In addition to being Halloween, October 31st is “Reformation Day,” celebrating Martin Luther’s defiant act of nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on this day in 1517 (more on this soon). For the last two years, I’ve used the day to point out the unintentional ironies of Reformation Day – some funny, some sad. In 2011, I noted that Reformation Day:
(1) is celebrated by making graven images of Reformers who hated images;
(2) is intended to Christianize a “pagan” holiday, yet is celebrated by many of the same Evangelicals who refuse to celebrate Christmas for fear that it’s a Christianized pagan holiday;
(3) avoids celebrating “evil” [Halloween] by celebrating evil [schism].
In 2012, I added two more to the list, describing how Reformation Day:
(4) celebrates a document damning Protestants for rejecting papal authority over Apostolic Pardons.
(5) celebrates a movement that, despite its name and initial, failed as a reform movement of the Catholic Church. [After all, if Protestants thought that it had succeeded, they would be Catholics].
Two more ironies to add this year:
One of the major reasons that Reformation Day is popular among Protestants is that it celebrates what they believe is the triumph of Truth over false man-made traditions. So, for example, the Protestant blog The Road to 31 explains: “We celebrate Reformation Day because it represents the reclaiming of the one true gospel that had been lost in the Catholic church and replaced with the traditions and teachings of men.“
The problem is, a good chunk of the Reformation Day story seems to be made up. As The Road to 31 notes, Reformation Day is built around a central event: “On October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five These on the Power of Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church.“
October 31, 1517: Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg with hammer strokes which echoed throughout all of Europe. This act has been portrayed numerous times thoughout the centuries, and until the 21st century it was accepted as fact. It has become a symbol of the Reformation as nothing else has.
It was like a slap in the face when the [C]atholic Luther researcher, Erwin Iserloh, asserted in 1961 that the nailing of the theses to the door of the Castle Church belonged to the realm of legends.
The facts are convincing, the first written account of the event comes from Philipp Melanchthon who could not have been an eye-witness to the event since he was not called to Wittenberg University as a professor until 1518.
Also, this account appeared for the first time after Luther’s death and he never commented on ‘nailing anything up’ in 1517. […]
It is also worth noting, that there was no open discussion of the theses in Wittenberg and that no original printing of the theses could be found.
You might ask why is a schism in the Church something to be celebrated? Should we not welcome unity rather than division?
Unity within the Church is a very good thing and is even commanded (Philippians 2:2), but so is separating out the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13). The Church will always need sifting while we are on this earth. Our pews and even pulpits are full of sinners, some saved by grace and some not. Corruption cannot and will not be tolerated within the Body of Christ.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” [….]
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
So the Body of Christ, until the end of time, will contain both Saints and sinners. And of course, this has always been true, as anyone familiar with the Apostle Judas should be aware. Christ explicitly forbids us from trying to create a manmade church of just the wheat (and prophesies that it’ll never succeed). Yet this is the passage that The Road to 31 uses to defend Reformation Day, since apparently we have arrogated to ourselves the duty of “separating out the wheat from the tares,” a duty Christ entrusts to the angels at the Last Judgment.