Friday, 31 October 2008

Martin Luther and Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day. But why is it celebrated on the 31st of October and what does it have to do with the Reformation? It all goes back to one of my favourite persons in history...

Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in the German town of Eisleben. At the age of 17, he started studying law at the University of Erfurt, in accordance with his father's wishes. But one day, after being caught in a thunderstorm and fearing for his life, he vowed to become a monk. During his time in the monestery, Luther learned more about God, and in this light, he saw more and more of his own sinfulness and recognised that he could not please God through his good works. This was confirmed even more so as he started to study the Bible which did not yet exist in the German language and was thus a closed book to most people. Martin Luther was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic church and then went on to become a teacher of theology at the University of Wittenberg. But the more he studied the Bible and the more he compared it with the teachings and practices of the Catholic church, the more he saw the need for a reform of the church. In particular, Luther condemned the sale of indulgences, which were written documents sold by the church supposedly to save people from torment in the afterlife. The church's teaching was that faith alone did not save anyone. Martin Luther saw this as a complete contradiction to the teaching of God's Word in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.

So Martin Luther wrote up a list of 95 Theses - different statements about true repentence and the sale of indulgences - and posted them on the door of the Wittenberg church to stimulate a debate on those issues. The date was 31 October 1517. It is considered by many to have been the start of the Reformation in Europe.

Luther never intended to start a new church, but since the Catholic church refused to be reformed and instead excommunicated him for his belief in Scripture alone (i.e. only God's Word and nothing added to it) and in faith in Christ alone as the basis for salvation, a new church did emerge as more and more people understood God's Word and recognised the errors of the Catholic church which persisted in holding on to its traditions.

In just under 10 years time, on 31 October 2017, will be the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 Theses and of the Reformation. Last month saw the beginning of a series of events and special exhibits in Germany in the 10 years running up to this anniversary, which has been named the "Luther Decade".

I love the Luther movie that came out in 2003:

Martin Luther is one of my greatest heroes because he had the courage to stand up for the truth of God's Word and do what is right no matter what the consequences. He also had a passion to share the love of Christ with other people, in word and in deed, and to give them hope for the future. Finally, Martin Luther was also the first person to translate the Bible into the German language, which is in my eyes the greatest privilege a German person can be given. Luther's translation of the Bible became the basis for the standardisation of the German language and it is still the most used and recognised Bible in Germany today.

How thankful we can be for people like Martin Luther! That's what makes Reformation Day so special.

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