Why is one of the most important dates in the church year mostly neglected by the church and celebrated only by the world? I speak of Halloween, the ‘een (the eve or evening before) of All Hallows Day or All Saints Day on November 1. October 31 is Reformation Day to me, not Halloween, as it is the most common marker for the birth date and place of the Protestant Reformation. This is the day of Luther’s protest expressed in the posting of his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door in 1517. If you’ve never read these statements, titled Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, I urge you to do so. It won’t take long, just 95 crisp statements.
The roots of Halloween are complex and varied, but the secular holiday that it has become goes back more to the 18th century Celtic world, not the birthplace of the 16th century Reformation in Luther’s Germany. Harvest celebrations, remembering the dead, and spirits or souls of the dead coming back to visit their homes are just a fraction of the diverse traditions that are behind our modern Halloween.
All Saints Day in 1517 Germany was not so cluttered by these ghosts of the dead haunting the living, but it did provide a context for Luther to speak up and challenge the misdeeds and the unbiblical direction of the church, not only the corruption of selling salvation in order to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but numerous false doctrines. It was in response to Luther that Rome officially adopted false doctrine regarding salvation. Thus, it can be said, not that Luther left the church but that Rome left the church to embrace doctrines foreign to Scripture.
The most important discovery of Luther as he read Scripture was the great truth of Justification by Faith. Salvation is not for sale to the highest bidder. Neither is it earned or kept secure by good works or sacraments. It is God’s grace on the undeserving sinner, received only through faith in Jesus Christ, based on his death on the cross for our sins. This is what results in personal salvation, the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.
I had the privilege of writing a brief article on this topic for the Indianapolis Star that was published on October 19, 2013 — Halloween or Reformation Day? Oct. 31 is Important Date in Christian History.