Five Hundred Years and Counting

By Pastor Brad Hales

October 31, 2017.  According to the calendar it’s on a Tuesday.  The day when both young and old alike will adorn themselves in an array of costumes soliciting for candy, and partying on the unofficial American holiday known as Halloween.  But there is something even more significant happening on this date, and it all began five hundred years ago.  In a little town nestled in the Northeastern territory of Germany called Wittenberg, a certain monk, university professor and Roman Catholic Priest started a revolution that would change the history of the world, and his name was Martin Luther.

Luther, who grew in a rigid, discipline oriented household, was not raised for spiritual pursuits.  His father, a mining manager, wanted his son to study law.  But during a severe thunderstorm, fearing for his life, young Luther prayed to St. Anne for protection, vowing to become a monk if he was spared.  Luther lived, so his religious journey began.  In his early years Luther never felt that he was good enough for God.  He never believed that he could rise to God’s love and standards.  But that all changed when he finally had the opportunity to study the New Testament in the Holy Scriptures.  After reading Romans 3:28, “For we conclude that a person is justified by God through faith, not by works by the law,” Luther realized that we are saved not by works, but only by a free gift of faith in Jesus Christ.  This finally freed Luther to live in God’s eternal love.

So, when the Roman Catholic Church began selling indulgences, an opportunity for people to literally buy for themselves and their loved ones the reduction of sin punishment and time spent in purgatory, Luther vehemently disagreed.  He didn’t believe that this practice followed the Word of God that we are only saved by faith.  Believing that this was a false teaching, Luther wanted to bring reform to the Church.  This sprang him into action on October 31, 1517.  On the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, Luther publicly nailed 95 Theses (discussion points) on why the selling of indulgences was wrong.  All Luther wanted the Church to do was to quit this practice and follow the bible.  Since the Gutenberg Printing Press had been invented earlier, his words were printed and distributed all over Germany at the delight of his countrymen.  Luther was looking for the Church to simply reform, but that did not happen.

Instead, the Roman Catholic Church threatened Luther and his teachings.  When the feisty theologian refused to recant, “back down,” and stand alone on the Word of God, the Church excommunicated him, literally “throwing him out.”  This whole period, known as the Protestant Reformation, changed the world forever.  Some of the outcomes of the Reformation included; the birth of several new churches(denominations), the translation of the Bible in common, everyday languages, and a renewed focus upon the love and grace of God which can be found in Jesus Christ.  The Protestant (protesters) Reformation affected the entire political and historical landscape of Europe, and the new, discovered lands which awaited habitation and mission.

On this October 31st, as the children are counting and hovering around the candy that they want to stuff in their mouths, and as the night slowly fades, may we set back and realize that this day is not all about Halloween.  But a great historical thing happened.  The beginning of the Reformation, a spiritual revolution, which not only influenced the world then, but continues to shape faith today.  It’s been 500 years and counting.

Brad Hales is the pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, Culpeper, Virginia.  As an ordained minister of the North American Lutheran Church for over 23 years, Hales is also an appointed member of the Culpeper Human Services Board.  He is married with two children.  Hales can be contacted at pastorhales@hotmail.com