“Primitive Christianity and the Reformation are the two greatest revolutions in history.” This sentence, written in 1835 by the Swiss historian, J. H. Merle d’Aubigné, reflects the sentiment of the earliest Protestants that the Reformation was an act of God comparable only to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In 1528, just eleven years after Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, the Lutherans of Brunswick started to remember the Reformation. A “Reformation Festival” joined Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsunday on the church calendar. The reformers of Brunswick believed they were witnessing God at work in a way that had not been seen since the age of the apostles. Fellow evangelicals shared this opinion, and the practice of observing a Reformation Day spread.

Some Lutherans placed their Reformation observance on St. Martin’s Day in November, in memory of Luther’s birth, for they considered Luther the most powerful preacher of the Gospel since Paul. Others selected the Sunday before June 24, the nativity of John the Baptist, because they were convinced that Luther, like John, was a prophet preparing a path for the Saviour. Still others set it on Trinity Sunday, thus following observance of the birth of the Church on Pentecost with observance of its rebirth in the Reformation.

A uniform date began to be established after 1667, when Elector John George II of Saxony placed Reformation Day on October 31, the day on which Luther posted his theses. By then Lutheran Protestants were unanimous in their understanding of what Reformation Day signified. As Jesus had cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, so Luther had purged the church of Rome. October 31, therefore, was a “day to remember” because it was ...

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