Of all the holidays that enjoy a place in the Christian calendar, among the most understated must be the one packaged and prepared for believers to celebrate God's correcting providence when the Church has wandered into error. Indeed she has wandered from time to time, and as a loving Father and Good Shepherd, God in his wisdom has moved her to cast off fanciful inventions and harmful speculations, returning to faithful orthodoxy. Such was the case when, on October 31st, 1517 a young Augustinian monk in Wittenberg, Germany took the bold move to nail a list of topics for debate to the door of the town church. Each thesis (or point of debate) represented an area of conviction where the Church seemed in need of correction; needing to return to the plain teaching of Holy Scripture as it had been understood by more ancient church fathers. Devoutly catholic, Martin Luther's clear intent was not that the Church should experience rifts and divisions, but that she should reform, and return to faithful and orthodox doctrine and practice - as one spotless and holy "Bride."
But human nature being what it is, there were diverse and varied responses to this bold critique of the Roman Catholic church at the time. Within a century of its humble beginnings, the Protestant movement (those "protesting" Roman Catholic authority in various ways) saw a fracturing of the Church on continental Europe into factions that no only persist to this day, but have themselves splintered into innumerable subsections. The body of Christ has indeed experienced great trauma in the West. Nevertheless, this tragedy can, by no means, negate the necessity of setting aside deviations from ancient biblical orthodoxy that erode the Church's faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Inappropriate responses to the Reformation can be observed in how many seek to reinvent the church according to popular business models and entrepreneurial instincts. The Anglican Church took the wise path of simply casting off Roman inventions that were not defensible from Scripture or supported by Church Fathers in the first millennium, but saw no need to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Nevertheless, difficult as it may seem; painful as it may prove; the Church must reform when necessary, and remain thankful to God for leading her to do so.
Thus Reformation Day is, (1) a commemoration of God's providence in reforming the Church at a critical moment in history, (2) a celebration of the God who reforms us - not leaving us to languish in error, and (3) an anticipation that he will faithfully continue this work until the return of Jesus Christ. Paul assures the Philippian church, "For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6). Reformation Day offers a superb opportunity to (1) look back at what God has graciously done, (2) look around at how he shows grace to us now, and (3) look forward at his grace will sustain and preserve us in the future - as is the case with all other celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc.
For this reason, we rightly take this week leading up to Reformation Day (October 31st) as a time to reflect on our own need for semper reformanda ("always reforming"). What erroneous assumptions regarding God and his work have I picked up over time that need correcting? How do I contribute to the Church's faithfulness to time-honored and biblical truth? Are my instincts that she should reform intact rather than split further asunder?
In addition to these points of meditation, it is also appropriate to make of this a joyous and festive occasion that celebrates God's reforming work in us. Blowout parties and fun-filled gatherings should mark the Church at this time. Mine certainly is going to party over it. I recommend that yours does too.