With all the effort the church has put into making Halloween more "Christian" (Hallelujah Harvests, Fall Festivals, etc), why haven't we ever seen fit to simply celebrate what truly is one of the most important dates in the history of the church? October 31, 1517, is the date given to officially commemorate the start of the Protestant Reformation; it’s the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. Reformation Day.
That day Martin Luther fulfilled Jon Hus's prophecy from a hundred years earlier. In 1415, on the night before he was burned at the stake for preaching against the Catholic Church's abuses, Hus wrote, "Today, you are burning a goose ["Hus" means "goose" in Czech]; however, a hundred years from now, you will be able to hear a swan sing, you will not burn it, you will have to listen to him." And listen to him they did. They still listen. If you travel all over Germany even today, there are swan statues that symbolize Martin Luther and his influence.
In Luther's day, the only hope for reduced time in Purgatory for members of the church came in the form of indulgences; these merits were based on the sinless life and perfect works of Jesus and Mary, his mother. According to the catholic church, their merits were "stored up" in heaven, where they could be dispersed by the Pope — for a price. And many of Luther's theses were aimed directly at the sale of indulgences. Consider his words in thesis 27, "There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately as the money clinks in the bottom of the chest."
Luther had spent months preaching against the sale of indulgences, and compiling his theses. So on the evening before Nov. 1 (All Saints Day), he posted his 95 Theses where they would be read and discussed by other Augustinian monks — on the door of the church. On All Saints Day, the indulgence business would be booming as people came from all over to pay to see relics (items the catholic church collected and charged people to see) such as a veil sprinkled with the blood of Christ, a twig of Moses' burning bush, or a piece of bread from the last supper.
As news of Luther's "attack" spread, a new era in the church's history dawned. The Word began to be translated into common languages. There was a return to Scripture as the authority — not the Pope. "Sola Scriptura" (Scripture Alone) became one battlecry of The Reformation. These "protesters" and their movement, Protestantism, gained steam and began refocusing the good news about Jesus on grace and faith and God's sovereign plan for the ages. Martin Luther taught that Christ is our righteousness. That we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone — not through the church and her indulgences. And Luther's motivation—I believe—is summed up in thesis 62, "The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God."
October 31 is certainly a day to celebrate! But it has nothing to do with pagan rituals or pumpkins or costumes. On this day about 500 years ago, one man took a stand against the catholic church because he believed the authority and truth of the Bible. And it ignited a movement that we are proud to be part of still today. So what are you celebrating this October 31?
Don't let Reformation Day go by unnoticed. As you celebrate today, use this date as a teaching moment in your family. Take a moment to thank God for his saints and their convictions. And finally, thank God for their boldness and ask him to give us that same spirit of unrest when we see abuse.
Soli Deo Gloria! (the glory of God alone)