One Halloween a long, long time ago a man in a long, dark flowing cloak, with a hammer in hand, walked through a small town in rural Germany with a look of dreaded determination on his face. As he neared the doorway he was aiming for he tightened his grip on the hammer, climbed the steps and took one last deep breath. Raising his hammer high above his head he pulled it down with great force…BANG! BANG! BANG! Before the door was opened he turned around, walked away and there nailed to the door was a piece of paper that would begin to change the course of history in Europe.
The event just described is not the first trick-or-treat-er, nor is the man the inspiration for film characters such as Freddie Krueger, the bogeyman or Hannibal Lector. This event describes the tradition of Martin Luther nailing his now famous Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. This happened on October 31st 1517 and was one of the catalysts for what became known as The Reformation.
The date, October 31st, automatically brings to mind Halloween, dressing up, witches, ghosts and horror movies. But this celebration of all things scary is not the only significant thing to have happened on this date.
Martin Luther, a lawyer turned Monk, was concerned about the Catholic Church ‘selling salvation’. This led to two momentous beliefs which changed religious thought in Europe. The first belief is that the Bible is to be held in higher regard than the traditions of the church. This led to the second belief: that the Bible taught salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. In other words, Luther argued that the Catholic Church was not teaching what the Bible taught and that rather than listening to the church people should listen to the Bible.
Perhaps as a child your Christian parents wouldn’t let you take part in school Halloween discos, or trick or treating and there was no way you would ever be able to go to your friend’s house to watch scary movies. Perhaps today you wonder how best to counteract the darkness, evil and sinister nature of some Halloween celebrations. On the other hand, you may think it is all harmless and you have no problem dressing up as someone from the 70s, putting your head in a bucket of water with four half eaten apples and a set of false teeth and eating pumpkin soup for the next five days doesn’t bother you. Either way, the reality is that this celebration of witches, ghosts and zombies is all a little bit silly and in the end makes very little difference to our life!
But, as a Christian, we have something far more significant to celebrate – God’s work in 1517 (and the years that followed) through a man in a long, dark flowing cloak, with a hammer in hand, in a small town in rural Germany. We should celebrate the realisation once again that God’s Word is precious. It is precious because it tells us of a love so great that salvation is given freely through the sacrifice of another. To celebrate The Reformation is the real treat; everything else is just a trick.
If this is all news to you and you want to learn more I would recommend you pick up Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.