Q&A: What is Reformation Day?

What is Reformation Day?

Question

What is Reformation Day?

Answer

On the eve of All Saints' Day, October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, professor of Scripture at Germany's University of Wittenberg, posted an invitation to debate on the door of Castle Church. The invitation to debate contained 95 points, or theses, concerning the sale of indulgences (95 Theses). Luther chose this date for posting his theses because the coming holy day would bring many of the community to services, ensuring that his statements would receive wide exposure. This day is remembered as "Reformation Day" because of its impact on the Reformation movement taking root at this time.

While the Reformation had profound and lasting impacts on the political, economic, social, literary, and artistic aspects of modern society, it was in its heart a religious movement. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the good news of salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. J.I. Packer has stated this well in SOLA FIDE: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification.

With Luther, the Reformers saw all Scripture as being, in the last analysis, either law or gospel meaning by "law" all that exposes our ruin through sin and by "gospel" everything that displays our restoration by grace through faith and the heart of the biblical gospel was to them God's free gift of righteousness and justification. Here was the sum and substance of that sola Fide - sola Gratia - solo Christo - sola Scriptura - soli Deo gloria which was the sustained theme of their proclamation, polemics, praises and prayers. And to their minds (note well!) proclamation, polemics, praise, and prayer belonged together, just as did the five Latin slogans linked above as epitomizing their message. Justification by faith, by grace, by Christ, through Scripture, to the glory of God was to them a single topic, just as a fugue with several voices is a single piece. This justification was to them not a theological speculation but a religious reality, apprehended through prayer by revelation from God via the Bible. It was a gift given as part of God's total work of love in saving us, a work which leads us to know God and ourselves as both really are something which the unbelieving world does not know. And to declare and defend God's justification publicly as the only way of life for any man was at once an act of confessing their faith, of glorifying their God by proclaiming his wonderful work, and of urging others to approach him in penitent and hopeful trust just as they did themselves.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).