Reformation Day - Simplified Explanation
Because the Roman Catholic Church was desperate to raise money to complete St. Peter's in Rome during the Middle Ages, many clergy used fear as a tool to obtain money from poor and unsophisticated people. They told the people that they had to pay money to the church so that their sins and the sins of their families might be forgiven. The people bought pieces of paper called pardons and indulgences from the church so that they could believe that they would go to heaven when they died.
Luther was deeply disturbed by these and other abuses in the church. At the same time he was aware of his own sins and imperfections, and he tried very hard to make himself into a person that he thought God would like. The harder he tried, the worse he felt. He thought he was growing farther and farther away from God, and that it was becoming impossible for God to like him at all.
In despair, he began a deep study of the Bible, especially the letters in the New Testament that were written by Paul, most of all the letter to the Romans, and he began to understand what Paul had told the early Christians over a thousand years before.
In his preaching and writing, Luther began to emphasize two main points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.
Justification by faith means that Christians can never earn God's love or forgiveness. All that Christians must do is to accept God as God, and God will love and forgive and cherish them.
The priesthood of all believers means that every Christian has his or her own personal relationship with God, reading the Bible and worshiping in his or her own language, and praying directly to God without anyone's going in between.
So Protestant Christians give thanks to God on this day for the opportunity to lead lives of faith, instead of lives of fear.