It’s not every year you get to celebrate a 500th birthday. This year, on October 31, we commemorate that day centuries ago when Martin Luther launched the Reformation.

But why mark the big 5-oh-oh? After all, John Hus lived 100 years before Luther and spoke out against corruption and legalism in the Church. Before Luther, John Wycliffe had begun a translation of the Bible in the people’s language, saying “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English.” And Ulrich Zwingli fought dead ritual in Switzerland with zeal equal to that of Luther. All of these Reformers were driven by a passion to live and even die for a Scripture understandable to every person—girls as well as boys, lay people as well as clergy.

Luther, the 95 Theses, and the 5 Solas

Luther’s act of nailing the “95 Theses” on the door of his town church on October 31, 1517, we now mark as the birth of Protestantism. Luther wanted to dispute the practice of indulgences by the Catholic Church—an act he believed was unbiblical. Posting this now famous list was a turning point in the Reformation and pushed the movement forward, throughout all of Europe.

As a result, the Reformers went on to teach the essentials of the gospel, specifically the “5 Solas.” They taught that people:

  • are saved not by good works or good intentions but by belief in Christ (sola fide)
  • receive the gift of faith, and the blood of Christ is counted to them as righteousness, not due to human initiative or sufficiency, but only by God’s grace (sola gratia)
  • have only one Mediator between them and the Father (solus Christus)
  • learn best and most reliably about God in the Bible (sola Scriptura)
  • live not for their own “story” or fulfillment, but exist–as does everything—only for the glory of God (soli Deo Gloria)

Just as it was 500 years ago, these beautiful ideas are worth celebrating and communicating to the rest of the world!  I’ve collected a few ideas on how to turn this potentially “insider” event into an outreach for yourself and your church.

Ways to Celebrate the Reformation

–First, pray that God will use this year to unify His people around the truths of God’s Word and to end division in His Body. Ask Him to purify His church of legalism. Seek His will on how to lift up His name by focusing public attention on the Reformation.

–If it’s legal and permitted in your area, do a release of balloons—perhaps 66 balloons, for each book of the Bible, symbolizing the Scriptures going into all the world in languages everyone can understand.  Post on social media and be sure to invite the press!

–Arrange a Martin Luther or other “hero of the Reformation” minute at each church service during the fall.

–Challenge the youth group to make a video about the Reformation, or about why they are Protestants, and post on Facebook.

–Recruit members to give out 500 cookies in neighborhoods or on campuses, with a card explaining why you are doing it.

–Start a ministry outreach to the hearing impaired so that more can know the Word of God.

–Have a church marquee? Dare to proclaim, “Protestants Love Protesters. Come in and see why.”  Be ready to engage some new visitors!

–Reserve a booth at the state fair and work with area Reformed churches to pay for and work in it.

–Have women in the church sew some fabric children’s “Bibles”—and give them to needy children. Or ask quilters about making and displaying a quilt with squares that feature “the Five Solas.”

–Gather a group to study the Christian Classics series on John Calvin and on Martin Luther.

–Invite the press to do interviews with Reformed pastors, for serial coverage through the year.

–Gather and display Bibles in many languages and offer the collection to a local library or museum for a month.

–Set up Friday night coffeehouse events and invite people to join carefully-staffed small group discussions on what protests they have against the organized church.  The brave-hearted will have instant evangelism opportunities!

–Organize a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year project; have your pastor encourage it.

–Designate a couple of church members who are educated in history to offer talks to school history classes about contributions of the Reformed faith to our lives today.

–Have various homes host a “Luther movie” night. Or prepare a concert of martin Luther compositions.

–Place a big jar or bowl in your church foyer containing Bible verses about faith and grace for everyone to take, promising to share with someone else that week.

The Reformation is an important time in church history when God used Martin Luther and the other Reformers to change the church by bringing people back to His Word and the truths of the gospel. That is something worth celebrating!

Leah Farish teaches college courses on law, language, and public speaking in Oklahoma.  She also heads a nonprofit which encourages volunteerism.  Leah and her husband are members of Christ Presbyterian in Tulsa, where, being party animals, they are also preparing to celebrate the church’s 50th birthday.