We have entered the season of pumpkins, fall festivals, costumes, and candy. Houses are creatively decorated with autumn colors and frightening props to signify that fall is here and with this turning of the leaves, comes Halloween. This scary holiday gets tons of attention and is the focal point of all the parties. Because of Halloween, Wal-Mart rearranges its store to accommodate for the costumes, masks, and treats. Candy companies work around the clock leading up to this day – counting on “trick or treaters” to keep them in business. Huge costume and party stores are resurrected out of nowhere once October arrives. My own children are excited about their chance to dress up and my wife and I are planning on being Darla and Alfalfa from the “Little Rascals” this year. But even though all of the interest and focus remains on Halloween, I always think it’s a great idea to pierce some of this darkness by giving some attention to an oft-neglected anniversary that happens to also fall on the last day in October.
This overlooked celebration found its beginning on October 31st, 1517 and it commemorates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which is celebrated by some as Reformation Day. This reform of the Church began when a German Monk and Catholic Priest, named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther’s original intention was to simply raise awareness to many of the abuses and corruptions of the Church in hopes that necessary changes in the right direction would be made. The Church’s response was a demand that Luther retract his writings and his refusal to do so eventually led to his excommunication. This began a protest, which is where all Protestant Churches find their history. Believe it or not we are known as Protestants because we are “protesters” and I believe that is something worth celebrating. This protest sparked a movement that boldly stood against corrupt practices, biblical illiteracy, and spiritual oppression. It was also a movement to recapture the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Another way to say this is that Luther and others like him, sought to preach and teach the true gospel, which had been lost. For hundreds of years before this, the Church thought it operated best by oppressing its members through guilt and fear.
The leaders from that period of time convinced the people that they held the keys to heaven and that passageway into heaven could be bought through indulgences or “paid-for merit”. This kept the Church rich and the people committed, but it just made Luther mad. And this prompted Luther’s desire to reform the Church by proclaiming that we, as sinners cannot EVER buy our salvation but that we have been bought by Christ. After being arrested and tried for heresy, Luther said this before the Emperor: “I am bound by the Scripture and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Therefore, I can not and will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other.” This message was powerful and it changed things. Almost 500 years later, we should still be celebrating, not just the reformers, but their message because this message is still piercing the darkness and is still changing things. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. By the way, when ghosts, goblins, and devils hear that, they run for the hills.
– Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Clanton, AL. His column appears each Thursday.