Today is a really big day.
It’s Halloween – and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It’s been 500 years to the day since Martin Luther posted his theses, his list of concerns about the only established church, which we now know of as The Roman Catholic Church (the “universal” church in the Roman, rather than Greek, tradition).
I have never recognized Reformation day before today, but I should have. I have never celebrated Halloween, and I am grateful. I also don’t wear green for St. Patrick’s Day.
Because I am a Protestant (I “protest” against the Roman Catholic church.). The more ecumenically minded of you may argue – but the Protestant church is also splintered! We need to be less judgmental and more inclusive because none of us are right!
That is a very complicated discussion and much more educated minds than mine have wrestled with it for hundreds of years. But my short answer to this is… Protestants (for sake of brevity I will “lump” the Anglicans/Episcopalians in here, though technically they are more “Reformers”.) may have many internal disagreements, and some are rather significant, but NONE are as significant as our unified disagreement with the Roman Catholic church and its understanding of salvation and the authority of the church, issues which the Reformation was based on.
So what was the Reformation all about?
LOTS and LOTS of stuff. In short, Luther believed the Church had added too much “stuff” in between the people and God and therefore was keeping people from salvation. He didn’t think the church was all “evil”. He didn’t want to leave the church. He didn’t want to destroy it.
He just wanted the church to see where it was broken and urge it to “reform”. So he posted his 95 concerns to the church door in hopes of getting the attention of other church scholars and clergy. (And thus end his career as a monk and began his life as a church outcast.)
To completely oversimplify, these are (to me) the most important points:
- Scripture is the ONLY authority for our understanding of God and how he works in our lives.
- Salvation is ONLY because of God’s Grace (His gift to us)
- Jesus’ sacrifice was the ONLY punishment necessary for our salvation to be possible.
The Protestant movement refined and elaborated on these concepts as years went on, and sometimes splintered over their refinements, but the foundation of all the theology is always “Sola Scriptura” (only Scripture). Any authority within the church comes from that basis.
This is actually a very complicated topic, and the Orthodox church has some quite legitimate arguments AGAINST Sola Scriptura. But I believe that the Protestants get this “more right than wrong”, and the validity of it as an argument against Roman Catholic corruption still stands. (No personal offense to my Roman Catholic friends intended. I am arguing against the theology of an institution, not the faith of an individual.)
As Protestants, we believe we don’t earn our salvation through acts of penitence. We don’t fear years in Purgatory having to earn God’s favor or purchase “indulgences” to trim down our time there, and we do not believe anyone can mediate between us and God except Jesus.
Halloween is “All Hallow’s Eve” – the night before “All Saints Day“.
Catholics believe that saints have the ear of God; that their life of holiness has allowed them to be so trusted and respected by God that they can pray our prayers on our behalf. – they intercede for us . (Catholics don’t so much “pray to” saints, as they do “pray through” them, an important distinction)
But as a Protestant, I do not revere the “saints” except to respect and learn from their lives as Christians who served God with their whole hearts. (Like St. Theresa). I do not recognize saints as intercessors or mediators between me and God.
Therefore I will not celebrate a Roman Catholic holiday set up in their honor.
Even if I had no concerns regarding the way our society has imbued Halloween with an unhealthy obsession with and glorification of death, which as a Christian I believe has lost its power because of the Resurrection of Jesus, I would still refuse to participate in what I personally believe is a solidly Roman Catholic tradition.
(I do celebrate Christmas and Easter despite originating before Protestantism, as some might be wondering, and maybe I will talk about those in another post.)
I must reiterate – this is not a post condemning those who choose to recognize Halloween as a fun day of dress up and treats for children. Some members of my own family enjoy it that way, and I see no harm in the joy of children dressed up as princesses and super heroes getting skittles and snickers from friendly neighbors.
I simply choose to not celebrate Halloween as part of my lessons to my children about my beliefs regarding Protestantism and Jesus’ victory over death.
So in recognition of Reformation Day and my admiration for the courage Martin Luther showed in standing firm in his convictions despite significant cost to himself, I share my thoughts with you today and join you in celebrating the truth we splintered Protestants all agree on:
God’s gift of salvation to us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the simplest and most wondrous and mysterious thing in the universe, and I am so grateful I don’t have to do anything to earn it.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.