The following article is an opinion piece by the author and represents the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
The Other October 31
Every year on October 31, people everywhere celebrate the day we call Halloween. Costumes and candy are staples in the tradition. For Christians, the day has another meaning, especially this year. 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what we know as the Protestant Reformation. An event that lasted for somewhere between 38 and 131 years depending on which historian you ask. Not only did it reform the church by kicking off the protestant movement, it also sparked a literacy revolution that would change the world for believers and non-believers alike.
It all started on October 31, 1517 when a Catholic monk named Martin Luther posted a list of “95 Theses” on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church in Germany on. 95 things he had come to take issue which he saw as corruption in the Catholic church. Now, we won’t list them all here, but the gist is that the church, under Pope Leo X, was in the practice of selling indulgences; a means to lessen the time spent in purgatory atoning for sins committed while on Earth. People were told that they could pay money to get themselves, or a loved one out of the place of torment. Most commoners of the day neither had access to, nor the ability to read the Bible, so they were left to take the word of their spiritual leaders, which was the way said leaders liked it.
Dr. Luther being an outspoken teacher, made his list of 95 theses about why this was wrong, and stuck them to the door of the biggest church around. Sometimes we hear this talked about as some great act of defiance. It was actually common practice to post grievances, or theses, in such a manner to invite conversation, or debate about them. In fact, Luther had posted a list of 97 theses a month before, that drew virtually no response. The difference between 97 in September, and the 95 of October, was that the latter addressed the Pope, or the head of the Catholic Church as the root of the problem. Luther didn’t intend to break off from the church, and he certainly didn’t intend to start the Protestant Reformation. His goal was to facilitate a discussion about the things the church was doing which he felt contradicted the Word of God and improve the state of the church. Instead, he was declared a heretic in 1521 at the Diet of Worms (pronounced Vurms). He was made an outlaw, and they forbid anyone from helping him escape punishment. Luther fled, and spent the rest of his life in opposition to the pope and the Catholic Church.
Here’s where the world changing starts. The printing press was invented 67 years earlier in 1450. Once he had been ostracized from the Catholic church, Luther and an Englishman named William Tyndale began to take advantage of the technology, using it to print the Bible for commoners along with multiple other works. Tyndale was fluent in eight languages, making the Bible available in all of them. Not only did it spread Gods word to the masses, it also spurred the common man to literacy.
So what does all this add up to? Well we, the common man, can read the Bible for ourselves. We don’t have to take the word of the man who stands up and addresses the congregation every Sunday as fact, nor should we. Through the Protestant Reformation, we learned that we can and should question our spiritual leaders. If we see that their message is contradictory to God’s Word, we should call them on it. Just to be clear: No, I don’t believe people go to Hell for being Catholic. Being Catholic doesn’t send anyone to Hell any more than being a Baptist will send one to Heaven. One’s relationship with Jesus Christ is what determines that. The point here is that because of one man reading the Bible, and sharing what he learned with others, we have a liberty that people were not allowed before October 31,1517, and we should take advantage of it. That is something that believers, both Catholic and Protestant should celebrate.
Danny Burnham Religion Contributor