Today starts that time of year where most churches calendars fill up. The Holiday Season is upon us. But not just for cultural reasons. In fact part of the Church celebrates various feasts and holy days during this time. Take for instance today. It is October 31 and we mostly associate this day with Halloween. However, for Protestants this is also known as Reformation Day. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther sent his 95 Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz addressing the destructive practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He would later nail his theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg. This is known today in history as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
When speaking of Martin Luther I want to bring up that he did not want to start a new denomination, he wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. However, his 95 Theses and other writings spurred a movement in parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Later, Pope Leo X would excommunicate Martin Luther, in turn Luther would begin what is known today as the Lutheran Church. Along with Martin Luther and other reformers like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and to some extent Henry VIII, they would spread the Protestant Reformation to other parts of the world. Before this time Western Christianity was one church; Roman Catholic. This was not necessarily a bad thing since these reformers would move the Roman Catholic Church to have their own reformation. Nevertheless, the damage was done and Western Christianity was split and would continue to split as many denominations formed after the Protestant Reformation.
The United Methodist Church stems from the actions of Henry the VIII who began the Church of England/Episcopal Church/Anglican Church. John and Charles Wesley were Anglican Priests and remained Anglican Priests even though they started the Methodist Movement. Again, like Luther, John and Charles did not want to start a new denomination, but wanted to reform the Church of England. John Wesley says this about the Methodist, “[Methodist movement] was not to form any new sect; but to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”¹ Reformation Day is just one holy day that we celebrate during this time of year.
Of course October 31 is also Halloween. In the Church this is known as All Hallows Eve. It is the evening or night before All Saints Day. (I will speak more about All Saints Day next week.) The celebration began as a festival that rejoiced in the truth that all the saints who have died in Christ will inherit the Resurrection as their Lord did. It was adapted from various pagan festivals, but was reinterpreted with a Christian perspective. The feast of All Saints Day began the night before as a prayer vigil for those who had passed during the year. The vigil would continue the next day (Nov 1) as feast for all the saints.
Through the years, like most Religious Holidays, it was popularized and we now have a night of fun where children can go door to door and “trick or treat” to receive candy and goodies. Jessica is a huge fan of Halloween as was my father. Probably for different reasons. But, I think it can be good fun. Of course as parents we must weigh the influence of this celebration. Personally I believe that our Christian faith will trump one night of fun. Also I think it can be a great opportunity to discuss the dead.
The Resurrection is the foundational doctrine and belief of the Christian faith. In fact the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our hope. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ our faith is futile and useless (1 Corinthians 15). All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day remind us that those who have died in Christ are not truly dead for they wait patiently as we do for the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
I say all this to get to my point. Starting October 31 through January, the Church is in a wonderful season of celebration. You know, Christmas get a lot of attention this time of year. In fact the Christmas commercials started back in September along with stores already putting up their sales for Christmas. What I would like to do in the next coming weeks is highlight some of the various seasons that the Church celebrates. I also want you to know that the Church is not all stuffy and rigid, but we truly like to party.
What we celebrate the most is the effect that Jesus Christ has had on our lives and continues to have in our lives. This is not the season of competition against the rest of our culture. This is a season where we can participate in culture and yet bring the light of Christ to the world. My hope for this season is to help people know and come to the faith, hope, and love of Jesus Christ. So say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Go Trick or Treating and eat a lot of turkey. Put up the decorations and ring in the New Year. Don’t condemn our culture for how they celebrate the season, but show them the love of Christ through your actions…
- Quote is from John Wesley found in; Kenneth J. Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Abingdon Press, 2007), 245