We all know the holiday of Halloween. In recent years, it’s grown in popularity as an American holiday, second only to Christmas. When it comes to spending, it ranks third after Christmas and Easter. But have you ever heard of Reformation Day? Few are familiar with this church holiday, which falls on October 31st. Even fewer understand its rich history, and most have never considered celebrating it. Keep reading to learn more about Reformation Day and how a family celebration may lead to a deeper faith in God.
The Origins of Reformation Day
In 1517, Martin Luther was a monk and scholar who grew increasingly disturbed by the corruption he saw within the Church leadership. On October 31st of that year, he published a document with ninety-five theses, or statements and questions, intended to prompt public discussion and change. What followed was a series of events known as the Protestant Reformation, which did indeed draw the church back to the foundational truths of Scripture.
Both adults and kids enjoy learning about the history surrounding Reformation Day and celebrating the events as an alternative or addition to Halloween. Use the following five fun ways to celebrate Reformation Day with your kids and begin new traditions in your household.
1. Understand the Five Solas of the Reformation
Five truths from the Bible reemerged through the Protestant Reformation and remain as a basis for Christianity today. In my middle school Latin studies, I learned the word sola means only or alone. Each of the five solas indicates a word that excludes any substitute. The word “alone” underscores the importance of each word that follows.
You can incorporate many fun activities into learning the Five Solas of the Reformation together as a family. Use the information below to share a brief devotion each day of the week and choose several suggested activities that your children would enjoy.
Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone
God’s Word is the Christian’s highest authority. Its influence has swept through all human history. Discuss with your children how to value the truth of every word in the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.
Activity: If you live close enough, take your family to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. If you cannot travel there, access its many resources online. Also, make your children aware how we can rely on the authenticity of the Bible by reading articles such as How Can We Trust That the Bible Is Reliable at Crosswalk.com.
Activity: As a family, play Bible trivia or have a sword drill. A sword drill is a game in which you call out Bible verses and your kids race to be first to find it in the Bible and read it aloud. If you prefer something less competitive, give each child a piece of candy after they find the verse in the Bible and take turns reading aloud.
Memorize the following verses to reinforce sola Scriptura:
"You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NLT)
Solus Christus—Christ Alone
Only Christ can bring salvation. He alone has the qualifications to be our Savior. At the beginning of his earthly ministry, John declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God. This hearkened back to the Old Testament laws that indicated an unblemished lamb had to be sacrificed for the atonement for sin. But those sacrifices were not a permanent solution. Only Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, fully meets the requirements of a perfect sacrifice under God’s Law.
Activity: Read Hebrews chapters one through three and make a list of all references to the supremacy of Christ. With older children, discuss how other religions fail to provide assurance of salvation that brings peace.
Memorize the following verse to reinforce solus Christus:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NLT)
Understanding the 5 Solas of the Reformation Continued...
Sola Fide—Faith Alone
Faith in Jesus—believing He is God who saved us and committing to follow Him as our Lord—is the only way to please God. We must stake our lives on the wholehearted belief that Jesus is able to do all He promised throughout the Bible.
Activity: Write a promise of God from the Bible on each of five index cards, or one for each family member. Put them in a bowl. Taking turns, each person draws out a card, reads the verse aloud, and tells how God has kept that promise to them. If you need help finding some of God’s promises, read 5 Promises for Your Laments to get started.
Memorize the following verse to reinforce sola fide:
"And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)
Sola Gratia—Grace Alone
God’s grace is an outpouring of His unmerited favor. Everything good we receive, even the faith to believe in Him, comes from God. In and of themselves, our works are always insufficient. Our inheritance from Adam and Eve was sin, so nothing we do can earn salvation. Even after we are saved by God’s grace, our works hold no power except for the supernatural power God infuses into our efforts.
Activity: Make a poster collage of images that represent all the grace God has demonstrated to you. Brainstorm a list and then allow each family member to draw or choose pictures and symbols to represent each kindness God has given to you. Pray and express gratitude to God for His grace. If you use social media, post a picture of your collage to inspire others to be grateful to God also.
Memorize the following verses to reinforce sola gratia:
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT)
Soli Deo Gloria—Glory to God Alone
The purpose of creation and every life is to bring glory and honor to God. God did not design humans to be receptacles of glory. But He did create us to be excellent conduits. He put His light inside us to reveal His glory—His essence—to people around us. And He reminds us to transfer to Him any glory we receive so pride doesn’t overwhelm us.
Activity: Print out the five solas in Latin in large Old English font style, one per page. Use an outline font so children can color or decorate each one. Younger children can use stickers to fill in the letters of the words. Older children may try writing the five solas in calligraphy. Practice the words together until you can say them all in both Latin and English.
Memorize the following verse to reinforce soli Deo gloria.
"And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." (Colossians 3:17 NLT)
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/SweetGrace
2. Share the Gospel Message
One of Martin Luther’s theses said, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Do we truly treasure the gospel message, the good news about Jesus? Some folks mistakenly think the gospel is only relevant for the day of salvation. But every day brings new opportunities to participate in the gospel:
- when we tell others about Jesus.
- when we extend grace and forgiveness.
- when we deny or put to death our sinful nature to do the right thing.
- when we obey God.
- when we imitate Christ.
Designate a week for gospel emphasis within your family. Decorate a whiteboard or poster board with Protestant symbols and leave a large space to write notes. Throughout the week, try to “catch” someone doing an act that demonstrates the gospel to another person. Write their name and what they did on the board. Agree to celebrate these actions at the end of the week.
Culminate the week with a family service project that shares the gospel with people outside your home. Here are some ideas to stimulate your imagination:
- Visit a nursing home with homemade cards decorated with Bible verses and encouragement. Talk with residents about what you’re learning about Reformation Day and share the gospel of Jesus.
- Walk through your town and do acts of kindness toward strangers. Be sure to tell the person about God so they understand the kindness comes directly from Him to them. Arm yourself with gospel pamphlets to distribute along with a few extra dollars and helping hands.
- Choose a neighbor in need and go to their house to do a fall cleanup of their yard or garage. Why not also prepare a meal or invite them to your home to break bread with your family and talk about why you celebrate Reformation Day?
- Serve food at the homeless shelter and engage the people there about God’s love for them.
The possibilities are endless. Whatever you choose, pray and ask God to go before you and prepare the hearts of the people you will meet. He will orchestrate your divine appointments. Your words and deeds are useless without His empowerment.
Sharing the gospel with others is an amazing privilege. At the end of the week, spend time together as a family thanking God. Praise Him for allowing you to share His life-giving message. Pray for each person you met along the way. While some may not have responded as you hoped, trust God to continue the work He started in them through you.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Niedring/Drentwett
3. Learn about the Luther Rose
Martin Luther often included a symbol, now called the Luther Rose, on his correspondence. Lazarus Spengler, a prominent supporter of Luther, created the symbol in coordination with Luther’s vision to signify Protestant theology. Later, the Luther Rose became the symbol for the Lutheran Church.
Luther penned a letter to Spengler in 1530 to explain the full meaning of each part of the rose. In his own words, here is how he described the four distinct elements:
- a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain
- a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us (Romans 10:10)
- a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace (John 14:27)
- a sky-blue field, symbolising [sic] that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy
- a golden ring, symbolising [sic] that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end
Kids will enjoy making their own Luther Cross to celebrate Reformation Day. Search the internet for a free black-and-white template. Littles can color the pages while older children can watercolor, paint, or create the rose using modeling clay.
Take time to read and discuss the verses noted by Luther to explain his theology. Encourage teens to search Scripture for verses to express their understanding of the gospel. Invite them to design a symbol to represent their own beliefs.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ZU_09
4. Celebrate with a German Meal
Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. To celebrate, research recipes for traditional German foods and prepare a dinner together as a family. Some easy suggestions include:
- snitz and knepp
- German fried potatoes
- brown-buttered spaetzle (noodles)
- potato pancakes
- Black Forest cake
- German pancakes
- apple strudel
Set the table with your prettiest dishes and light candles to make the occasion special.
5. Sing Hymns by Martin Luther
In addition to being a teacher and monk, Martin Luther wrote numerous hymns. Choose a few hymns from the list below and listen to them or learn to sing them together as a family.
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
- Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word
- From Heaven Above to Earth I Come
- All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord
- Come Holy Spirit God and Lord
- Dear Christians One and All Rejoice
A celebration of Reformation Day offers families a new tradition to praise and honor God. For one final resource on Martin Luther and the Reformation, check out Focus on the Family’s broadcast, How Martin Luther Changed the World. I hope you try some of these ideas and grow in faith together as a family.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/FatCamera
Originally published Monday, 23 October 2023.