Why Is Reformation Day Celebrated on October 31?


Last week I blogged (“blogged” is real word according to Microsoft Word’s spell Nazi checker) about the 16th century Reformation—what it was and why it came about (please read my previous blog, “REFORMATION 101 – What Was the Reformation?”)  This week I want to write about the reason why it’s celebrated on October 31st.


Luther (1483-1546) was a German Augustinian monk who struggled with his inability to atone for his sins, frequently experiencing nightmares of burning in hell for all eternity for his ongoing failures to satisfy the demands of a holy God.  Prayer, fasting, self-flagellations, not even spending a night sleeping nearly naked on the snow eased his anguish.  Not even daily confessions helped (he would often turn around after a confession session to confess again for fear he forgot to confess something, leading his confessors to tire of him and say, “Martin, come back when you have something to confess!”).


But in time Luther began to understand that grace was a free gift of God and that faith alone in Christ’s atoning work on the cross was all that God required of the sinner for justification (i.e., made righteous before a holy God).  His epiphany (mental light bulb) came on when he read in Romans 1.17 that “The righteous shall live by faith.” 


While serving as Professor of Theology at Wittenberg he became incensed at the selling of indulgences (ticket out of purgatory).  On October 31, 1517 Luther nailed a list of 95 grievances—“The Ninety Theses”—to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg (for a dramatization of this event check out this video from the movie “Luther”:

) And as they say, “the rest is history.”


As I wrote last week, the Reformation was, first and foremost, a rediscovery of the gospel of Grace of Jesus Christ.  Luther’s theology evolved over time but can be summarized as the teaching that salvation is not earned by good deeds but is received only as the free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he challenged the authority of the pope insisting instead that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God and that only two sacraments, not seven, are to be administered in the church: baptism and communion.  In addition, he opposed the ordained priesthood teaching instead that all baptized Christians are a holy priesthood.


One thing Luther did not want was for his followers or the church he founded to be called “Lutheran.”  Rather, he insisted on “Christian” or “Evangelical” as the only acceptable names for those who professed faith in Christ.  Guess you can’t always get what you want!  Then again, we at AnchorPoint refer to ourselves as “Christian” and “Evangelical.”  Luther would approve.



Next week: REFORMATION 201 – What Are the Five Solas of the Reformation?
Week after: REFORMATION 202 – What Was the Aftermath of the Reformation?