The Protestant Reformation began on this date nearly 500 years ago, and, in the stead of Halloween parties or trick-or-treating, some churches are hosting events to commemorate the influence of their Protestant patriarchs.
The Reformation began when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1517. The document challenged the doctrinal positions of the Roman Catholic Church – specifically, the selling of indulgences and the authority of the Pope – which Luther saw as unbiblical.
While many churches across the U.S. commemorated the Reformation during their services on Sunday, some are hosting additional celebrations today.
MidWay Baptist Church in Cookeville, Tenn., for example, had a guest speaker address the significance of that turning-point in history on Sunday, but is also celebrating tonight with a party – and costumes are permitted.
The church is providing games for children like "Pin the 95 Reeses to the Door" and the gummy worm based "A Diet of Worms" (referring to an Imperial Diet, or assembly, Luther participated in). Someone dressed as one of Luther's opponents, John Tetzel, will be walking around the event trying to sell partygoers indulgences, and articles about Luther and the Reformation's lasting impact will be made available for those who want to learn more.
Jeff Wright, senior pastor of MidWay Baptist, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that celebrating the Reformation helps Christians keep their faith in perspective. It helps them to remember the five solae (Latin phrases that summarize the beliefs of the reformers) which are, in English: "by Scripture alone," "by faith alone," "by grace alone," "through Christ alone" and "glory to God alone."
"I think there are few things in church history that are more relevant for the entirety of church history than the solas of the Reformation, and the idea that the church is always going to have to be coming back to the Word of God and evaluating itself, its beliefs and its practices in light of what the Word of God says," said Wright.
Justin Holcomb, executive director of the Resurgence, said in a blog post Wednesday that Luther didn't intend to start a movement that would divide the church, but the timing of the posting of his theses contributed to their influence.
"Luther certainly did not intend his Ninety-Five Theses to be a call to reformation, for he did not want to cause a rift in the church...Yet, the content of the theses that Luther posted were rather controversial," writes Holcomb. "And because of the newfound technologies of the printing press and the cultural situation of the early 1500s, Luther's ideas were carried throughout Germany and gave way to the German stream of the Reformation."
Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., said in a blog post Wednesday that the doctrine of justification was the "chief concern" of the reformers. In his list of "Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification," DeYoung explains how the reformers differed from the Catholic Church in their view of justification.
"Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn't allow," wrote DeYoung.
He later added: "True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That's what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification...There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ's, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone."
Reformation Day festivities in what is now known as Lutherstadt Wittendberg, Germany, include church services, a parade, concerts, activities for children and more. Organizers are also in the process of planning Reformation Jubilee 2017, which will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther's theses.