The world changing Protestant Reformation’s 500th year anniversary date is October 31, 2017. Greatly overshadowed by Halloween in our culture, October 31 in 1517 rocked the world, bringing Europe new understanding of the Bible and freedom from tyrannical practices. One author wrote, “Like a single flaming match dropped into the dry straw of a forest, Martin Luther’s 95 theses ignited a conflagration that engulfed all of Europe and continues to this day.”
Luther’s intention was to begin a discussion among the scholars about what he saw as corrupt practices of the church. His Theses were printed in Latin, intending that the scholars were the ones that would read and discuss them. However, Gutenberg had invented the printing press a century earlier and the document was easily translated into German, printed and distributed to most cities in Germany. They became the talk of Germany. (Early social media!)
The common folk were supportive of Martin Luther and when he publicly burned the Papal Bull that demanded him to recant and labeled him a “wild boar” that had invaded God’s vineyard, the townsfolk began a celebration that lasted into the night. They even re-enacted the burning of the document that night. When Luther arrived at Worms, Germany to face the Papal hierarchy and highest government officials, 2000 people met him and escorted him to his lodging.
So, the questions would be, “What was the controversy & why were the people so supportive of him and the authorities so enraged against him?” Luther had observed the corrupt way that the Church was using the system of indulgences to fill the empty coffers of the Church in Rome, and he was fed up with it all.
Pope Leo X and his loyal monk Johann Tetzel had a profit scheme to sell indulgences to the peasants for sins committed and sins that would be committed. Basically, the parishioners would pay their hard-earned wages in exchange for the priests’ forgiveness. This included sins already committed and those that would be committed. The main building of St. Peter’s Basilica, with all its opulence we observe today, was financed with indulgences paid by these peasants.
Tradition says that the monk Martin Luther was walking the street of Wittenberg one evening when he saw one of his parishioners laying in the gutter in a drunken state. Luther chided him for his public drunkenness, at which the man fumbled around and pulled an indulgence out from his coat pocket, shook it in Luther’s face and declared that Brother Tetzel had issued him this document that forgave him of all sins, past, present and future. (Show me the money!)
Luther also denounced the Pope’s promises to release dead relatives from Purgatory if their living kin would pay enough money in indulgence. His stance was that if the Pope truly has this kind of power, he should release all the people in Purgatory immediately without the payment of a fee.
When Martin Luther and others began reading what the Scriptures teach and not what they were told that they teach, a totally different age was to be born. Most agree that the Protestant Reformation brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Enlightenment.
A century earlier, Luther’s predecessors, John Wycliffe and John Huss, were executed for their stance against corruption in the Church and for translating the Bible into the common language of the people. Huss in the Czech language means goose. When John Huss was to be burned at the stake he replied, “You may cook this goose, but within a century a swan will be raised up that will prevail.” Luther believed himself to be that swan.
Unwilling to recant of the stance he had made and corruptions he had exposed, Luther stood before Emperor Charles V and his government entourage, as well as Pope Leo X and his papal authorities and declared, “…I do not accept the authority of Popes and council, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither safe nor right. Here I stand, I can do no otherwise. God help me, amen,”
Labeled a heretic and worthy of death, the rest of his life would be led as an outlaw. Luther was secluded by a friend at Wartburg Castle for a year, where he translated the New Testament into German in 11 days, wrote many commentaries, books and pamphlets, as well as many hymns. His most famous and favorite is A Mighty Fortress is Our God, based on Psalm 46.
Martin Luther was a lover of music from his childhood and was an accomplished musician himself, writing over 400 hymns. Never one to mince words, he once wrote, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in all the world. It controls our thoughts, minds and spirits…A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God…does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”
But Luther’s life work was to take the Bible to the people; to give them the opportunity to read the Scriptures for themselves and see that God offers grace, not legal bonds for the sinner. His free gift of salvation in Christ far outweighs any great edifice that could ever be built by any amount of money.
So, when someone says, “Happy Halloween” to you, stand firm as Martin Luther did and reply “Happy Reformation Day!”