Every year on the 31st of October, popular Western culture tells us that it’s OK for the dark and demonic to come out to play. People make a fuss with costumes and parties and scary stories; shops stock up on icky black sweets; kids dress up and eat too much candy.
It’s so predictable it’s boring.
Of course, there is the genuinely wicked side of Halloween too. The occult is alive (?) and kicking. But really, all of it – the silly dressing up or the true satanic worship – doesn’t ruffle me much. Different people respond differently to Halloween, but for me it’s quite easy to ignore. Probably because I have something much more meaningful to celebrate on October 31st 🙂
It was a Saturday, 31 October 1517, when the German monk Martin Luther bravely nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church – and consequently changed the world. The gist of the theses could be summed up in the document’s original title: Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.
Aaaand… I’ve lost you already, haven’t I? No?
OK, so why did Luther vandalise a church door with his Latin grafitti?
In short, the Roman Catholic Church, which was at that time one of the most powerful institutions in Europe, promised people forgiveness for their sins and escape from purgatory in exchange for what the Church had more than enough of already: money.
But the papacy had it all wrong. They never realised that salvation is a free gift from God. No amount of wealth or good works or ‘churchianty’ could ever be enough to rescue a sinner from the rightful punishment of their rebellion against a holy God. It wasn’t enough then and it isn’t enough today.
Think about it. If you can buy your way into heaven – with money, or prayers, or flagellation, or donations and alms, or being a nice person – then how is Christianity different from any other religion? The only thing that separates true Christian faith from every other belief system is this: for the former, God is entirely responsible for the salvation of sinners. For everyone else, man has to earn the forgiveness/blessing/help of his deity through some form of works or sacrifice.
It was a clever ploy, though, on the Church’s part. They knew that what people craved most was peace. Everyone wanted to believe they were good; everybody wanted the chance for a clean slate again; no matter how poor, people wanted assurance that they and their loved ones were right before God. The Church knew that, and they capitalised on it.
It had gone on that way for centuries. Those who were supposed to have brought the light of the gospel to the world had instead created the spiritual Dark Ages in so-called Christendom. Then, thankfully, Luther’s probing queries and barely veiled jabs at the Pope’s pardons, indulgences and other man-made contrivances eventually led to a revolution now known as the Protestant Reformation.
‘All right,’ I hear you say, ‘nice history lesson. But so what? Why’s that worth celebrating?’
Well, fast-forward five centuries and here I am, a modern girl still influenced by the Reformation today.
For one thing, I’m thankful for Luther and the other Reformers for translating the Bible into their local vernacular, making it accessible even to those who couldn’t read Latin. It’s a precious thing to have the Word of God in your own language. (In God’s providence, the Western printing press was developed at just the right time to help speed up the dissemination of the Bible.)
In addition, Luther and his compatriots advocated an important way of reading the Bible, often referred to as hermeneutics and/or exegesis. This basically means we read the Scriptures in context, rather than latching onto a single random verse and making it mean whatever we want it to. Trust me, it makes a world of difference!
I’m also better off for the Reformation because it showed that my relationship with God doesn’t have to be mediated by a whole complex network of bishops, priests and a pope. Those guys are just human, and they can’t stand before the Most High God on their own any more than I can 😛 Jesus Christ is the only mediator who can and should bridge the gap between God and man.
The knock-on effects of Luther’s writings that day in 1517 have changed millions of lives. The Reformation removed the gilt-edged encrustations of centuries of papal policy to show the core truths of the genuine Christian faith.
In summary, I celebrate Reformation Day on 31 October because the Protestant Reformation exposed the Church’s empty religious rituals and man-centred pomp, and pointed people back to the proper foundation for their faith: the Word of God.
And it’s that same Word of God that teaches me I have no need to either fear or participate in what other people might get up to when they celebrate Halloween 🙂