|Martin Luther Jack-o’-lantern|
For most Americans, today is Halloween. But for some Protestants, today is Reformation Day, the day to commemorate October 31, 1517, when Luther (allegedly) posted his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg church, sparking the Protestant Reformation.
But while it may or not really be the 497th anniversary of the posting the 95 Theses, it’s certainly the fourth anniversary of my “Reformation Day Ironies” post, in which I point out some of the obvious and not-so-obvious ironies of the Reformation. Some of these are funny, while others are sad.
(1) is celebrated by making graven images of Reformers who hated images;
(2) is intended to Christianize a “pagan” holiday, yet is celebrated by many of the same Evangelicals who refuse to celebrate Christmas for fear that it’s a Christianized pagan holiday;
(3) avoids celebrating “evil” [Halloween] by celebrating evil [schism].
In 2012, I added two more to the list, describing how Reformation Day:
(4) celebrates a document damning Protestants for rejecting papal authority over Apostolic Pardons.
(5) celebrates a movement that, despite its name and initial, failed as a reform movement of the Catholic Church. [After all, if Protestants thought that it had succeeded, they would be Catholics].
(6) Reformation Day is a Protestant Man-Made Accretion Protesting Man-Made Accretions.
(7) Reformation Day celebrates the supremacy of the Bible by commemorating an event the Bible condemns.
Without further ado, here
by celebrating Luther’s violation of St. Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy.
|Lucas Cranach the Elder, Kattrina Luther, 1526|
Okay, that’s a pretty specific heading, so bear with me. Ligioner Ministries has a piece up right now celebrating Reformation Day, and celebrating Luther in particular. One of the key reasons they praise him is that he “lifted the unbiblical ban on marriage for the clergy and by his own teaching and example radically transformed the institution itself.”
To what are they referring?
Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk, meaning that he took a vow of celibacy before God. Katharina von Bora was a Benedictine nun who took the same vow of celibacy. But after breaking away from the Catholic Church, Luther married Katharina, in violation of both of their pledges, and he encouraged other Protestants to do the same thing.
Ligioner thinks that this is praiseworthy because requiring a pledge not to marry, in their view, amounts to an “unbiblical ban on marriage” of the kind that St. Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 4:1-3. So, the argument goes, Scripture (and more particularly, 1 Timothy) are affirmed by repudiating these unbiblical vows.
There’s only one problem with this view. In 1 Timothy 4:1-3, St. Paul is referring to the heretical sects (particularly, Gnostic sects like the Encratites) who actually forbade marriage., on account of their view that marriage, and the body, and the entire material world were evil. Out of this same rejection of the material world arose their objection to eating meat. One of the earliest Christians, St. Clement of Alexandria, recorded several of the specific views of these sects in his Stromata:
[The] Hylobii neither inhabit cities, nor have roofs over them, but are clothed in the bark of trees, feed on nuts, and drink water in their hands. Like those called Encratites in the present day, they know not marriage nor begetting of children. […] And the Hyperboreans, Hellanicus relates, dwelt beyond the Riphæan mountains, and inculcated justice, not eating flesh, but using nuts.
Okay, actually, there are two problems with this view. The deeper problem is that in the very next chapter of 1 Timothy, St. Paul declares condemned those who violate their vow of celibacy. In context, he’s discussing what’s called the Order of Widows, an institution in the early Church in which widows were taken care of by the Church. These widows pledged celibacy and devoted themselves to service for the Church. It’s a forerunner of the sort of religious orders that would arise later, of which both Martin and Katharina were members. Here are Paul’s instructions to Timothy for how to run the Order of Widows in 1 Timothy 5:9-12,
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband; and she must be well attested for her good deeds, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, relieved the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. But refuse to enrol younger widows; for when they grow wanton against Christ they desire to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge.
By marrying, these widows are violating the pledge that they made. And Paul doesn’t say, “Hey, great! Let’s celebrate violating this pledge, because of what I just said about not forbidding marriage!” Instead, he condemns them for marrying in violation to their vow.
If only the folks at Ligioner had read one page further in their Bibles, they’d realize that what Luther did was damnable, not laudable, and that he violated 1 Timothy rather than affirming it.
Create Something Far More Pagan in Response.
Reformation Day is celebrated in different ways, and for different reasons, by different sects of Protestantism. But one of the other reasons for its popularity is because many Evangelicals are convinced that Halloween is evil, and has pagan roots. Brad Winsted, in a guest column for the Christian Broadcasting Network, explains this theory:
Even a cursory look at the origins of Halloween will reveal satanic rituals played out in trick and treating, jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, the dead and on and on. If you’ve ever taken time to research any of these Halloween practices you’ll see the satanic background from the Celtic tribes of Scotland and Ireland.So, should we retreat into the basements and attics of our homes, turn out the lights and hope that our ghoulishly dressed neighborhood children will pass us by? Our children would probably get the idea that the reasons for retreating are not sufficient to deny them activities every child loves — dressing up and eating candy!Well, how about a Reformation Day party at your church? I know that many churches have a “Harvest Day Celebration” or other such event where kids get dressed up as Bible characters and the fellowship hall is full of games to keep the kids off the streets. But I’m suggesting going a step further. Let’s make it a day where we can learn more about our Reformation roots.October 31 celebrates the day that the Reformation in Europe began with Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door, leading to a firestorm response in Germany. Why not use this occasion for a celebration of our Reformed heritage. And yes, this can be fun for the kids too!Why not have a celebration at church where all get dressed up as characters from the Reformation (I’ve dressed up as John Calvin, Martin Luther, a peasant, and even John Tetzel (the salesman of those infamous indulgences)?
The actual history is much more complex; Halloween is All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a Celtic pagan festival occurring on this date (and indeed, there’s question about whether such a festival even existed).
But leave all that aside. For the sake of argument, I’ll just accept the core of Winsted’s history, such as it is: October 31st was a pagan holiday (part of a three-day festival called Samhain). Christianity has papered over the pagan roots of the celebration, but still preserves many of the core features: treat-or-treating and the like.
Again, I realize that this is probably bad history, but the problems are much deeper than just that. Winsted seems to think that proves it’s all a big satanic ritual, and that by dressing up as the forces of darkness, Christians are endorsing what these demons stand for. But his own plan for Reformation Day involves him dressing up as John Tetzel, the notorious seller of indulgences whose abuses led to Luther writing the 95 Theses. He’s replacing Halloween with a holiday that works the exact same way, only less fun.
Think about it this way: Winsted’s theory is (a) that the Christian Halloween is descended from an earlier pagan holiday on the same day, and (b) that this makes Halloween satanic. But his solution is to replace it with Reformation Day. Of course, a few centuries from now, some Evangelical will discover that Reformation Day is descended from a “satanic” holiday on the same day (Halloween), and this whole strange cycle will start over and over again, like a hamster spinning in its wheel.
They’re reappropriating October 31 as a holiday to protest Christians allegedly appropriating October 31 as a holiday. And in both cases, they’re keeping the fun, non-heretical parts, like dressing up in costumes. But that’s exactly what they’re accusing pagan converts to Christianity of doing. So their plan is to do the very thing that they just described as satanic. Baffling.
But there’s a deeper irony, which is this: while Halloween is of Christian origin, there really does seem to have been a pagan holiday sometime in the autumn called Samhain… which was, as you might have guessed, a harvest festival.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Evangelicals are pagans on account of having Harvest Day Celebrations. Unlike Winsted, I recognize that two different religions can celebrate holidays on October 31st without it being some sort of satanic plot, and that holidays can be, and frequently are, culturally reappropriated. But I am saying that the Harvest Festival / Reformation Day that Winsted proposes sounds a lot more like Samhain than a bunch of third-graders trick-or-treating as characters from Frozen.