Reformation Sunday

For a church to not have a Reformation Service or reminder of the Reformation on October 31 is like the U.S. not celebrating Independence Day on July 4th. Granted, there is no divine mandate, “thou shalt celebrate Independence Day.” It does, however, seem like a good idea for a nation to pass on a heritage and remember the past. Likewise, while not mandated by God, Reformation services and remembrances are good for the church. They enable us to pass on our heritage and remember our past. It’s not surprising that when churches replace Reformation services with harvest carnivals, trunk or treat (can it get any cheesier?) and mud runs that the distinctives of Protestantism are marginalized and will be inevitably lost. What makes this so tragic is that the distinctive of Protestantism is the gospel. Therefore, you can tell all you need to know about a church by what they do on October 31, what they mention, what they celebrate and what they cherish.

October 31 marks the day when Luther (supposedly, we might be off on the actual date) nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in protest of the excesses and deviations of the Roman Catholic church.

October 31 marks the day when Luther (supposedly, we might be off on the actual date) nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in protest of the excesses and deviations of the Roman Catholic church. However, much more than a lone ranger, Luther was the final eruption of what had been brewing for quite some time. “It was not so much a trail blazed by Luther’s lonely comet, trailing other lesser luminaries, as the appearance over two or three decades of a whole constellation of varied color and brightness, Luther no doubt the most sparkling among them, but not all shining solely with his borrowed light” (D.F. Wright). The church, argued Luther and others, was in captivity and needed to be liberated. Liberation would come first, as it always does, with the liberation of God’s Word. The convergence of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament (1516) and the printing press lit a fire that has never been able to be put out. The Greek NewTestament enabled ministers to get back to the original sources (proof that ministers need to know Greek and Hebrew), not merely the Latin Vulgate, it provided for fresh translations of the Holy Scriptures in the vernacular of the people and the printing press made all of this possible on a mass scale never known before. It might be analogous to thinking about how the world changed with the advent of the internet.

And thus driven back to the Scriptures, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Cranmer, and others, called the church back to repentance and sought to bring about reformation. They never intended to start a new church. How is that even possible? Understood like this, then, Protestantism isn’t actually new. It is the old religion of the early church and of Jesus and his apostles. Protestants didn’t start anything new in the sixteenth century, they went back to the old. If anyone is new and novel it is the Roman Catholic church.

When we celebrate our tradition we are always reminded of God’s faithfulness and of his gospel.

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