Today is Halloween and a great many kids will be on the streets looking for treats. Less well known is that this date is Reformation Day, too. It marks the anniversary of the day that began the Reformation. On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk posted his 95 Theses on the door of the main church in his city in Germany. Or at least that's the way the day is remembered. He may or may not have actually nailed his Theses to the church door but he did write them. He was fed up with some of the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. Remember, that was his church at the time. One of his main points of controversy was the selling of indulgences - kind of a get out of purgatory free card- in order to raise money for a new church building in Rome. Anyway, that's the day Protestants look back to as the birth of their religion. That day changed a lot of things about religion. Luther was eventually kicked out of the church for his beliefs which were as much theological as directed at church practices. He was against the Mass, papal authority, monasteries, the whole priesthood, and many other main teachings of the Catholic church. He was for Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Jesus Alone and Glory Alone (the five "Solas" they are called). Luther taught our salvation depends upon only faith in Jesus which is by God's grace alone. So, most of the tradition and ritual of the Catholic church was not needed. Although he did not intend to start a church he did. Lutherans and Reformed Christians, following the other main reformer John Calvin, are the ones for whom this day is most important. Otherwise, I wonder if most Christians know what a Protestant is. If you are not Lutheran or a Calvinist and one runs into few of them these days, what difference does the Reformation make? Famous pastors like Rick Warren ridicule the idea of anyone calling herself a Protestant, it's like saying you are a Pilgrim. Today, there is a lot of fluidity among denominations and even among Catholics and Protestants. It is hard to believe there was a time when Lutherans and Catholics fought with each other ( I mean to death!). Luther called the Pope the anti-Christ and said the Catholic church was a temple of the devil.
Today, Pope Francis is in Sweden at an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Reformation. Luther never saw that coming. I guess it is a good thing although Christians are still picking up the pieces of years of squabbling over issues of doctrine and how to do church, and how to live like a follower of Jesus. Luther was just the first to start a church that was not Catholic but hardly the last. Luther and Calvin had some important insights into Scripture and theology but they also left a bunch of unanswered questions and a shattered Christendom and a lot of people who are confused about the truth claims of Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus.