You see, on October 31, 1517, the church was in terrible shape. Precious few people owned or had ever laid eyes on a Bible. Even if they had, it would have done little good since most Bibles were written in Latin at the time. The study of Scriptures was not encouraged. The laity were told to listen to the church. Unfortunately it was a time of spiritual ignorance. Superstition abounded and many problems existed in the church.
It was at this time a troubled young monk, named Martin Luther, was trying to find peace with God. He was also troubled by many of the abuses that abounded in the church. The one that bothered him the most was the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were slips of paper which granted forgiveness of sins and escape from temporal punishment in this life and in purgatory. The result was that the common man thought that as long as he had an indulgence he need not worry about being punished for his sins.
On October 31, 1517, the pot started to boil. Martin Luther posted a list of 95 theses (statements). They were posted on the church door of Wittenburg. There were many things he wanted to discuss with church leaders. This event marked the beginning of what is now known as the Reformation.
It is celebrated, not because it caused a split in the church. It is celebrated because this event resulted in a return to the Bible and its message of full and free forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Luther stated that man does not need a paper indulgence to receive forgiveness or to be free from the punishment - temporal or eternal. The Bible says that God has forgiven our sins through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our sins were paid for by Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Our punishment, temporal and eternal, were taken away by Jesus. In Romans, Paul writes that "...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Roman 8:1)
Martin Luther's desire was not to split the church but to bring the church back to the Bible and to the glorious gospel message. That gospel proclaims that we are saved, not by works but by the free and faithful grace of God. Salvation is God’s gift to all the world. God declared the world righteous for Jesus’ sake. Forgiveness and salvation is not something we deserve nor can it be earned. It is God's gift. "Believe in Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Jesus is our only hope! Simply put, that is what the Reformation was about.
Here we must add that the work of reform never ends. We need to daily return to God's Word and hear again of God's wonderful message of salvation. We must take it to heart lest we fall once again into ignorance, superstition and unbelief.