Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

You might think: What? Another evangelical Christian anti-Halloween rant about demons, ghouls, and the celebration of evil? Or railing against inappropriate costumes? Or even – historically inaccurate costumes?

Ha! You’re all wrong!

In my opinion, it’s because we are celebrating the wrong event. Instead, the event that I think has more importance than a night of kids getting candy is the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, German monk and theologian Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door at All Saints’ Church Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg.

Why? Because the Protestant Reformation changed western civilization, and even the rest of the world (eventually)!

1. The Protestant Reformation restored access to the truth.

One of the tenets that came out of the Protestant Reformation was translating the Bible into the native languages of each nation in Europe and eventually all over the world. However, Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was not the first attempt. Tyndale and Wycliffe had started that project a century before. The abortive start in England was stopped by the Roman Catholic church in power. A century later, things had changed. Translators were no longer seen as renegades but actually were protected but German princes.

This accelerated the process that continues today. I had the privilege and pleasure of volunteering with Wycliffe Associates. They do a good work

But more importantly than that, the Reformation ushered the idea that we all can know the truth for ourselves. We all can read the Bible for ourselves and truly learn by ourselves. I have nothing against pastors and priests; far from it. I have the utmost respect for those whom God has called into the ministry as spiritual shepherds and teachers. When I am stumped, I often consult them in person or read a book or a commentary for further knowledge and illumination. Ultimately, I can always go back to the Bible and read it for myself, rather than being dependent on a religious elite.

It was not just Luther who opened the door, but also Gutenberg and Caxton and the invention of the printing press. The Reformation could not have happened without the printing press and the ability for Luther and the other reformers to get their message out to the public.

This has far reaching consequences today. The downstream effect is that now anyone can search for information, and yes, even ultimate truths, and find it quickly. Think about how powerful search engines are, the prevalence of Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica, and all the duplicate sites. All these ideas (not the means) came from the Protestant Reformation.

2. The Protestant Reformation changed the laws

Harold Berman wrote two books, Law and Revolution, and its sequel, Law and Revolution II, on how the western legal traditions were formed. Sadly, I have read only the first book, not the second. It’s the contents of the second book that I am basing this section on.

Luther and Calvin were both trained as lawyers and thus super smart men. They were both very erudite men and I highly admire them personally. The ironic thing about the reformers was that they didn’t really see themselves as revolutionaries and renegades. They had seen the existing system and wanted to change it inside the framework rather break away. But when they realized they had no other choice but to revolutionize, they made that choice. Obviously, that is a gross oversimplification because I don’t have time to summarize in 50 words the events that took 50 years to happen.

The late Professor Berman really hit on the nail about what happened in European law based on the Protestant Reformation. One major effect: religious liberty. At first, religious liberty meant that all the main Protestant sects could worship openly and that no one sect was to be preferred. Back then, Catholics and Protestants barely co-existed and fought each other many times before settling on an uneasy truce. Eventually, both sides in the 1600s just stopped fighting over religious principles and started fighting for resources and successions to the crowns.

Fast forward a century or two and you get to the late 1700s. The concept of religious liberty becomes codified. Look at the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights: in the First Amendment, it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” (emphasis mine). Notice this is the first right. It is before free speech, press, right to assembly, and make petitions to the government.

In the 1700s, that meant Protestants and Catholics and Jews could worship together and that the state was not to establish a national religion in the United States. In the 21st century, in a pluralistic society, it’s interpreted to mean that Congress cannot interfere with religion absent illegal acts or create laws that favor one religion. In other words, government is neutral on religious matters.

We owe so much to the Protestant Reformation in the west. This is why I don’t celebrate Halloween. This is why I celebrate the Protestant Reformation.

Today, the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg is just another tourist attraction. Martin Luther and his wife Katherina von Bora historical re-enactors roam the city, offering tours. The church’s wooden doors have been replaced with a bronze cast of the 95 Theses.

Sadly, many other German churches are dead; they are empty and are just another spot for souvenir vendors to set up shop.

Church of the Holy Spirit in Heidelberg

3. The Protestant Reformation reaffirmed the doctrine of Grace.

Grace is a very curious notion because it was no other parallels in the ancient or even modern world. In Greece, wisdom (sophia) was prized. In Rome, glory was the ultimate virtue. In the Middle East and Far East, honor/shame (or “face”) was the highest. Grace, the concept of unmerited favor, is foreign and even unheard of. Not even the Jews who declare God is gracious in the Old Testament truly prized grace.

The modern world does not truly understand grace. We are shocked that mass murderers can become Christians. Surely they don’t deserve heaven, right? Not after all they did! But according to the Bible, that’s not for us to decide.

My late pastor illustrated it this way:
A man is disciplining his son:
Justice is inflicting 10 swats on the hand.
Mercy is stopping at 7.
Grace is restoring the relationship with an ice cream cone.

Sola fides, sola scriptura, sola gratis

Faith alone, Scriptures alone, grace alone.

Even non-Christians can extend or give grace without knowing it, such as forgiving tardiness (can you say “traffic jam”), passing out candy on Halloween, and canned food drives during Thanksgiving. I think of Honda’s Random Acts of Helpfulness campaign as another demonstration of grace by a secular, for-profit company. They paid the tuition for EMTs, upgraded sports tickets, bought new cars, among other things. That’s all acts of grace.

Thus in 2019, I’m doing my best to remind people how much of the debt in the western world to the great reformers. Happy Protestant Reformation Day!

One thought on “Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s