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Friday, November 1, 2013

Reformation Day

Yesterday it was 593 years that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day. That event is considered the beginning of the Reformation.

His actions that day led Martin Luther to break away from the Catholic church and found the Lutheran Church. His contemporary, Ulrich Zwingli, followed his lead shortly after and founded the Reformed Church. Luther retained more of the Catholic beliefs than Zwingli. Ironically, the one thing that separated them was their divergent teachings on the chief Sacrament of Christian unity: the Eucharist. Martin Luther believed in Transubstantiation, or that the  bread and wine was turned into blood and body of Christ. Ulrich Zwingli thought that it was a symbolic transformation. Zwingli carried the reformation further than Luther and also removed the images, candles, gold trimmings, and other decorative things from the church.
Our Anabaptist founder, Felix Manz, was a student of Ulrich Zwingli. Felix and his friends, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock, felt that Zwingli was not carrying the reformation far enough. They believed infant baptism was not Scriptural and that the church and state should be separate. Seeing debate with Zwingli was fruitless, they practiced believer's baptism in January 1525 which is considered the founding of the Anabaptist church.
In 1926, General Synod of the Reformed Church voted to "designate the Sunday nearest October 31 as Reformation Day." This year, Reformation Sunday was observed on October 27. Not much is made of Reformation Sunday in our Anabaptist churches as we do not recognize Martin Luther as our founder. But we are the beneficiaries of his courage in challenging the false doctrines of the Catholic church. People listened to him, started thinking and reading the Scriptures for themselves instead of just swallowing whatever the priest told them.
Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel were highly educated, able to read the Scriptures in the Hebrew and Greek languages in which they were originally written. The key to the Reformation was not the work of any man. It was the work of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of men who read the Scriptures.
Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The Catholic church had strayed far from the truth and invented doctrines that were not found in the Scriptures. But God was not going to let His church fall into ruin. He raised up men who read the Scriptures and saw the Truth.
As with Christmas and Easter, the devil has a counterfeit for October 31 and has a heyday on Reformation Day. How much better it would be to celebrate something positive on October 31 and make it a day of thanks to God for building His church!
German Bible and Martyrs' Mirror book which were used by Christian Burkholder (1746-1809).

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