Mention October 31st to many Protestants and they become animated about Halloween – candy, costumes, and the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Ask about Reformation Day and too often the only thing animated is the sound of crickets in the extended silence.
We are a Protestant school and the majority of our students worship at Protestant churches. However, before we study the middle ages, I often ask children to tell me about Martin Luther. At least one student will ask, “You mean Martin Luther King?”
Tomorrow, October 31st, is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther, a young monk, nailing 95 statements to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He hoped to start a discussion among University of Wittenberg theologians the serious concerns he had over church doctrine and practices. Little did he know the sparks from his hammer lit a fire that would result in the Protestant Reformation.
The effects were so far-reaching that the Protestant faith of the American colonists was a major reason Edmund Burke cautioned the British Parliament in 1775 to pursue peace with the colonies and not war.
“Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most averse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favorable to liberty, but built upon it.” Speech on Conciliation with America 
This is a classic example of the Church impacting the world around it. Here is how it happened.
The pope was raising money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by selling indulgences to the people. Depending on the amount you paid, you could have your sins forgiven, or hasten the release of dead relatives from purgatory. (If you see a problem here, it’s because you have the Bible in your language. Hold onto that thought.)
Between emperors extracting taxes for political wars, and the church shaking down parishioners for Rome’s grandeur and poorly-run crusades, the people were locked into a painful poverty. Complicating their plight was a high rate of illiteracy; those who could read had only the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome in 380. The people in the pew only knew what the priests told them, or stories depicted in stained glass and statues.
A distraught Luther searched the Scriptures to seek how God could justify such insufferable corruption. He found the answer in Scriptures like Ephesians 2:8-9.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
He started publishing cartoon-like booklets which rocketed to #1 on the Medieval Times Best Seller List. He mocked the corruption of Rome and informed the people that salvation comes by faith alone in the saving work of Christ on the cross.
Eventually, Luther translated the Bible from the original texts into common German. Nothing would be the same again.
Getting the Scriptures into the languages of the common man was of paramount importance to Luther and other reformers in Europe. For example, John Wycliffe oversaw the translation of the Vulgate into Middle English 140 years earlier. By 1536, William Tyndale had translated the New Testament from the original languages into English.
None of these men had official permission to translate God’s word because those in power knew the Bible in the people’s hands would deal a severe blow to their power. They were so upset with Wycliffe that 43 years after he died officials dug up his body, burned his bones, and threw the ashes into the river!
As Luther’s pamphlets flooded Germany, it wasn’t long before the Pope summoned him to an assembly in Worms, Germany. He would appear before Emperor Charles V and church officials. At that trial, he was asked to recant his writings. The hall was packed. The crowd hushed to hear his response. He asked that each of his writings be read and shown how they contradicted Scripture. He said:
Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning, then I cannot and will not recant; because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience… Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.
The Reformation impacted not only the Christian church, but through the sons of the reformation the ripple effects reached the shores of America. It became, as Edmund Burke said, our foundation for liberty, the liberty of people to worship untouched by tyrants civil or religious. And that is why we should remember the Reformation on October 31st Charlie Brown.
Jeanette Faulkner teaches 7th Grade at Grace Classical Christian Academy