There is, however, an event, or rather, a movement that is also celebrated on October 31st every year and of which many Christians and non-Christians alike seem to be unaware of. Even many of those who are aware of this are largely ignorant of what this movement was, and is, all about; or what was the essence of what happened since before the 16th century, which led to that pivotal event in October 31st, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Palace in Germany.
That event did not start the Reformation. The nailing of the 95 theses simply was the little pebble stone that set the avalanche going. An avalanche that was already at work by the predecessors in the faith of Martin Luther.
But what was the Reformation, then? I would say it was the refusal of men moved by the Spirit of God to allow wickedness and evil to become the status quo. It was their refusal to deify and worship man as the standard of truth rather than God. It was their open rebellion to the arrogant claims of certain men to have sole access to the word of God and authority to keep the populace blind and ignorant. It was their protest against chaining the eternal, infallible, life-changing, life-giving, immutable, majestic, holy word of God.
Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther are but a few men that God used mightily to oppose the schemes of wicked men who sought to monopolize the Scriptures and twist them to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).
Peter Waldo in the 12th century fought for a common translation of the Bible and affirmed the authority of the Scriptures. He strongly condemned Papal abuses of power and money, Papal indulgences, Roman Catholic dogmas such as purgatory and transubstantiation, and accused the Roman Catholic church, as Reformers were fond of doing, of being the harlot from the book of Revelation. Not surprisingly, he was was excommunicated by Pope Lucius III during the synod held at Verona in 1184.
John Wycliffe in the 14th century was the first to translate the Scriptures into English so that the laymen as well as the scholar who understood Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, could read, understand, and be transformed by the living word of God that is truth. He condemned the office of the Papacy as unbiblical and strongly attacked monasticism (the office of a monk and its hierarchy), which was viewed by the Roman Catholic church as one of the means of attaining salvation. He was declared a heretic 30 years after his death and under the ban of the church. His books were burned and his body exhumed in 1428 by order of Pope Martin V. His remains were dug up, burned, and his ashes were cast into the river Swift.
Jan Hus in the 15th century strongly condemned the Papal abuses and followed very closely on Wycliffe’s teachings and ideas, to the point of translating the Scriptures into the common language, preaching from the common language, and encouraging the laymen to study the Scriptures themselves. He preached what Luther termed in the 16th century Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone), and even held that occupying an office such as monk or pope does not automatically make you a member of the universal church of God. Hus was condemned as a heretic, his works burned, and condemned to die at the stake on July 6th of 1415.
Peter from Mladonovice (died in 1451) recounts,
“When the executioners at once lit [the fire], the Master immediately began to sing in a loud voice, at first ‘Christ, Thou son of the God, have mercy upon us,’ and secondly, ‘Christ, Thou son of the God, have mercy upon me,’ and in the third place, ‘Thou Who art born of Mary the Virgin.’ And when he began to sing the third time, the wind blew the flame into his face. And thus praying within himself and moving his lips and the head, he expired in the Lord. While he was silent, he seemed to move before he actually died for about the time one can quickly recite “Our Father” two or at most three times.
When the wood of those bundles and ropes were consummated, but the remains of the body still stood in those chains, hanging by the neck, the executioners pulled the charred body along with the stake down to the ground and burned them further by adding wood from the third wagon to the fire. And walking around, they broke the bones with clubs so that they would be incinerated more quickly. And finding the head, they broke it to pieces with the clubs and again threw it into the fire. And when they found his heart among the intestines, they sharpened a club like a spit, and, impaling it on its end, they took particular [care] to roast and consume it, piercing it with spears until finally the whole mass was turned into ashes. And on the order of the said Clem and his marshal, the executioners threw the clothing into the fire along with the shoes, saying ‘So that the Czechs would not regard it as relics; we will pay you money for it.’ Which they did. So they loaded all the ashes in a cart and threw it into the river Rhine flowing nearby.”1
Martin Luther in the 16th century attacked the papacy, monasticism, Papal indulgences, abuses, excesses, immorality, among many. At the time he nailed the 95 theses he was still a faithful Roman Catholic adhering to Roman Catholic doctrines who simply disagreed with the abuses of selling Papal indulgences. That nail through the Wittenberg castle door, however, was just the beginning. Martin Luther, tormented by the weight of his sin and by the impossibility of salvation by works, a man tormented by the devil, his flesh, and his image of God as a Judge ready to cast him into the deepest recess of hell for his sin, one day found the grace of God as he read the book of Romans, chapter 1, verses 16-17,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.””2
Martin Luther was excommunicated on June 15, 1520 via the Papal Bull titled “Ex Surge Domine,” Latin for “Rise up, oh Lord.”3 Those were the first words inscribed in the Papal Bull in which Pope Leo X calls upon the Lord himself to rise up and defend his kingdom from a wild boar (referring to Luther) who was roaming around inside causing much destruction to the Roman Catholic church.
These men understood that the Bible was written in the everyday language of the people using everyday literary devices, imagery, and prose that anyone who picked it up could understand. They understood that God alone can save, that man is dead in his sins and trespasses, and that man needs to be born from above before he can even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). No amount of works will ever gain anyone any merit with God. The standard of God is His law, and He demands absolute perfection. That is why the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3 that there is no one who is good, no, not even one. No one understands, no one seeks after God. Why? Because we are dead in our sins and trespasses. We are in open rebellion with God even after He has revealed his power and His attributes through what is created, so that we are without excuse. These Reformers understood that
“….by works of the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20)4,
“…and they preached the gospel of grace through faith, being a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-10)5.
The Gospel had been incarcerated for far too long in the Latin and in the clergy. As it began to spread by the faithful expository preaching and teaching of faithful men of God, it changed the face of Europe and the world forever. There is a danger, however, in these days of that very thing happening again in another way. Pragmatism, compromise, and apostasy are the order of the day, and we need faithful men to stand and share the Gospel to the lost, and to faithfully open up the Scriptures to the redeemed people of God.
If your conscience does not condemn you, enjoy the grace of God with your children and family and go out to get and give some candy this October 31st, but as you do, remember the blood spilled by these and countless other faithful men and women who stood for the revealed truth of God and preached it without compromise, to the point of sacrificing their lives. Remember their lives and the Gospel and don’t stay home or at church on October 31st thinking that somehow this day being outside is too evil for Christians to expose themselves to being outside. Go, and share the Gospel with those who celebrate death and darkness that day. Go, and share the Gospel of life in the midst of death and darkness, that Gospel for which men have suffered and died, that Gospel for which Christ died on the cross to save sinners.
Here’s a great video by Desiring God on John Calvin’s ministry in 16th century Geneva, Switzerland:
After Darkness… Light from Desiring God on Vimeo.
Happy Reformation Day!
1-“Execution of Jan Hus.” Execution of Jan Hus. Columbia University in the City of New York, n.d. Web. Oct. 2012.
2-“BibleGateway.” Romans 1:16-17 NASB. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. Oct. 2012.
3-“Pope Leo X 15 June 1520 Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther.” Pope Leo X 15 June 1520 Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther. Eternal Word Television Network, 1999. Web. Oct. 2012.
4-“BibleGateway.” Romans 3:20 NASB. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. Oct. 2012.
5-“BibleGateway.” Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. Oct. 2012.