What is the Protestant Reformation?

October 31, 2017 is the five hundredth anniversary of one of the most significant events in church history. On October 31, 1517 day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg protesting the sale and abuse of indulgences. Though he did not intend to start a revolution Luther’s actions are considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian and Anglican churches came directly out of the reformation. From those churches sprang many more that have spread across the world.

The protestant reformation began as a protest against Roman Catholic errors that initially sought to bring reform to the Catholic church. When these reform efforts failed the reformers became leaders of protestant churches. The reformers boldly preached the Word of God and trained others to do the same. They rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the dogma of salvation through works and many other distinctly Catholic teachings. The reformation spread across Germany and Switzerland, into France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland. By the end of the 1500’s the Protestant church was fully established across much of Europe.

The roots of the Protestant Reformation can be found in the 14th and 15th centuries in men like John Huss and John Wycliffe who opposed the Roman Catholic Church. The 15th century brought an increased focus on the text of Scripture. Martin Luther studied the New Testament to learn how to become righteous. His reading of passages like Romans 1:17 and Galatians 2:16 led him to conclude that righteousness is received only through faith and that salvation is given only by the grace of God without any effort or merit on the part of the person.

At the same time Luther was protesting indulgences Ulrich Zwingli was leading a reformation movement in Zurich, Switzerland. He began to preach from Scripture, verse by verse, instead of following the church calendar. Soon his parishioners stopped observing Catholic rituals and in 1525 the city council of Zurich voted to abolish the Catholic mass. Ulrich Zwingli insisted that only those things taught in the Bible were to be practiced by Christians. He led his parishioners ot abandon many of the rituals and regulations that so influenced the lives of those living in Catholic Europe.

The Protestant Reformation sought to return to Biblical truth to find the answer to questions about the salvation of men and the authority of the church. The primary answers to these questions came to be summarized in five “only” statements. Salvation is only received through faith and not through any act of obedience or religious observance. Salvation is only by the grace of God not any works of men. Salvation only comes through Christ and there is no salvation in any one else. The only authority of the Christian life is the Word of God. God saves men for His glory and the Christian to live his life only for the glory of God.

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When did the Catholic Church begin?

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. That moment is recognized as the start of the Protestant Reformation. Today most of the major Christian denominations trace their beginnings to those early years of the Reformation.

The largest Christian church in the world did not begin in the 1500’s but hundreds of years earlier. The Roman Catholic church has over 1 billion professing adherents. Until the Reformation Catholicism was the supremely dominant expression of Christianity throughout Europe. If the Reformation was a response to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages when did Catholicism begin?

The official teaching of the Catholic church is that it started when Jesus told Peter, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Most historians view the beginning of the Catholic church as much later than this. However, establishing a firm starting point for the Catholic church is nearly impossible.

Some trace the beginning of the Catholic church to the planting of the first church in Rome. Some believe the Catholic church started during the reign of Constantine. Emperor Constantine declared himself a convert to Christianity in 311 AD. He made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire and is said to have been the first Christian emperor. Others date the beginning of Catholicism with the rise of Pope Leo I in the mid-400’s.

Identifying the beginning of Catholicism is not easy. Catholicism did not step onto the world stage as a fully developed religion. What we know today as Catholicism rose slowly over many years. For example, the uniquely Catholic doctrine of the papacy took many decades to develop. The authority of the Bishop of Rome can be seen to increase during the leadership of several Bishops of Rome. The rise of Pope Leo I saw the culmination of this development. He was not the first to teach a single man was head over the worldwide church but he was the first to successfully implement near universal leadership.

Other distinctive doctrines, like the veneration of Mary, also arose gradually. The first statement that points towards the elevation of Mary in official teachings comes from the council of Ephesus in 431 AD. During that council she was established as the “God-bearer”. Prayer to Mary possibly existed much earlier, but by 600 it was a routine practice. Not until 1854 did a Catholic Pope establish Mary’s immaculate conception as official church teaching.

Similarly, prayer to the saints was being practiced as early as a couple hundred years after the death of Christ. The increase of this practice can be traced throughout the Dark Ages but it was not until 1545 that the Catholic church officially stated its doctrine regarding praying to saints.

Catholicism as it stands today is the result of centuries of growth and change. Its origin was gradual. The Roman Catholic Church grew out of a series of political situations, ecclesiastical decisions, popular beliefs and influential doctrines that merged together to become Roman Catholicism. Though a specific beginning cannot be identified by the late 400’s the Catholic church was in place and increasing in power.

Is Halloween Evil?

In a few days the sidewalks will be filled with pint sized nurses, vampires, pixies, zombies, movie characters, rock singers, aliens and all manner of strange creatures. The roving bands will move through the neighborhoods of our town demanding plunder and threatening unpleasant consequences if the loot is not forthcoming.

The celebration of Halloween is huge business in America with a history in European Paganism and Catholic Christianity. The unmistakable pagan influences and the many costumes reflecting demons and sorcery have prompted Christians over the years to denounce Halloween as an evil holiday. Many other Christians see Halloween as nothing but harmless fun. Is Halloween evil?

Certain aspects of Halloween’s celebration are sinful and should be avoided. Drunkenness, immorality, drug use and vandalism are sin. Halloween, nor any other holiday, is justification for engaging in behavior forbidden by God. Caution is also necessary in the choice of costumes. Some things are wrong even when done in play. The real question is: is it wrong to participate in Halloween as we practice it today?

Answering this question requires some consideration of where Halloween came from and how it became what it is today. The history of Halloween is not easy to determine. Conflicting ideas abound and much error has crept into common knowledge about Halloween. People have distorted the facts to promote their own agenda. What seems undeniable about Halloween is that it finds it’s origins in two religious observances: the Celtic Samhain and the Catholic All Saints Day.

Samhain was the festival of the Celtic New Year that prepared them for the long winter ahead. The Celts believed during Samhain the barrier between living and dead was thinnest. The spirits of the dead could be seen roaming the earth. Divination- determining the future by the aid of spirits- was most effective during Samhain. The celebrations included offerings to the Celtic deities and riturals in reverence of the dead.

All Saints Day is the Catholic memorial for all the saints. In Catholic doctrine saints are those who have entered into heaven. Christians on earth and people in purgatory are not, in Catholicism, seen as saints. The evening before All Saints Day was a Hallowed Evening of preparation for the veneration to occur on the following day.

The dates of Samhain and All Saints Day coincided which resulted in the two eventually merging. The Halloween practices that followed continued to evolve over the centuries. The founding of America brought many European traditions into the New World, but Halloween was not a particularly important holiday in the newly formed United States. The late 1800’s saw a rise of American interest in Halloween, but this Halloween had been stripped of its major religious principles.

Today all that is left of the original Pagan and Catholic celebrations are a few of the many traditions. If these traditions were still practiced with their religious beliefs intact, then I would have to consider Halloween a sinful practice, as evil as worshiping Mother Earth or praying to Mary. If children wandered the streets begging food with the promise to pray for the souls of those in purgatory, then I would say confidently that participating in Halloween is sinful. If people bobbed for apples to honor the goddess, then I would say participating in Halloween is sinful. If people carved pumpkins to ward off evil spirits, then I would say participating in Halloween is sinful.

The absence of any overt religious intent in its celebration makes Halloween, in my estimation, nothing more than an excuse to dress up, get free candy and have a good time with your friends.

Why do people make such a big deal about the Pope?

On September 22-27 Pope Francis visited America. He is the fourth pope in American history to visit the United States and the first to address a joint session of congress. His visit attracted much media attention in the days leading up to his arrival and throughout his time here. Those not familiar with the teachings Catholicism may wonder why the visit of this particular church leader is such a big deal.

The Pope is much more than just another church leader. As the leader of the Catholic church he holds spiritual authority over 1 billion Catholics. Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity with more members than all other Christian groups combined. As a result the Pope is seen by many to be the leader of the Christian world in the same way that the President of the United States was seen as the leader of the free world. Though the president did not actually have power in every democratic nation in the world, his position as leader of the greatest free superpower in the world gave him much influence around the world. Though the Pope does not have any official power in most of the Christian denominations his position as the head of the Catholic church gives him great influence. When the Pope speaks, he is heard by many as speaking for Christianity at large.

His importance is greater than his influence as the head of the largest Christian denomination. The Pope holds real authority over the Catholic church. His position is that of the earthly representative of Christ, the spiritual successor of Peter and the bishop over the entire Catholic church. He is believed to have authority directly from God over the entire Roman Catholic church. His words always carry the weight of authority, but when he uses his authority as Pope to define a matter of doctrine or morals he is believed to speak infallibly. His declaration is viewed as free from error and as new revelation from God that is fully binding on all Christians. The Pope is an extremely important figure because he has great power and influence 1/7th of the world’s population.

Though Catholic doctrine declares the Pope to be the head of the church and the mouthpiece of Christ with the ability to speak infallible words of God, their doctrines stand in clear contradiction to the Word of God. The single head of the church is Jesus. He has not and will not give that position to any. The Word of God is the final authority for all men. No edict from any church leader replaces, usurps or adds to God’s Word. 2 Peter 1 declares we have in God’s Word “all things that pertain unto life and Godliness.” All that is needed to live a Godly life is found in the Bible. The Bible teaches fully all that man needs to know for salvation and Christian living.

If you would like to hear more on this topic, tune in October 4 for a fuller answer. You can hear the Everlasting Truths radio show on 92.7 WRPP at noon.