Co-opting Halloween for Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day.  Children will wear masks, symbolizing vocation (as in the princesses, ballerinas, and cowboys) or our sinful nature (as in the witches, zombies, and monsters).  We will give them the free gift of candy, symbolizing the Gospel in all of its sweetness.

The pumpkins. . . ummm. . . .When we are connected to the vine of Christ, our faith brings forth fruit.  Big fruit.  The size of pumpkins.  They have faces carved into them to remind us that our good works need to benefit an actual person; that is, be in love and service to our neighbors, whether they are smiling or looking mean.

Help me out here.  What other Halloween customs could we co-opt for Reformation Day?  Bobbing for apples?  Ghosts?  Getting scared?  What else?

 

“We are beggars; this is true”

The Reformation can be summed up in six words, according to our pastor in his Reformation Day sermon last Sunday.  Not the solas, not some version of “Here I stand,” but the words written down on a scrap of paper that Luther had in his pocket on his deathbed:  “We are beggars; this is true.”  After the jump, read what Pastor Douthwaite says about these words. [Read more...]

Reforming the Church

Today is Reformation Day, the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences.  Some people have been criticizing Lutherans and others who celebrate this day.  Why should we celebrate the shattering of the universal church?

First of all, the posting of the theses did not shatter the universal church.  Luther was reforming the church, and it needed reforming.  Financial corruption (the sale of church offices, the indulgence and relic trade, profiting from Christians terrified of purgatory), sexual immorality (popes with illegitimate children whom they named bishops, brothels for priests, the notion that fornication is better than marriage for clergy under vows of celibacy), and political power (popes with armies waging war against other countries, popes claiming temporal power over lawful earthly authorities).  Even worse, the gospel of Christ was obscured in favor of an elaborate system of salvation by works.  To be sure, the medieval church taught Christ’s atonement on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, but in practice that was relegated to baptism only.  After baptism, Christians had to atone for their own sins in a complex penitential system, requiring the confession of each sin, works of penance, and even after absolution the punishment of those sins after death in purgatory (unless an indulgence was purchased or rewarded).

That the church needed reforming because of these practices is proven in part by the Council of Trent, which addressed the most blatant financial and moral faults, while keeping the penitential system, though also encouraging personal piety (another fruit of the Reformation over against what had become a mechanistic approach to religion).

The splitting of Christianity came when the Roman church excommunicated Luther for his stance on indulgences, even though it would later grant most of his points.

Reforming the church, though, is something to celebrate and something to keep working on.  I would argue that the same issues that sparked the Reformation are still problems in today’s church, including protestant and Lutheran congregations:  financial corruption (the prosperity gospel, religious scams), sexual immorality (scandals among pastors and church leaders; the pornography plague), political power (the new social gospel of both the right and the left).  And now, as then, we see the Gospel consigned just to first becoming a Christian, so that many people think of Christ’s atonement as applying to conversion, but feeling themselves now as being under the Law.  They have lost the sense of God’s grace and forgiveness as a continuing reality, available through the Word and Sacraments as the constant life force for the Christian life.

So we still need Reformation Day and we still need the message of the Reformation.

Reformation Day as Halloween

I think it’s wonderful that Reformation Day is now the most popular holiday after Christmas.  We scare ourselves as a reminder of death and damnation.   Children go around receiving unmerited candy, which symbolize the gift and the sweetness of salvation.   We wear masks to symbolize the doctrine of vocation. We carve pumpkins. . . .uh, I don’t know why we do that.   Someone help me in my crusade to co-opt Halloween for Reformation Day.

 

What about all these churches?

Reformation Day is nothing to celebrate, according to some Christians.  It marks the day Christianity was shattered into countless little sects.  We need to find unity rather than revel in things that divide us.  Luther’s breaking away from what was then one Church was a tragedy.

First of all, Luther didn’t break away from the Church.  He was excommunicated!  There is a big difference.  Secondly, the Church did need reforming.  Even the Church of Rome came to admit that, finally coming to grips with the financial and moral corruption that had become rife in late medieval Christianity.  If there were no Reformation, there would have been no Counter-Reformation.

As for all of the subsequent church bodies, Paul McCain, in a Reformation Day meditation, offers a useful taxonomy:

Another point that confuses many people is the fact that there are so many different churches to choose from. It is an awful mess, so it seems. Yes, it can be confusing, but it really is not as complicated as some would think, or want to maintain. Up until the year 1054 there was basically one unified Christian church, distinct from a number of non-Christian or anti-Christian heretical groups. In 1054 the church divided into Eastern and Western Christianity. By the time of the late Middle Ages the Western Church, which had come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, had reached a point of deep corruption, most importantly in what it believed, but also in the morals and life of the clergy and church leadership. In 1517 there began what we know today as the Reformation, when Martin Luther, a professor and monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted a series of “talking points” on the practice of selling “indulgences” by which people were led to believe they could buy forgiveness of sins, for their dead relatives in purgatory. A person has to decide is the Lutheran view of Christianity is correct, or the Roman Catholic view is correct.

After the Reformation, many groups developed from the teachings of persons other than Martin Luther, most notably, two men: Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who did much of his work in Geneva. These two men and their writings gave rise to many churches that can be traced back to and grouped under the general category of “Reformed” churches. In America in the 19th and 20th century there arose many splinter groups from Reformed churches, these would include “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal” groups, along with groups that rejected all denominations and became, in effect, a denomination of their own, the so-called “non-denominational” churches. And so the question then becomes, “Is Lutheran theology correct, or Reformed theology correct?” So, is it Rome or Wittenberg. If Wittenberg, then is it Geneva or Wittenberg?” Once those decisions are made, the myriad of denominations today makes a lot more sense.

But there is an additional challenge unique to our century and more so the past half-century. Today, despite all their denominational differences and historic confessions, the vast majority of Christian churches in Protestantism have been nearly overwhelmed by the rise of liberal Christianity. This unites them more so than any other feature of their confession of faith. Historic differences are no longer regarded as divisive since these divisions were based on one group’s understanding of the Biblical text as opposed to another group’s understanding of the Bible. For example, the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the Lord’s Supper are very important and based on very serious and clear differences in how the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are understood. Liberalism however regards the words of Jesus in the Bible as unreliable. It teaches that we can not be sure that what is recorded in the Bible is true and accurate, therefore, there is no point in being “dogmatic” about much of anything having to do with the Bible. Modern liberalism has swept through all Christian denominations, Lutheran Reformed, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

via The Festival of the Reformation: October 31 – Does Being Lutheran Still Matter? | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

So one must decide if Rome was right, or if Wittenberg was right?  (Or, before that, I suppose, if Constantinople was right.)  If Luther was right to post those theses, the next decision is whether Wittenberg or Geneva was right.  And then, I suppose, a choice between a number of other places (Canterbury?  New Bedford?  Plymouth, Massachusetts?  Upstate New York?  Chicago?  Azusa Street?)

But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.

Special Halloween/Reformation Day/All Saints Edition

This weekend is lots of holidays, sacred and profane, overlapping and one after another. So we will contemplate them all.


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