Saturday, October 29, 2011

Should We Celebrate "Reformation Day?"

I asked that question back in 1999:

Should We Celebrate "Reformation Day?"

I still don't have the answer.

Here is the text of that post, with the links updated:


Should We Celebrate "Reformation Day?"

I say NO.

I'm grateful that there is an Internet mailing list like this one.
Imagine a carrier-pigeon mailing list a couple of months before
Y1k. The question asked: "Should We Celebrate Constantine Day?"
There were certainly some advantages to Constantine's removal
of Christianity from the list of illegal religions. But it was a
mixed bag. As much good as Constantine may have done, it's
a good thing we got out of the "Holy Roman Empire" biz.
"Reformation Day" is a celebration of Martin Luther.
I'm glad I'm not a Catholic, but I'm also glad I'm not a Lutheran.
Luther is like Constantine. God used him to make progress,
but we're not finished yet.

I received the following email from a Christian organization.
It's an "educational" piece. It appears to be filled with historical facts
of which most Christians are probably not aware.

I'm all for educating Christians, of course. But I'm not sure
this piece is telling us anything important. Let's read it and
then ask some questions.


Subj: 31 October
Date: 10/30/99 8:27:03 AM Pacific Daylight Time
From: (Servant_l)

Hi Servant_L and CHRISED-L folks!

Last year Christian History Magazine sent out the first part of the
following in their newsletter. Further down, separated by dashed lines
and the byline of the new editor, is the rest of the story.

I just thought to send this to you because it truly marks what the
date of 31 October is really all about. While it is true, as noted below,
that we have better issues to distinguish ourselves on, let us continue
to fight prayerfully against the forces of darkness that attempt to exert
tremendous influences on this day as no other.

This story will not be repeated in the monthly SERVANT_L newsletter.

God bless

The Importance of October 31
From Ted Olsen, Assistant editor

October 31. Forget about Jack-o-Lanterns and Trick-or-Treating -- history
took a major turn on this date nearly 500 years ago. Though officially,
most Protestant denominations will celebrate it on Sunday, October 31
is Reformation Day -- the day in Martin Luther walked up to the Castle
Church in Wittenberg, took out a hammer, and nailed his 95 Theses to
the door.

Well, probably, anyway. Luther himself never actually reported engaging
in such an act of protest. The whole nailing story actually comes from
his younger colleague, Philipp Melanchthon--who wasn't anywhere near
Wittenberg in 1517 and who didn't record the event until years after
Luther's death.

According to many historians, Luther probably mailed, not nailed, his
Theses to his fellow Catholics.

But even if his Theses didn't leave a hole in the Wittenberg door,
they certainly left a giant mark on Christianity. It began on when
Luther publicly objected to the way preacher Johann Tetzel was selling
indulgences. These were documents prepared by the church and bought by
individuals either for themselves or on behalf of the dead that would
release them from punishment due to their sins. As Tetzel preached,
"Once the coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory heavenward

Luther questioned the church's trafficking in indulgences (though he
did not oppose indulgences rightly practiced) and called for a public
debate of the 95 theses he had written. Instead, his 95 Theses spread
across Germany as a call to reform, and the issue quickly became not
indulgences but the authority of the church.

Pope Leo X soon moved to "quench a monk, ... Martin Luther by name,
and thus smother the fire before it should become a conflagration."

By the time an imperial edict was issued, calling Luther "a convicted
heretic," he had escaped, and would spend the rest of his life as an
outlaw. He elicited so much hostility that it was rumored--and taken
seriously for a time by some respected intellectuals of the day--that
he was the product of a bathhouse liaison between his mother and the
Devil. The church called him a "demon in the appearance of a man."

Still, he was a sensation. In 1520 and 1521, Luther was the rage.
Posters with his picture (single-sheet woodcuts) sold out as soon
as they went on sale, and many were pinned up in public places.

He's a fascinating character, not just for the importance he serves
in Christian history, but in the often strange details about his life.
He was infamous for his vulgar language. Evidence suggests he may have
made his astounding discovery of justification by faith while he was on
the toilet. At his first Mass as priest, he almost dropped the bread and
cup, and was so terrified that he tried to run from the altar. He claimed
that he hadn't even seen a Bible until he was 20 years old. And though he
has contributed several key documents to the church totalling more than
60,000 pages (including an important German translation of the Bible,
the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"; his Larger and Smaller
Catechism), he hoped that "all my books would disappear and the Holy
Scriptures alone be read."

That hasn't happened. In fact, it has been said that in most libraries,
books by and about Martin Luther occupy more shelves than those concerned
with any other figure except Jesus of Nazareth.

But for all that importance, many Christians today don't use the day to
discuss justification by faith alone. Or whether they're trying to buy
their way into heaven. Or countless other areas that Martin Luther's life
still bears relevance. Instead, it's all about the evils of Halloween.
It seems to me that there are better issues for us to distinguish
ourselves on and say, as Luther, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

By the way, both of our issues on Martin Luther, Issues 34 (early years)
and 39 (later years), can be ordered online at or by calling 1-800-806-7798.


Return to Augsburg
from Elesha Coffman, assistant editor of Christian History

It's not often that in remembering the anniversary of a historic event
we can also highlight corresponding "history in the making." But the
ceremony in Augsburg on October 31 will go a long way toward bringing
one story full circle.

This Sunday, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the
Vatican will sign a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,
thus stating agreement on an issue that has divided Protestants and
Catholics since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg
door on October 31, 1517. The declaration reads, in part, "Together we
confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because
of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy
Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good
works." Dialogue leading to this agreement began after the Second Vatican
Council in 1967, and much of the scholarly work behind it was carried
out in the United States, but no better place than Augsburg could have
been chosen for the signing itself.

In 1518, Cardinal Cajetan met Luther in Augsburg with the goal of
forcing the upstart monk to recant his controversial theses. Luther,
of course, refused, and he immediately fled the city. In 1530, Luther
still couldn't show his face in Augsburg, so it was his friend Philipp
Melancthon who appeared on his behalf to submit the conciliatory
Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V. Melancthon's attempt at making
peace was, however, unsuccessful, and religious conflict continued to

Augsburg was again the site of an attempted compromise in 1548, when the
Interim of Augsburg was proffered as a temporary settlement between
Protestants and Catholics, awaiting a final settlement at the Council
of Trent. But various issues kept the Council of Trent from settling
much of anything that met the Protestants' approval, and it was not
until the 1555 Peace of Augsburg that a long-term solution was accepted.
This settlement recognized the existence of both Catholicism and
Lutheranism and stipulated that people should follow the religion of
their local ruler. This was more a victory for territorialism than for
tolerance (though people could sell their property and move, shifting
their allegiance).

In addition to the ghosts of past conflicts, however, Augsburg features
a visual reminder that peace is possible. On the plot of land where a
Roman temple once stood, the churches of St. Ulrich and St. Afra sit
side-by-side. Built between 1476 and 1500, the structures were once part
of the same ecclesiastical compound. However, after the Peace of Augsburg,
Lutherans took over what had been the monastery assembly hall and
established St. Ulrich's as a Protestant church. A shared crypt houses
the remains of the two namesake saints.

At the end of the 1530s, Luther said, "I am worried that we will never
gain come so close together as we did at Augsburg." His fear was justified
for several centuries, but this weekend, his descendents and those of his
former foes will once again be as close as Ulrich and Afra have always been.


So as I understand this letter, the big issue to be discussed on
"Reformation Day" is "Justification by Faith Alone." The meeting
in Augsburg will undoubtedly have some hard-core Reformed
pundits shouting about "compromise" and retreat from the
"purity" of the Reformed Doctrine of Justification by faith alone.

It seems to me that Luther's ideas were important because
they liberated Christians from liturgical slavery; Luther prompted
revolution against Humanistic ecclesiocracy and man-made
traditions. I suppose this is a good reason to celebrate
"Reformation Day."

But for the most part, the letters above seem to me to be hopelessly

Just a few years after Luther nailed/mailed his theses,
20-30,000 peasants were killed with Luther's tacit approval,
in uprisings which Luther had no small part in fomenting.
Not only was the issue in those uprisings (usury) never
resolved, but Luther (and Calvin), by retreating from a
full Theonomic position, entrenched the economics of
usury, and it is today the central organizing feature of
modern economics and foreign policy, supplanting
constitutional liberties in America and resulting in
the enslavement of millions more peasants in "Third World"

Should we celebrate "Reformation Day?"

I am a Theonomist. My passion is to see God's Law
obeyed throughout the world.

What has been the effect of the doctrine of "Justification by
faith alone?" Incomparable evil. Half a billion people deliberately
murdered in this century alone (not counting murders unauthorized
by the State), and the big discussion is the doctrine of
"imputation." I hasten to note at this point that I just reviewed
the chapters in the Westminster Confession of Faith on
soteriology (chas. 11-18), and find nothing I really disagree
with. In fact, I still find it to be a remarkably accurate statement
of Biblical doctrines, at least in this limited area of life. But as
a slogan, "Justification by Faith" has proven to be a washout.

The Catechism says man's chief purpose in life is to glorify
God. Our first question should be, "How can I glorify God?"
The "Justification by Faith" slogan has focused men's
attention on the question, "What must I do to be saved?"
**Indirectly,** of course, God is glorified by saving sinners.
But the focus of this question is man-centered: "What
do I have to do to avoid eternal punishment?" "What do I
have to do to make the after-life easier for myself?"
"What can I do for ME?"

Millions of people believe in "Justification by Faith Alone"
and fail the tests of the Justified Man in James 1-2.

The "Vine & Fig Tree" vision of the Prophet Micah does not
focus on "Justification by Faith." Its themes are

1. The Presence of God with us in His Kingdom
2. The World-wide Triumph of His Kingdom
3. The Thirst for Righteousness (Theonomy)
4. The Blessings of Peace
5. Family Values
6. Property
7. Community.

Why have these Biblical Themes been neglected in favor of
"Justification by Faith?" Why are thousands of verses in
the Bible ignored and huge tomes written on just a few
verses in Romans and Galatians?

Why has such a vast amount of theological ink been
devoted to "personal peace and affluence" in the after-life,
while ignoring "True Religion" as James defined it (James 1:27).

Theology by slogan is a strategy of death. It creates
superficiality rather than disciplined learning and wisdom.
But if I had to come up with a slogan to replace "Justification
by Faith," it would be "Justification by Allegiance." Just
as modern retrospective psychoanalysis of Luther has
"discovered" the origin of "Justification by Faith" in
Luther's internal, subjective angst, so "Justification by
Allegiance" comes out of my own wrestling with the
California State Bar in an attempt to become a licensed
attorney. The concept of allegiance is a fundamental
category of federalist or covenantal thought. It expresses
loyalty, willingness to obey orders, and a participation
in the blessings of the commonweal.

None of this is present in any sufficient degree in
"Justification by Faith." (Although it is certainly implicit
in the term "Faith" -- see WCF, 14:2, "Saving Faith" --
"By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is
revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself
speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which
each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience
to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and
embracing the promises of God for this life,
and that which is to come.")

Finally, IMHO, the key to the fulfillment of Micah's
"Vine & Fig Tree" prophecy is the elimination of
the institutions of church and state. "Reformation Day"
gave us little if anything in this direction. As Milton
wrote, "New presbyter is but old priest, writ large."

Again, I emphasize my near-enthusiastic agreement with
everything in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapters
11-18. But the time has come for a paradigm shift.

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

[end 1999 post]

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