In the year 844, Pope Gregory IV ordered the celebration of a feast day every year on November 1st. It was to be known as All Saints Day. The purpose of this day was to honor Roman Catholic saints throughout history. The vigil of this feast is popularly known as Halloween. It was on All Saints Day that hordes of pilgrims made their journey to Wittenburg, Germany, to purchase indulgences. Indulgences were coupons for future sin, so to speak. It was a “pay now, sin later” kind of arrangement, and was an ingenious fund-raising technique for the Roman Catholic Church.
To most Protestants (named this because they protested the carnal abuses of the Roman Catholic Church), this day has another meaning, one of remembrance for a significant period in church history known as the Reformation—a time when parts of the organized church were largely rescued from the clutches of apostasy and the corruption of power. It was on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his 95 theses onto the door of the church inWittenburg,Germany. These were 95 complaints against the church—95 examples of abuse or corruption or alteration of truth that needed correction. For example, Thesis 27 said, “They preach human folly that pretends that as soon as money in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” In other words, one of the lies the RC Church told the people was that if they gave money to the church by purchasing indulgences they could shorten the time their dead relatives would spend in purgatory. As guilt trips like these were laid on the hearts and minds of parishioners the money came in and, as a result, Rome now possesses one of the most spectacular buildings in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica.
It is difficult to say when the Reformation actually began since there were rumblings for years ahead of time. John Wycliffe had translated the Bible into the language of the common people and, as a result, some began to see a great contradiction between what they were reading in the Scriptures and what they were being taught in their churches. And there were other men like John Hus, a man who stood strong in his pulpit, preaching against church corruption until he was burned at the stake. These men (and many more) were sincere reformers. They were men who believed there was still hope of changing the core of the church by reforming from within. It is my opinion that they would have been more effective had they obeyed God’s call to “Come out from their midst and be separate” (2 Cor 6:17). Regardless, they were courageous men who loved the truth and lost their lives because of their fortitude.
It’s unfortunate that so many of today’s Christians have little knowledge of these important events. Therefore, to stem the tide of ignorance, let me give you two suggestions as to how you can use Halloween to teach yourself and your children the importance of this period of church history.
Watch a good movie based on the Reformation. Here are a few:
- Flame in the Wind (Unusual Films)
- John Hus (Vision Video)
- Zwingli & Calvin: The Swiss Reformation (Vision Video)
- Martin Luther (Vision Video)
- John Wycliffe: The Morning Star (Vision Video)
Read some portions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Parents, you will want to read it ahead of time to decide how graphic a description of some recorded martyrdoms you think your children can handle. Paperback or free Kindle version.
An appropriate follow-up to either of these would be to read Acts 7 and Hebrews 11 (especially the end of the chapter) and discuss the self-sacrifice offered by men of faith throughout Bible times. Because when it comes to church history ignorance is never bliss.