Today, most of America will dress up in fun or scary costumes and parade through streets of decorated houses where they can collect candy and show off their outfits. Others–the older crowd which has not yet put childhood behind them but can no longer Trick or Treat door to door –will make their way through parties and bars in an escapade of costumed identity: their chance to be someone else and not be looked down on for engaging in escapism.
I, on the other hand, and several others will not be celebrating Halloween. I’ve never actually gone trick-or-treating though my family did attend “Harvest” Festivals growing up. And while this is not a polemic against Halloween and the celebration that I still can’t wrap my head around, it is an interesting juxtaposition to what my friends and I will be celebrating:
October 31st is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel. The 95 Theses were a challenge to various practices in the church of his day and were a plea for change and restoration. Luther hoped the church would find her way back to apostolic practices and greater devotion to the gospel of grace. He challenged the church and that is what we will celebrate tonight at a pub called the Cheeky Monk. We’ll lift imported Belgian Beers created by Trappist Monks and cheer his bravery as he stood against the status quo to defend the faith and the true church. Knowing he faced excommunication and even death, Martin Luther stood firm: Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. I can hear his voice, shouting across the centuries: hold on to God. Hold firm, hold fast.
But that is not the end of Reformation Day and tonight, as we toast a great hero, we will also mourn the disaster that began nearly 500 years ago. While he may not have meant to start a revolution within the church, that is essentially what Luther helped to cause. We have around 30,000 denominations today and an incredible divide among East, West, Protestant and Catholic. Though it was not the first division within Christianity, the Reformation was perhaps the greatest rift in the history of the church. We have not been united since and the bitterness on each side can be overwhelming. I have Protestant friends who believe Catholics are an unsaved and even I myself am uncomfortable when my Romish friends refer to me as an “anonymous catholic.” The animosity on both sides can be astounding.
In a year when the country faces greater division than usual, I’m reminded of the destruction that our arguments, our pride and our preferences may cause within the church—and by extension the world. Believers hurl insults across the voting booths, towards their own brothers and sisters. But how would we know any different? If you’ve read the works of the Reformers, you know the name-calling, the belittling, the refusing to compromise and extend grace. Division is everywhere.
I’m thankful for Martin Luther and I’m glad he nailed the indicting Theses to the door of that great old church. Rome stood in error and needed correction. But the destruction that has resulted from those years of “reform” has been widespread. Today is an important day to remember the greatest commandments: love God and love one another. My prayer, as we toast the great Luther tonight, is that we will work towards unity within the church for the sake of our witness to a broken and needy world. Change must begin with us, and the place to start is our bruised and battered divided churches.