Many Christians miss a beautiful opportunity to celebrate our Christian heritage on October 31, which is also known as Reformation Day. It was on this day in 1517 that a priest named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses (complaints) against the Catholic Church to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His bold act opened the way for others to protest against and seek for reform of the Catholic Church, and eventually these Protestant Reformers broke away to form a new type of church. Especially in countries touched by the Reformation, this religious revolution became the impetus for changing the course of history and yielding the incredible freedoms and privileges people enjoy today, whether Christians or not.
To appreciate the profound implications of the Reformation, one must understand life in the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church exerted authoritative control in religious understanding and political institutions through the feudal systems of European countries. Catholic cathedrals were the heart of communities, yet bishops and priests held captive God’s Word and claimed to be the only ones allowed to read and interpret it to the people. Having no way to find out the truth themselves, the common people had no choice but to show loyalty and faith in the priests’ teachings if they wanted any hope of eternal salvation. Not only did this lead to false teaching and abuses in the Catholic Church but also to the hindrance of economic growth and scientific, literary, and artistic development.
While Luther was not the first to protest against the Catholic Church, his audacious act opened a floodgate of change to end blind loyalty to the Catholic Church so that Christians may enjoy freedoms that last to this day. The Reformers, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon, articulated ideas that historians have put together into what is now called the Five Solas. They are 1) Sola Gratia (“grace alone”), 2) Sola Fide (“faith alone”), 3) Solus Christus (“Christ alone”), 4) Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), and 5) Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”). The Five Solas summarize salvation from God as “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the authority of Scripture alone for the glory of God alone.”
To reiterate, the ideas of the Reformation greatly impacted the development of world history, bringing liberation for Christians and non-Christians alike. Like the Declaration of Independence in America’s history, the nailing of the 95 Theses was a key event that led to independence for Christians from the oppressive rule of the Catholic Church. And like Independence Day, Reformation Day is something worth celebrating!
Here are 15 reasons to celebrate Reformation Day.
1. The Reformation brought spiritual liberation to all people to be able to be free from sin and guilt and know true salvation as found in Jesus Christ. (See the Five Solas above.)
2. The Reformation lifted the burden of working for salvation – for one’s self or for dead relatives. Since salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), one cannot work for or earn salvation, so it is not necessary or effectual to pray for the dead, to buy indulgences to pay for loved ones to suffer less in Purgatory (which is never mentioned in the Bible), or to go on pilgrimages.
3. The Reformation elevated the Bible to its proper place as the highest authority, above the authority of a church or any man, and during the Reformation, the Bible became accessible to all people (with the help of the printing press), not just church leaders.
4. The Reformation gave independence from man-made religion and especially the false teachings and abuses of the Catholic Church.
5. The Reformation provided freedom from superstitions.
6. The Reformation renewed Christians’ vision and passion for evangelism and missions.
7. The Reformation gave value and extended education to all classes of people. In holding the belief that all should have access to the truths of the Bible, several Reformers wrote catechisms in “question and answer” format to help especially children and the illiterate learn the essentials of the faith and doctrine – Luther wrote one, Calvin wrote one, and eventually the Westminster Confession of Faith and Longer and Shorter Catechisms came out in 1646. Also, from the idea that all people should be able to read the Bible and learn spiritual truths for themselves came the need to learn to read. Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther believed every child should receive an education and founded and restructured many schools.
8. The Reformation established an abundant catalog of rich theological hymns in the people’s languages as well as created value for psalm singing.
9. The Reformation bridged the gap between sacred and secular and thus created a pride in doing one’s work. The Reformers recognized that all that one does, including the daily mundane tasks, can be and should be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Every vocation is important, not just church jobs. The true teachings of the Bible freed people by breaking down class distinctions (such as the fallacy that church jobs are better than secular jobs) and by putting a final nail in the coffin of feudalism in Europe. Also, knowing that all things are for God’s glory, a door opened for using one’s gifts in all kinds of ways: business and vocational pursuits, economic opportunities, inventions. In pursuing God’s exaltation, people want to work hard for God’s glory in whatever they do, hence the Protestant work ethic was born.
10. The Reformation broke the control the Catholic Church held over kings and rulers.
11. The Reformation ended the economic power of Catholic Church, which paved the way for capitalism and money-lending.
12. The Reformation terminated the oppressive control of science by the Catholic Church and opened the way for real scientific investigation, which has thrived under Protestantism.
13. The Reformation gave credence to individual conscience and the permission to follow the dictates of individual conscience.
14. Products of the Reformation, the Pilgrims and Puritans (many of the founding groups of America) were Protestants, and so they established America on Judeo-Christian principles.
15. The Reformation inspired the government of the United States of America, which is patterned after the Presbyterian form of government. Presbyterianism is a representative form of government after which the Protestant church denomination is named. (Elders and deacons are elected to represent the church members and thus, the church members do not vote on every issue.)
What a heritage to celebrate! Yet, many Christians miss the opportunity to remember what we have been saved from, instead choosing to participate in Halloween, for they remember the cute, fun times they had as kids with dressing up and trick-or-treating. Certainly it is not wrong to have a little fun. But Halloween is rooted in pagan superstitions and all that the Reformation freed us from and has been increasingly returning to the exaltation of the culture of death which America now embraces.
This is not a judgment on those who choose to observe Halloween but a question to provoke thought. Using Philippians 4:8* and Westminster Shorter Catechism question #1** as our guide, would Christians not better glorify God and preserve our freedoms by learning our history and by celebrating our salvation in Christ alone through grace by faith? We honor those who died for the freedom of America on special patriotic days, so why not on this day honor the Reformers who died martyrs’ deaths for our liberty to know Christ personally ? Would it not be better to teach our children the history and teachings of the Reformation and redeem a holiday for God? God does not require us to celebrate Reformation Day or any other holiday, but what a chance to fulfill Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Children usually enjoy what their parents love, so if we love our history and celebrate it, our children will too!
There are many ways to make Reformation Day a teachable yet fun “moment.” Jus’ Classical offers a Reformation party planning resource. As a family, we have attended a wonderful party at church (sometimes a gathering of several churches) where we go around to stations, each teaching about a Reformer and including an activity to help remember the Reformer. For example, we pretend to be Bible smugglers by crawling through an obstacle course for William Tyndale, and we bowl down goose pins to remember John Hus, whose name means goose. We nail a thesis on the church door for Martin Luther and play Pin the Beard on the Reformer for John Calvin as well as copy the Five Solas. The children also receive a booklet with biographies about these and other Reformers and a Scripture verse at each station… and lots of candy. Some dress up as Reformers. Our children, who love this party, are learning about real freedom and sacrifice, and we are able to redeem another pagan holiday for Christ!
Embrace this beautiful occasion to celebrate our Christian heritage on October 31, Reformation Day!
* “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”Philippians 4:8
** “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”Westminster Shorter Catechism question #1
If you want to plan a Reformation Day party or do a unit study on Reformers, check out our guide here.
Ligonier Ministries has a podcast series called 5 Minutes in Church History, and in October 2017, the episodes were about Martin Luther and the other Reformers.
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For younger kids:
Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation by Rob Shearer – a great starter book for kids!
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World by Paul Maier
Martin Luther – Christian Biographies for Young Readers by Simonetta Carr
John Calvin – Christian Biographies for Young Readers by Simonetta Carr
John Knox – Christian Biographies for Young Readers by Simonetta Carr
Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation―from A to Z by Stephen J. Nichols
For older kids:
When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley
Fine Print: A Story about Johann Gutenberg by Joann Johansen Burch
John Calvin: After Darkness Light by Catherine MacKenzie
John Knox: The Sharpened Sword by Catherine MacKenzie
The Revolt: A Novel in Wycliffe’s England by Douglas Bond
The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin by Douglas Bond
The Thunder: A Novel on John Knox by Douglas Bond
Luther in Love by Douglas Bond
Hammer of the Huguenots by Douglas Bond and Will Kelly
Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation by Douglas Bond
William Tyndale: The Smuggler’s Flame by Lori Rich
The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves
Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves
John Knox and the Reformation by D.M. Lloyd Jones and Iain Murray
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by Martin Luther, edited by Stephen J. Nichols
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton
The Legacy of Luther edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols
The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen J. Nichols
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Resource for Redeeming Holidays:
Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper
Luther and the Reformation by R.C. Sproul
The English Reformation and the Puritans by Michael Reeves