Reformation or descecration?

 Pennireef Papers

                Reformation or desecration?

                   – How a Hallowed Eve became Halloween –

Christians in many lands will celebrate Reformation Day on the 31st of this month. 2011 marks the 494th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther nailing his “95 Theses against Indulgences” to the door of the Schloss Kirche (Castle Church) in the university city of Wittenberg, Germany. The hammer blows were felt all the way to Rome. The theological fire thus ignited spread across Europe and changed their culture and work ethic for generations to come.

It is understandable then that at “Halloween” Satan would do everything in his power to distract us with costumes and candy, “ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go ‘bump’ in the night,” and thereby cause us to forget the greatness and seriousness of our Reformation heritage. We ignore or forget it at our peril. Robert Heinlein noted, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

History is important because it is His story. We need to remember on October 31 that the Protestant Reformation changed forever the history of Western civilization and quite possibly led to the establishment of the United States of America.

Why did Luther choose October 31 to initiate his attack on indulgences? Possibly because it was a Hallowed Eve in the Church calendar. From the 8th Century the church celebrated All Hallows (All Saints) Day on November 1st to remember its martyrs who had died for their faith in Jesus Christ. It was like a Christian “Memorial Day.”

The night before All Saints Day became a ‘Hallowed Eve’ – a night to prepare for the coming Holy Day. The celebration of All Saints Day signified the triumph of faith over death, and thus gave the people hope for the time when Death, the last enemy, would be destroyed.

During the Dark Ages in Europe, Ireland, Scotland and England, pagan Druids honored their dead on October 31st. Celtic settlers held festivals and ceremonies designed to drive off oppressive evil spirits. Autumn, the time of falling leaves and prelude to winter, symbolized the death of nature. Bonfires were lighted to fend off the coming winter spirits. Treats were given to appease their wicked tricks.

By the beginning of the 16th Century true Christianity was virtually unrecognizable. The Church had moved away from its original message of salvation by grace through faith as the gift of God. Almost any office or rank in the Catholic Church could be bought, and Church positions became dominated by corrupt and materialistic Humanists who ruthlessly persecuted genuine Believers. Our Lord Jesus, Who promised to build His Church and not allow the gates of hell (or Rome), to prevail against it, raised up a succession of godly men to bring the ship of faith back onto God’s intended course.

Martin Luther, a brilliant lawyer and theologian, visited Rome in 1510. He was shocked at the corruption and degeneracy of Rome: he wrote to a friend about his experience there. “Everything is permitted in Rome, except to be an honest man.”

To finance the Pope’s extravagant living and the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Catholic Church was selling “dispensations” that allowed the purchaser to break Church rules, to eat meat on fast days, to marry a close relative, to commit adultery and so on. In addition, the Church sold “indulgences” which could only be cashed in Heaven – to which they claimed to hold the keys. These Heavenly credits could be balanced against one’s own sins committed on earth.

In 1517 an intenerate Dominican monk, Johann Tetzel, toured Europe selling “indulgences,” to pay for the Pope’s excesses and to build the new Cathedral in Rome. When this papal salesman extraordinaire visited Saxony, it prompted Luther to protest the unethical fund-raising tactics of an apostate Church. Luther argued that only God could forgive sins – and it was better to help the poor than to buy indulgences.

Luther’s challenge was in Latin, but some enterprising printer translated it into German and began to print and sell copies of it. Soon the 95 Theses were available in French, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch and Italian. Luther’s dramatic challenge against the unbiblical corruption of “indulgences” was being read in the market places and palaces of Europe. Even the Pope was handed a copy to read.

Within 3 years over 300,000 copies of Luther’s writings were sold throughout Europe.

Luther’s love for the Word of God and his dedication to truth led him to challenge the entire religious and political authority of the Holy Roman Empire. Rejecting the notion of papal infallibility and ecclesiastical totalitarianism, he championed the principle of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone is our ultimate authority.

When summoned to Worms in April 1521 by the recently crowned 21-year old Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Luther stood before a stunning array of political and ecclesiastical big wigs. There was no opportunity for debate or to defend his doctrines. He was asked two questions: (1) to confirm that the publications on the table were his and (2) whether he would recant and declare them heretical. He acknowledged that the writings were his. When pressed by the court, in Latin, to recant, Luther responded in German: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture, or by clear reasoning, that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.” The rest is His Story.

After the confrontation at Worms, Charles V declared Luther an outlaw and wanted to burn him at the stake as a heretic. Prince Frederick of Saxony refused to sign the statement, arranged for Luther to be “kidnapped” in the forest on his way back to Wittenberg and taken to Wartburg Castle where he was hidden. Disguised and in seclusion, Luther translated the entire New Testament into German during the next 12 months. Later he completed the entire Bible.

Dr. Peter Hammond notes: “By translating the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into the common tongue and making it widely available to both nobles and peasants, Luther championed universal education and literacy, the Priesthood of all Believers, freedom of conscience and religious liberty.”

These were the basic building blocks put in place by our Founding Fathers years later at the birth of the United States of America.

Sola Scriptura eroded the foundations of ecclesiastical and political totalitarianism. Instead of the prevailing “Rex Lex” (the king is the law), the Reformers championed “Lex Rex” – the Law is king! No one is above God’s Law. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. The Protestant emphasis on the Priesthood of all Believers led to the concept of representative republics and democratic forms of government. It fostered freedom of religion and freedom of conscience which led to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association and all the other out-workings of political and social freedom.

My testimony re Reformation.

As a missionary, called and prepared by God to work in restricted-access countries, I was unprepared for the “hunger” I found for the Word of God in the countries we served.

The first thing that comes to mind is the BIBLE. We have God’s Word in our own language! It clearly teaches us:

Sola Christus – Christ alone is the Head of the Church.

Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone is our authority.

Sola Gratia – Salvation is by the Grace of God alone.

Sola Fide – Justification is received by faith alone.

Principal names among the Reformers:

John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Philipp Melanchthon, Jerome Savonarola, John Calvin, William Farel, John Knox

           A brief Chronology of the Reformation

1177 The Waldensian Gospel movement, led by Peter Waldo, translated the Gospels into French.

1229 The Council of Valencia put the Bible on the Index of Forbidden Books.

1378 The Great Schism divides the Catholic Church for 39 years, with 2 opposing Popes: Uban VI in Rome, and Clement VII in Avignon.

1381 John Wycliffe begins intensive work on translating the Bible into English.

1402 John Hus becomes Pastor at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague.

1409 The Great Schism widens as a third Pope is elected – John XXIII from Pisa.

1414 Cup forbidden to the people at communion by the Council of Constance.

1415 John Hus is condemned at the Council of Constance and burned as a “heretic.”

1417 The Council of Constance deposes all 3 papal rivals; elects a new pope, Martin V.

1453 Constantinople captured by the Turks. The entire Christian population massacred.

1455 The first book ever printed, a Bible – Johannes Guttenberg in Mainz, Germany.

1492 Spanish forces liberate Granada, expelling the Islamic Moors from Spain.

1492 King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella, in gratitude, sponsor Christopher Columbus’ voyage, on which he discovered the Americas.

1517 Luther nails his “95 Theses” to the Church door in Wittenberg on October 31.

1522 Luther completes the translation of the New Testament into German.

1524 William Tyndale travels to Germany and begins translating the Bible into English.

1525 Luther marries Katherine von Bora (and they have six children).

1526 Tyndale completes printing of NT in English and smuggles copies into England.

1526 Turks invade Hungary, sack Budapest, take 200,000 Christians as Islamic slaves.

1527 Luther writes “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” – “A Mighty Fortress is our God.

1563 Foxe’s Book of Martyrs published.

The social implications of the Reformation were enormous. It’s easy to forget how much we owe to the courageous Reformers of 500 years ago, who risked their lives and laid their liberty on the line that we might have the Bible in our own language, our freedom to worship God, plus our educational opportunities which have led to extraordinary scientific achievements.

              That is the real significance of October 31.

So, don’t be tricked into forgetting this magnificent treat.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

Bill Bathman – Mesa, Arizona – October 2011

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