(Photo: AP / KEYSTONE / Salvatore Di Nolfi)
Nearly five centuries ago in Central Europe, an unknown Augustinian monk decided to nail 95 theses to a church door, sparking a religious revolution felt to the present day.
Reformation Day, the anniversary of when Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, is an observance remembered by hundreds of American churches in the modern day. While the exact date of Luther's call to theological debate was Oct. 31, or the Eve of All Saints' Day, many Protestant congregations choose to observe the occasion on the last Sunday in the month. This year, Reformation Sunday will fall on Oct. 27, with Protestant denominations such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists drawing attention to the past.
For Pastor Skip Athey of Grace & Truth Family Baptist Church, a Floridian congregation with an average attendance of over 100, Reformation Day is "a way to connect with Protestant Church history."
"As part of our celebration we have families do brief reports on the lives of the Reformers, men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli," said Athey to The Christian Post.
"We dress up in costumes of that period and have games for the children, such as Pin the Thesis to the Door, and have lots of good food and music."
Athey also told CP that this was the fourth year his congregation was celebrating Reformation Day and the first to hold a joint celebration with other churches.
Tom Macy, senior pastor at Faith Church in Indianapolis, Ind., told The Christian Post that he viewed Reformation Day as a better alternative to what mainstream culture celebrates at this time of the year.
"As the culture celebrates the superstitions of Halloween with a focus on the darker side, it seems appropriate that this day should be recognized by the church for its pivotal significance in church history," said Macy.
"This major correction of the trajectory of the visible church remains a pivotal date for the church 500 years later."
Macy told CP about how his congregation, which averages 600 attendees for two worship services, sings the classic Luther hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" as part of their observance.
"I often find an appropriate connection to acknowledge the importance of the Reformation as a return to biblical faithfulness," said Macy.
"This Sunday, I am in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 with the focus on temptation. No problem to find a connection to Luther's battle with temptation as expressed in A Mighty Fortress: 'And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us…'"
James M. McDonald, pastor of Providence Church of Morton, Ill., told The Christian Post that his approximately 220-strong congregation observes Reformation Day because of its still relevant message.
"We observe Reformation Day because the church in America needs to remember the work of the Lord throughout the ages," said McDonald.
"Today, there is a focus on experience, on consumerism, on individuality, which makes the church inwardly focused and ineffective. Remembering how the saints of old engaged culture and sought to win nations for Christ should inspire us to faithfully seek the Lord's face."
McDonald, whose church has celebrated Reformation Day each October for the past seven years, also told CP that he felt "Luther would likely be very saddened by the state of the church today."
"He would encourage us all to remember the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, which is to say we must focus more on the success of the gospel than our momentary trials and afflictions," said McDonald.
Pastors Athey and Macy offered similar observations as to how Luther would view American Protestantism and what conclusions he would draw.
"I believe Martin Luther would share many of the concerns of his day about the contemporary church," said Macy. "Neglect and abuse of Scripture would also be noted as the foundational contemporary problem leading to theological confusion."
"I believe Martin Luther would encourage the American Protestant Church to get back to the five foundational areas of Doctrine that he fought for known as the Five Sola's of the Reformation. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone); Sola Gratia (Grace alone); Sola Fide (Faith Alone); Solus Christus (Christ alone); and Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be the Glory)," said Athey.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Project, in 2008 about 51 percent of surveyed Americans identified themselves as belonging to a Protestant denomination.