I know. We all know. October 31 is Halloween. At best, it is harmless fun. At worst, it is about vandalism and the glorification of death. But Halloween is not important. At least not in the grand scheme of things.
But October 31 is very important. It is important, not just for the church. It is important for the world. And it’s time we told the story of October 31, all over again.
Many modern-day Christians don’t know what happened from the time of the completion of the New Testament until today. How did we go from a church that was overseen by the apostles, until today, where there are three different branches of the Christian faith? I am speaking of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the very many versions of Protestant Churches. October 31 marks the beginning of one of the great breaks in the Christian church. The monopoly of the Roman Church in the West was broken.
It all began on October 31, 1517. An Augustinian Monk from the small German town of Wittenberg walked through the snow with a piece of paper in his hand, nailing it to the church door. That act would not have seemed strange. Church doors in villages served both as bulletin boards as well as newspapers. All the news would be attached there. A monk, charged with teaching the Bible to seminary students, posting a note was normal. But that note, called the 95 theses, changed the world.
If you went to church in those days, there really wasn’t a sermon, congregational singing, or any of the things millions of Christians take for granted today. If you had gone to church in Europe 500 years ago, you would have gone to celebrate the mass. You would have received the bread in which you would have been told had been transformed by a miracle into the actual body of Jesus. You were given the privilege of eating the flesh of Christ. The cup would have been withheld from you. It was too holy for the common person. Only the priest, who was a servant of the gospel, would have the privilege of drinking Christ’s blood on your behalf. Indeed, the priest was the intermediary between you and God. You couldn’t go to God on your own.
Martin Luther, the monk with the paper in his hand, had found something different in the pages of scripture. He had been charged with teaching the book of Romans, and what he found not only changed his life, but changed the church.
Do you think that the Bible is the only source of authority over the life of the believer and over the church? Do you think it is important to know how to have your sins forgiven and how to receive eternal life? Do you think it is important to answer the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Do you believe that it is important to teach people to read and therefore study the Bible for themselves? Do you believe that every Christian should discover their spiritual gifts and understand what their ministry is? Do you love singing together as a congregation? At communion do you partake in both the bread and the cup? Do you think we should always be striving to return the church to the ideal set out in the Bible? Do you think that the preached word of God is central to the life of the church?
Furthermore, do you think it is important to learn how to read? It was the reformation that stressed universal literacy (how else will we read the Bible for ourselves?) Do you think that whatever you do, no matter what your profession, whether you are a pastor or a plumber, that you have a sacred profession?
If that’s important, thank Martin Luther and the demands for change that he nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31. I have often wondered why the Christian Church doesn’t substitute Halloween for Reformation Day. It’s that important.