On October 31st of every year children dress up, treats are dispensed, and we pause from our normally quiet evenings of television, chores, and kitchen clean-up, to indulge in a childhood custom of spooks and sweets, costumes and candy, jack-o-lanterns and knocking on strangers’ doors with (hopefully) a somewhat lessened sense of fear. Halloween is here, and it’s time to watch Linus look for the Great Pumpkin, our kids get the best costumes, and everyone get the most candy while the getting’s good! Halloween has become one of the biggest holidays of our year, and it begins the big “end of the month celebrations” that start with “Trick-or-Treating” (end of October), go through Thanksgiving (end of November), climax at Christmas/New Years (end of December), and find a slow and leisurely end with College football bowl games and the Super Bowl (end of January).
As much fun as all this is, for Protestant Christians like Baptists, October 31st should have greater meaning than mega-mart costumes and miniature Kit-Kats. As much as I love Reese’s, this day has to also be about the Reformation. October 31st, in addition to being All Hallows Eve, is also the date that traditionally marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On that evening in 1517 a troubled (to say the least) Catholic monk and university professor named Martin Luther nailed a list of statements for debate on the local church’s front door (the community bulletin board). These “95 Theses,” although not revolutionary in themselves, would be used to spark the beginnings of a worldwide Gospel revolution of which First Baptist Church Henryville is a direct descendant almost five hundred years later.
Still, you may ask a very normal question: Okay….that’s great. So what? What does a slightly unstable monk with a mallet have to do with my life? Why should I care about the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation? How can a bunch of old, dead, European preachers say anything to me? Those are good questions, and it has a very good answer. You and I should care about the Reformation not because it is history (not even because it is our history), and not for the sake of knowledge or education. The reason it matters is because the Gospel of Jesus Christ matters. In a sense the great truths of the Gospel began to be unleashed once again to a world that desperately needed it in the Fall October air of Germany in 1517, and for you and I who cherish that Gospel nothing could be more important.
The Reformation was not a bunch of stupid arguments about fine points of theology that don’t really matter to the average person. It wasn’t a set of lectures only meant to be discussed around a seminary classroom. It wasn’t a movement of the clergy. It was for the ordinary Christian in the pew, and it was all about speaking to their life, their fears, their anxieties, and ultimately presenting the only solution (Christ) to the only problem (sin). The Reformation was all about real life, a real life with God. It was about everything that matters to your life. The Reformation was ultimately about the ONLY things that matter to your life!
The medieval world was limping slowly along. The medieval church was imprisoned in the moral bankruptcy of its leadership in Rome (especially the Popes). Medieval Christianity was immersed in superstitious practices and even worse beliefs. The medieval Christians were condemned to false teachings about God and an inability to read the Bible for themselves to know anything different. They were taught that a relationship with God could only come through obeying whatever their church taught them, whatever their priests told them the Bible required: giving a little more money, saying a few more prayers, praying to a few more saints, visiting a few more holy sites. They were taught that a relationship with God was all about what they did. But beginning with Luther and the other great reformers, a breath of renewal swept the world, and a blazing fire of revival erupted and our own church lives because those flames spread.
How do you know God? How do you please God? What is the point of life? What is the Bible? Should you be able to read the Bible in your own language? What is the Church? What is the foundation for what you believe? How can you have assurance that God loves you and saves you? Do you need a pastor or a priest to bring you into a relationship with God? What is a Christian family? What is worship? These are the big questions in life, and the Protestant reformers like Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin (among many others) gave amazing answers to these questions that changed the world as we know it.
We have a relationship with God not because of what we do, but because of who we have FAITH in. Faith – believing God’s promises, trusting him, treasuring him is what matters. We are saved not because we are good, and not because we are trying to be good, but only because God is good and his GRACE is the only thing that can rescue us! Our faith is not in ourselves but in JESUS CHRIST. What he did is everything! He took our place. He bore our wrath. He provided us with righteousness! He died for us! He covers us in himself. Everything we need he gives! We are clean in the eyes of God only because we are washed in his blood which flowed from the cross! He took what we deserve so that amazingly we get what he deserves, and we have assurance and confidence to face our future, to face our failures, and to face God only because of HIM! And we know this Christ by seeing him in the BIBLE. The SCRIPTURES, not church teaching, not tradition, and not a priest reveal God to us, and that changes everything. We are free. We have purpose. Marriage and families are good gifts of God! Our churches are communities of forgiven sinners treasuring and worshiping and loving God and the world around us! Everything we do, everything we are, all of history, is focused on everything that CHRIST has done, and so everything is ultimately for the GLORY OF GOD!!! In short, the whole way we relate to the world, the way we see the world, the way we understand our lives, God, and all the hurts, failures, fears, struggles, pain, suffering, and hope of heaven are all summed up in five glorious phrases that control everything: FAITH ALONE! GRACE ALONE! CHRIST ALONE! SCRIPTURE ALONE! THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE!
The Protestant Reformation as a mere historical event is not all that important. But the Reformation as a movement of God for the bright and beautiful vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very important, and we who hold it dear should never forget it. We live in a troubled world. Life is hard. The economy is tottering. The future is uncertain, and too many churches are held in the grips of darkness – a darkness that makes what we do the basis for pleasing God, that makes wealth and not God the good of the gospel, that makes experience and tradition the foundations for what we believe, and makes our feelings our greatest problem, and our achievement of self-esteem our only salvation as we smilingly search for our best lives now. We live in a world where too many churches say we are good, life is about physical pleasures, God is our life-coach, sin is not believing in ourselves, and salvation is reaching our full potential. Teachings like that will ultimately lead too many people to hell because it is a lie. It is not the Gospel. These are dark days and they need a dedicated people – a people who will hold high the truth of Scripture, the beauty of Christ, the hope of the cross, and the glory of God as the only things that matter. We need the bright blaze of the Reformation that raged across Europe so many years ago to inflame and capture our lives! We need to be Reformation people, renewed people, revived people, Gospel fueled and Christ-passioned people – because ultimately that’s a lot sweeter and longer lasting than the Reese’s peanut butter cups we get in our Halloween bags. I love my chocolate, but oh how much greater is my Christ!
Grace and Peace,