While October 31 is more popularly known as Halloween, the date also holds a special place in the heart of many Christians. On this day 501 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther published a list of grievances against the Catholic Church. He nailed this list—which later came to be called the 95 Theses—to the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg, and this ignited a movement. All of Europe, and eventually the whole world, would feel the effects of Luther driving the nail into his list.
Until I became a Church History teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the Reformation. Its impact just felt commonplace to me. But when I started teaching about the Reformation, I began to understand how truly revolutionary it was—this lone monk standing up against the powers that be to call for reform, for truth.
For this reason, I think we should not let October 31 pass us by without remembering the work God has done in His body—the Church—during that momentous time. But, how do we do that? Here are 4 ideas to help you celebrate the Reformation:
1. Read Your Bible
When studying about the Reformation, we often overlook the impact of Luther translating the New Testament into German. Before he did this, the common person in Germany did not have access to the Scriptures for themselves or in their own language. So when Luther translated the New Testament into German, it was a revolutionary move: they no longer had to rely on those who could read Latin to translate for them, but could read it for themselves.
In a day and age when we have Bibles everywhere, literally at our fingertips on our phones, it can be easy to forget the people who dedicated their lives to making sure we could read the Scriptures in our own language. I encourage you to get a physical copy of the Bible out, flip through the pages, and read it. Read it with a grateful heart and mind, and the realization that to have your own copy, and to have it in a language you can read, is a monumental gift.
If you’re wondering where to begin, perhaps start with the book of Romans, a letter from Paul that was very influential and life-changing for Luther himself. It was Romans 1:17 that changed Luther’s life: “The righteous will live by faith.”
2. Watch The Movie Luther
If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it! Made in 2003, Luther is an excellent portrayal of the events of the Reformation. While some details are highlighted or added for the sake of storytelling, it does tell us the bulk of the story. And, better yet, it is captivating. I show this movie to my students every year, and they love it. They clap at some parts; they cry at others. And they don’t want it to be over when it ends. That’s a good recommendation!
This movie is rated PG-13, so put the littles to bed tonight, pop some popcorn, head on over to Amazon, and watch this film. You’ll be glad you did!
3. Reflect On What God Has Done
Not only is it important to look back in history—to learn from what went wrong and what we did well—but God Himself commands us to do so time and time again. In multiple places in Scripture, God tells us to remember and rehearse the ways that He has worked and moved among His people. God told Joshua to set up 12 memorial stones to help the people remember how He helped them cross the Jordan (Joshua 4). He also asked Samuel to set up a pillar called Ebenezer so Israel would remember how He had been victorious in battle (1 Samuel 7). And He definitely worked through Luther and the people who stood with him in protesting the Church. So let’s set October 31 up as one of these pillars or stones of remembrance, and take some purposeful time to remember what God has done among His people.
What we had then was a church suffering from years of corruption; we saw people seeking unity, but not at the cost of truth. We had a man willing to stand up to this corruption, and we saw a handful of supporters rallying behind this bold leader. So I give you these questions to intentionally think on and discuss with your loved ones this evening:
How should we actively seek unity and truth in our local church communities today?
When is it right to stand up to authority?
What does obedience look like for you right now?
Who are your people who will encourage you and champion your calling?
4. Learn More About The Reformation
A last way to celebrate the Reformation today would be to spend a bit of time learning about the events and important players of the time.
If the 95 Theses are what started all of this, then it would be worth our time to look into them. You can find a list very easily on the Internet. And if they’re difficult to understand, google a modern translation.
Look into the issues that dominated the Reformation, such as indulgences, purgatory, the power of the pope, and the five solas. Check out key people like Pope Leo X, John Tetzel, Prince Frederick, and Katarina Von Bora. All of these people played important roles in Luther’s life and in the Reformation. Maybe even add a few Reformation trivia questions to your evening! Knowing this story will help us appreciate what happened, as well as how the events of the Reformation affect our churches today.
And how does the Reformation affect our churches today? Had Luther not stood up to the authorities and called for truth and change, many things would have been different. The power of the Pope might have remained unchecked, and the sale of indulgences might have persisted. We might not teach or believe justification by faith; the common everyday person may not have access to the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant branch of the church, with its many denominations, may not even exist. The influence of the Reformation is huge and lasting, and worth celebrating! Happy Reformation Day!