If you're not a Christian, it might be odd to hear that the mere mention of Halloween possibly put some people on edge. In the Evangelical world Halloween is a sensitive subject. Granted, not as much as it can be in some parts of the USA, where Hell Houses are often a recurring feature - but in the UK, at least, it's still a pretty contentious issue. Halloween has a complex history, with roots in the liturgical celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church, but it's evolved to become just as much a secular (and commercial) landmark as it ever was a sacred one. You begin to see supermarkets selling Witch masks sometime around August; the shops deck themselves out with pumpkins and cobwebs, and the cinemas host B-grade horror flicks. (I was in my local convenience store yesterday, and a little girl was trying to get a Frankenstein costume. The one conveniently placed near the till. [Her Mum told her it was cheaper in Tescos. Which is probably true.])
Here's the problem. Many Christians find Halloween deeply uncomfortable - primarily because it's (ostensibly) a celebration of darkness. Plus, aesthetically, the day is decorated by Satanic and demonic imagery. You can kinda see why that might make some Christians feel a wee bit uncomfortable. The western Christian has therefore often got a difficult choice on her hands, and it''s a dilemma that I hear quite a lot in my own social circles.
Such is the dilemma that many wonder if there's a solution.
And whilst there are various alternatives on offer, I prefer one above all the rest:
Reformation Day! :)
What Do You Do About Halloween?
- First, rejection: your family doesn't answer the door to Trick or Treaters, nor do they go out Trick or Treating. Your household just doesn't celebrate Halloween at all.
- Second, capitulation: you dive into the Halloween celebrations because, after all, there's nothing wrong with it. Your kids go Trick or Treating, you might go to Halloween parties, etc.
Obviously, there can be subtleties to both of these choices. For example, you might 'reject' Halloween but host a Light Party for the kids. These are usually held on Oct 31st but instead of celebrating darkness there's a celebration of Jesus as the light of the world. Alternatively, you might 'capitulate' and celebrate Halloween, but sincerely believe, from an honest reading of Scripture, that you are free to do so, and that it's not worth stressing about.
The purpose of this post is not to tell you what to think about Halloween specifically. (There are plenty of articles that would do that for you.) Instead, I would simply suggest that you're not just stuck with these two options. There is a third available...
Reformation Day: A Better Alternative!
Still not sure? Or just plain confused? Don't worry; I'll answer a few questions. I'll start with the historical origins of Reformation Day - but make sure you read Question #9. It would be amazing if more Christians were to adopt Reformation Day, and I'm going to give a full explanation as to why! :)
1. What Is Reformation Day?
Technically, Reformation Day is commemorated on October 31st - for reasons I'll explain below - but in the Church calendar these celebrations usually occur on the Sunday before.
2. What was 'the Reformation'?
Shortly put, the Reformation is the name given to a series of theological & social protests against the Roman Catholic Church. Most of these protests happened within the RC Church itself, usually in 16th Century. (Very broadly speaking, the period between 1517-1559 is a reasonable timeframe.) The word 'Protestant' comes from this root meaning - i.e. the Reformers were 'protesting' against what they regarded as unbiblical and unjust.
It's very easy to see the Reformation as ancient history, or perhaps as someone else's business. The fact is: if you're in any way a Protestant today (whether Anglican, Methodist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Baptist etc), you owe a huge debt to the Reformers for what many now just see as 'obvious'. For example, do you believe that a believer is made righteous before God by faith alone? Reformation. Do you believe that Scripture is supremely authoritative over Church traditions and culture? Reformation. Do you believe that the communion meal is only a symbol of Jesus' body and blood? Reformation. Do you believe that it's both necessary and your right to have the Bible in your own language? Reformation.
In all likelihood you owe a lot of your thinking about Jesus, Scripture and the Church to the dramatic events of the Protestant Reformation. You already enjoy its heritage!
And one man stood at the centre of it all: Martin Luther...
3. Who Was Martin Luther?
Martin Luther (born 'Martin Luder' - he altered his name later in life) was born on Nov 10th 1483, in Eisleben (central Germany). He originally studied at the University of Erfurt between April 1501 and 1505 - but then something happened in July of that latter year and it changed his life forever. He was returning to Erfurt from a visit home when a thunderstorm overtook him and threw him off his horse. In fear for his life, he cried out: "Help dear St. Anne! Save me! I will become a monk!" (St. Anne was the patron saint of miners amongst other things, and Hans - Luther's father - had been a miner.)
To the chagrin of his parents, he was true to his word. In 1506 he took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Augustinian tradition. In 1512 he gained his doctorate in theology and from 1513 he started lecturing on various books of the Bible. However, Luther was not at peace. He was struggling to know that he was actually saved and feared that he possibly did not belong to God at all.
This led to what is commonly referred to as Luther's tower breakthrough. He was reading Rom 1:17 - "The righteous shall live by faith" - and suddenly it came to him! Paul isn't describing some tyrant God who demands righteousness. Instead, God gives us His own righteousness, and that's why Paul later says: "We are justified by His grace as a gift" [Rom 3:24]. This changed Luther's whole outlook - and put him on the path to Reformation...
4. What Did Luther Do?
Indulgences are not as common now (although they still exist) and many would probably balk at the notion entirely. However, regardless of what one makes of them, it's commonly thought that Tetzel was actually abusing the system. One of the reports had Tetzel manipulatively saying: "Whenever a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!"
Angry with Tetzel and secure in his reading of Romans 1 on God's grace, Luther wrote his 95 Theses and pinned the document on the door of the Church. This sounds strange now but the Church door was sort of like a notice board. Luther didn't think he was doing anything especially dramatic other than calling for a debate. What he got instead, however, was an angry reaction. In 1518 the Pope ordered Luther to repent. He refused. Between 1519 + 1521 Luther wrote several texts, denouncing the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.
5. Was Luther The First One To Try This?
Another misconception is that the Protestant Reformation happened externally - i.e. it happened to the Roman Catholic Church - when in fact, it happened within the Roman Catholic Church. We must remember that Luther was a Catholic; he inherited a set of suspicions that the Church had already highlighted itself. Just four years before Luther pinned up his theses, the Fifth Lateran Synod declared that the Church must "pull up" the "thorns and brambles... from the Lord's field". All corruption and falsehood must "be removed root and branch".
For a century prior to Luther, conditions were ripe for reform. This atmosphere is captured by the Reformatio Sigismundi, a pamphlet distributed around Europe in 1438:
"The hour will come for all faithful Christians to witness the establishment of the rightful order. ... It is plain that the pope has abandoned the task set him by God. It may be that God has appointed a man to set things right".
No-one can say God doesn't have a sense of humour...
6. What Happened to Luther?
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me.
7. So Is Reformation Day a 'Lutheran' Thing?
In reality, you could plausibly see the Reformation as divided into three 'streams'. First, you have the Lutheran 'stream', today identified in the various Lutheran Churches and denominations around the world. Second, you've got the Reformed 'stream'. The Reformed tradition was kinda like the 'second wave' of the Reformation and it's largely associated with Calvin in Geneva, Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. (This is the tradition Aaron, Owen and myself identify with.) These first two 'streams' - Lutheran & Reformed - are called the 'magisterial traditions'. Then you've got the so-called 'Radical Reformers', the third and final stream. This would include the Mennonites, Anabaptists, etc.
Lutheran Churches, Presbyterian Churches, Baptist Churches, Methodist Churches, Evangelical Churches - all have their root in one or more of these streams. As such, Reformation Day involves all Protestants of every description, in one way or another.
8. Isn't It a Bit Inappropriate These Days?
I really want to be sensitive to this. However, as much as I understand these objections, I still maintain that Reformation Day is a good thing for us to celebrate.
- First: you have an identity. You have a history and an ancestry, and your beliefs or traditions have a provenance far older than you happen to be. This is certainly true of your Christian identity as well. It's not a bad thing to recognise and claim this as something to celebrate even if your identity as a broken person in a broken world just so happens to be... broken. God made us to be a 'particular' people - born in a particular time, of a particular race and gender, in a particular culture and country. It is good for a Christian to be doctrinally specific, and confessional. You might be a new creation but you've not lost any of that particularity. If, therefore, you happen to be 'particularly Protestant', you should feel free to celebrate that fact.
- Second: Catholics took part in the Reformation too. We've already mentioned that Luther & Calvin etc were Catholics. But I have more than that in view. I'm talking about the fact that the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a so-called 'Catholic Reformation' in the latter-half of the 16th Century. More than this, Catholic writers such as Erasmus contributed a great deal to the ideas of the Reformation, whilst others like Sadolet extended a hand of charity when debating with the Reformers. It is possible for respect to reign in the midst of disagreement.
- Third: the 'dirtiness' of the Reformation can be celebrated too. No, not in some twisted or immoral sense. No-one can deny, for example, that Luther expressed some terribly anti-semitic views towards the end of his life, or that the Reformers approved of state execution, etc. Once again - we live in a broken world and the Reformers were wretched sinners, just like you and me. They'd actually be the first to admit this. However, what we celebrate on Reformation Day is not Martin Luther the man, or John Calvin the man, but the Gospel of Christ! The Gospel of grace. The Gospel of hope. The Gospel of redemption. The Gospel of promise. Our motivation on Reformation Day is to enjoy the light that shined out of the darkness. In that light, we see that God is making all things new and working all things for good for those who love him. In other words, he made straight lines out of crooked sticks. Praise and worship to the God of grace!
- Fourth: if the Gospel is our motivation, we can celebrate with hospitality. We don't have to wimps about it. We shouldn't forget our differences and compromise on truth. We must hold to the narrow path of the Gospel and in some cases express sincere disagreement. But if, in celebrating Reformation Day, Protestants are celebrating the Gospel, then it can also be a day of love, hospitality and friendship, such as what we've been shown in Christ. It is not necessarily a day of cruel division. It can be a day of grace.
9. Ok, That's The History. But What's So Good About Reformation Day?
It's a celebration that God is faithful to His Church. He's neither forgotten nor forsaken her.
It's a celebration that God is faithful to Himself. He works in all things to bring glory to Himself.
It's a celebration that God is faithful to Christ. He is to be supreme in all things.
It's a celebration of God's providence. Human history works to God's ends, and so we live in hope.
It's a celebration of God's forgiveness. Crooked sticks are made into straight lines.
It's a celebration of Godly doctrine. In kindness He reveals truth for His people to stick to.
It's a celebration of God as Trinity. Father reveals the Son in union with the Spirit.
It's a celebration of God's Word. The Scriptures contain everything necessary for Godliness.
It's a celebration of God's simplicity. He requires no more than faith, a gift already given.
It's a celebration of God's election. His love for us has raged from all eternity.
It's a celebration of God's righteousness. He exchanges our dirty rags for royal robes.
It's a celebration of God's promises. He is making all things new, to His glory, and our joy.
These truths might not be exclusive to the Protestant Reformation - but they did define the Protestant Reformation as well as consume the Reformers.
And on Reformation Day we're called to be consumed by these things too! In this sense it's an entirely positive celebration. It's not defined by what it isn't, as some Christian alternatives and it's not characterised by just being exactly the same as the world. Instead, it asks us to rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel of Christ. What an awesome privilege!
10. How do You Even Celebrate It?
The tradition in my house is to organise a 'platter' of continental foods, each one originating from a different country associated with the Reformation: France, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Scotland, etc. You're spoilt for choice! You can see from the photo above that we get a bit 'creative' sometimes. For example, Toblerone is from Switzerland technically, so, you know, chow down :) We also included Pringles as a nod to the Reformed tradition in America.
Another way of celebrating Reformation Day - you may or may not be pleased to hear - is to dress up! Yes, that's right, the 16th Century provided many a humorous garment, from the Genevan gown (hence the titular hashtag!) or the peasant's dress.
It's all just a bit of fun, of course. You might find the following print-out masks helpful. (You can even buy elasticated beards if you get really serious...)
You could also punctuate the party with a few readings from Scripture as well as Calvin or Luther. Yes, I'm aware of how geeky this sounds, but it can actually be incredibly edifying.
| || |
If you're a 'hymn buff' (yes we do exist), you could construct your own little playlist of Godly verse to provide that perfect ambient atmosphere.
More importantly, if you have kids you could use this opportunity to teach them not only the history of the Church but also the fundamentals of the faith. I struggle to think of an act more consistent with the Reformation!
There really are a lot of things you could do. If you do anything different, or think of something new, don't hesitate to get in touch.