“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
Yes, I know it is Halloween, the great American holiday of pretending to be something you are not. No, I'm not a killjoy...actually, that might depend on who you ask. I do find costumes to be a rather odd idea. The history of Halloween is somewhat vague, but it reportedly has something to do with wearing costumes around campfires in order to ward off ghosts. However, there is something that happened on October 31st, 1517 that ought to be recognized. This event changed the entire world for the better and it has impacted every nation in the world by extension.
In 1517 the Roman Catholic church pretty much ruled the world. The Pope had more power than kings. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that this period proves Lord Acton's statement that "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." The Catholic church was in fundraising mode because they were trying to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica. John Tetzel, a Dominican Fryer, was traveling and preaching to the masses. He would preach hell and damnation and then offer letters of indulgences that guaranteed a shorter stay in purgatory for a friend or relative. Of course, these letters of indulgence were not free, they required a donation. Tetzel was Pope Leo X's favorite fundraiser because he was effective.
Meanwhile, Martin Luther the Augustinian Monk and professor of theology at Wittenberg, had been going through somewhat of a transformation. Luther could not get over his own sin. He worked harder than anyone to be a righteous monk, but he believed he could not please God; this devastated Luther. It was Luther's study of Romans 1:17 in the Greek that helped him turn the corner. Because of some important grammatical details, Luther came to the understanding that righteousness was not something that could be achieved as the Catholic church taught, but it was a gift given by God to His people. The implications of this truth impacted Luther's view of justification, soteriology, and indulgences.
On October 31, 1517 Luther nailed what has become known as the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. This event in itself is not that impressive. This was a common practice, and Luther wrote them in Latin. This limited the number of people that could read them, but over the next weeks and months the 95 thesis spread with mixed reviews. Even though Luther's main focus was his understanding of justification, it was Luther's view on indulgences that caught the attention of John Tetzel. In fact, this whole thing may have blown over had it not been for John Tetzel and the fact that the 95 These were translated from Latin to German and then mass produced on cutting edge technology of the time, the printing press.
Luther's intention was a reformation within the Catholic church, but what has become known as the reformation was closer to a revolution. Sides were chosen and blood was spilled, not just by commoners but by kings and other royalty as well. At one point Luther had to go into hiding in order to protect his own life.
This event not only had an impact on Christianity, but caused a major power shift undercutting the influence of the Catholic church (although it was still significant) and empowering the people. Almost every Christian denomination and western country has been significantly impacted by this event. As you or you kids have fun this halloween, it would be good to take some time and reflect on the importance of this event in history. Perhaps even take time to thank God for what he did through His servant Martin Luther.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.