Today, for most of us, is Halloween. But a lot of Christians are disturbed by the way that Halloween seems to celebrate evil, and many Protestants choose to celebrate Reformation Day instead. While I respect the desire to have fun without celebrating evil, I find Reformation Day to be unwittingly hilarious. Here’s why.
This made me grin: To celebrate Reformation Day, Calvinists are commemorating with John Calvin Jack O’Lanterns. I wonder if the (quite-skilled) artist recognized the absurdity of making a Calvinist graven image.
What about Calvin’s fatuous interpretation of the First/Second Commandment, that it prohibits all religious imagery? After all, this is the same Calvin who was such a fierce iconoclast that he denounced as idolatry any images of God or His Saints.
In Book I, Chapter 11 of Institutes of Christian Religion, he wrote, “It is therefore mere infatuation to attempt to defend images of God and the saints by the example of the Cherubim [Exodus 25:17-22].” And this same Calvin oversaw the burning of the religious paintings in Geneva, and the destruction of the religious statues.
Nor is this graven image alone. The Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland (depicted on the left) is an enormous stone monument with engraved figures of the Calvinist Reformers. Four figures: Calvin, Beza, Farel, and Knox, tower over their mortal counterparts, and form the centerpiece of the wall.
And let’s be honest here. Calvin (and the others) are being venerated in this way for the religious contributions. If this were, say, the Apostles, or St. Augustine, instead of Calvin, Calvinists would be having a fit.
But perhaps it’s okay to have Calvin engravings, because modern Calvinists aren’t prone to superstition, and aren’t about to start worshiping a Calvin pumpkin or statue. That’s a fair point. Except that it’s an argument that Calvin rejects: “Hence, again, it is obvious, that the defenders of images resort to a paltry quibbling evasion, when they pretend that the Jews were forbidden to use them on account of their proneness to superstition; as if a prohibition which the Lord founds on his own eternal essences and the uniform course of nature, could be restricted to a single nation.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 11).
So that’s the first Reformation Day irony: it involves engraving images of the men who hated engraved images.
This second irony is admittedly more narrow in scope. It’s specific to those Evangelicals who are against Christmas, on account of their belief that it stems from Babylonian paganism. John MacArthur is a good example here. While he permits celebrating Christmas, he still thinks it’s a combination of Christianity and paganism. In a nutshell, he claims:
- December 25 originally celebrated evil spirits.
- Catholics tried to turn this into a Christian religious holiday, but many of the original symbols (Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe) remained.
- Evangelicals denounce this as a spiritually-dangerous mish-mash of Christianity and paganism.
Many Evangelicals refuse to celebrate Christmas at all, for this reason. Now, I suppose I should note that, historically speaking, this is mostly garbage. As Mark Shea explains, the evidence suggests the exact opposite: that it was the paganism mimicking a Christian religious observance, rather than the other way around.
But there’s no question that “Reformation Day” is an attempt to Christianize Halloween. By their own logic, then, Reformation Day should be considered evil. In other words:
- October 31 originally celebrated evil spirits.
- Protestants tried to turn this into a Christian religious holiday, but many of the original symbols (pumpkins, gourds, candy-eating, etc.) remained.
- Yet Evangelicals like John MacArthur embrace Reformation Day.
At a bare minimum, next time you hear an Evangelical parroting that claptrap about how Christmas or Easter is warmed-over paganism, ask where their outrage is at Reformation Day.
So that’s the second Reformation Day irony: many of the same people who denounce Christmas for (allegedly) Christianizing a pagan festival embrace Reformation Day for attempting to do the exact same thing.
As I said above, the origin of Reformation Day was a desire by conservative Protestants not to celebrate Halloween, since it often involves folks celebrating evil. That’s completely legitimate, and an issue Catholics address as well. Of course, it’s quite possible to have fun celebrating Halloween without celebrating anything evil.
But the solution that these Protestants have taken is the saddest irony. Instead of celebrating Halloween, they celebrate Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the Door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517 (which probably never actually happened).
But they’re not celebrating the Theses themselves: to my knowledge, no Protestant actually believes all 95 of Luther’s Theses. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find a Protestant claiming that:
- “inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh” (Thesis 3), or that
- “God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest” (Thesis 7), or
- “That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish” (Thesis 25), and so on.
Rather, what’s being celebrated is the Protestant Reformation. That’s why it’s “Reformation Day,” not “95 Theses Day.”
But in celebrating this, they’re celebrating the unraveling of the Church. Even for many Protestants, that makes Reformation Day morally problematic. Why celebrate divorce? Why celebrate the great Christian refusal to listen to Jesus’ Prayer that we all remain One (John 17:20-23)? Why celebrate the refusal to listen to Hebrews 13:17-18, which says,
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.