This year, on October 31st, many churches will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The day marks a milestone in the history of Christianity when, in 1517, Martin Luther made public his dispute with aspects of the current church’s theology and authority.
Mention the Reformation today and most people immediately think of Martin Luther’s reputed nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg chapel. These Theses—sometimes referred to as the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences—insisted, in part, that the idea that sinners could buy relief from purgatory had no basis in the Bible. Though there were other reforming figures and movements around the same time, Luther’s declaration is widely believed to have instigated the Reformation, effectively dividing the Western church.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a peaceful time. Religious (and political) wars and atrocities tore through Europe, and it wasn’t until 1648 that the Peace of Westphalia was signed. It’s important to remember that the reason many Christians celebrate Reformation Day now is not to emphasize the schism between Catholics and Protestants, but to affirm the fact that Luther’s rebellion demanded that all doctrine be founded in Scripture.
Ultimately, the Reformation brought a positive renewal to Christianity as a whole. Despite discord between different groups of believers, the Reformation made the Bible more accessible to everyone. Even laypeople began gaining direct access to the Word of God. They could read and study it for themselves, and this accessibility of Scripture allowed for a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Reformation was, above all, about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We celebrate it still today—after 500 years—because it still is. The widespread publication and distribution of Bibles is one of the Reformation’s most enduring legacies. Today, the Bible is freely available to us all, and through the Living Word, God continues to reform us. Again and again.
Bible Gateway is especially excited to be participating in Luther’s tradition of making Scripture open and available, and we’re looking forward to sharing with you some of the amazing Bible translations that were born from the Reformation, including the 1599 Geneva Bible. We hope the resources we share throughout the month will help you explore and appreciate the legacy of the Reformation and its emphasis on the authority of the Bible.