is what we call the Protestant Reformation — protestors — of the theology and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Because of Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation exploded across the globe.

Over 500 years later, we still enjoy the somewhat infinite benefits of these newly discovered and recovered precious realities of the Scriptures in the church today, including:

  • Congregational singing
  • The partaking of the Lord’s Supper
  • Luther also reentered the focal point of the gathering of the local church upon the preaching of the Word with a sermon, instead of the Catholic Mass

When you think about Halloween, think about this day in relation to God’s faithfulness to His church, bold men of faith to endure hardship, and the precious truths of the Scriptures.

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Cale is the pastor of Union Baptist Church in Orrick, MO. He is married to his wife Kelly and they have two children (third on the way!). Cale will be graduating with a Masters degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this Fall and Spring 2023.
Cale is the pastor of Union Baptist Church in Orrick, MO. He is married to his wife Kelly and they have two children (third on the way!). Cale will be graduating with a Masters degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this Fall and Spring 2023.




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