Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat: Tricks Reformed by Luther and Tricks Exchanged Today for the Treat of the Gospel

The evangelical community is not split fifty-fifty whether to celebrate Reformation Day or some form of Halloween or substitute still involving candy and costumes. But there are a lot of Christians who spend October 31 celebrating Luther’s 95 Theses being nailed to the door of his church – and the reformation it helped to establish. My family has traditionally pretended this day does not exist. Like fourth of July in India, it meant nothing. This is because my principled parents were raised to celebrate Halloween but didn’t want to teach their kids to do the same. They were never exposed to reformation celebration.

In fact, my life has been rather lacking in following the history of my faith. Personally, my faith history is being raised in church and at home taught about how Jesus died for my sins. I was saved at age 6 by my personal, private choice, not by “walking an aisle” or making a profession. I wasn’t baptized until fifth grade, and even then didn’t completely understand. Then again, I didn’t completely understand all the theological positions to choose from when I was saved, but from my present theological perspective, God called me, by His grace I responded, and His Spirit has been indwelling me since, revealing more and more of the truth of what He did for me. This might be called sanctification, which has to start somewhere, and just like salvation, is a grace-governed process.

Sorry for the sidetrack; my testimony is important to me. Sharing it is important, too. I’m practicing.

Today is my first excursion into celebrating Reformation Day. I have been reading about the Reformation all morning, and wish to draw a comparison between the two historical interpretations of October 31.

Are Indulgences Tricks or Treats?
You may have heard on TV like I have that when a Catholic goes to confession for their sins, sometimes the priest gives them an assignment, like praying the rosary three times, or five “hail Mary’s”. This concept is apparently very old, based on the belief that to be made right with God and the congregation you have to show some proof of repentance beyond confession. Over the centuries this developed into a formal practice. A person who sinned could sometimes obtain an indulgence, which relieved him from earthly punishment (the need to perform “satisfactions” like those described above). They were usually purchased.
Johann Tetzel (1465-1519)
Johann Tetzel (1465-1519)

At the time of Martin Luther, the Pope wanted to hire Michelangelo and others to renovate St. Peter’s Church. To pay for this artistic upgrade, he decided to make a push for selling indulgences (like promoting war bonds). He chose a man, Johann Tetzel, who was a gifted and persuasive speaker, to go city to city selling indulgences. The claims Tetzel made about indulgences began to get extreme. Buy one for yourself. It will get you out of punishment for all sins past, present, and future. Buy one as a get out of purgatory free card. Or buy one for a relative to get them out of purgatory.

The indulgences were tricks played on superstitious, papacy-worshiping people. Tetzel went city to city much like children tonight will go door to door. He offered a trick and called it a merciful treat. The children will ask for a gift, be it a trick or treat.

Attractions: Tricks or Treats?
Evangelical churches across the country will provide a Halloween alternative tonight, calling it a Fall Fair, a Harvest Festival, or a safe place to trick or treat. Some will take the opportunity to share the gospel. In this way they are attracting the community to their churches. Pope Leo’s focus was similar (even if his motives were different): he wanted to make St. Peter’s beautiful so it would attract the world.

History: Trick or Treat?
When I went to look up books about the Protestant Reformation at my library, I could choose from two options: biographies of Martin Luther or a few books in the religious section of the Dewey Decimal System (anyone know who invented that and what he believed?). I would have put them in the history section, since the hundred years of heavy reformation in the Western world was a huge historical event, driving the rise and fall of kingdoms and the colonizing of America. You do not understand the history of European politics or the history of the United States, let alone our laws and culture, without understanding the Reformation.

Likewise Halloween is a little-understood historical day. Its origins are Celtic Paganism. See the Wikipedia article. This is not a cute time for children to have fun. All of it is about paganism, whether Catholic-tainted “All Souls’” or “All Saints Day” or purely pagan. The history of both of these topics is being suppressed.

The Gospel: Trick or Treat?
Finally, the Church should not have to Trick people before Treating them to the gospel. You do not need to bribe them with freedom from community-enforced punishment for their sins, or with beautiful buildings, candy and safe alternatives to Halloween. We need to be compassionately caring for the poor, loving our neighbors, etc. - but to do that as the door to share the gospel has two problems.
  1. It is a bait and switch. We tell the poor we want to take care of them, and then when they are captive audiences or grateful enough to politely listen, we share some version of “good news” about how Jesus loves them.
  2. We give the impression that the only reason we did the good deeds was to get people to listen to us, like the marketers who will give you a free trip to the mountains or a free knife if you just listen to their sales’ presentation.

Ephesians 1:3-7, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;"

The gospel is the grace of God. It is the most needed and priceless gift available. If we really believed that salvation is what Ephesians calls it, we would determine with Paul to know only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

To God be all glory.

4 comments:

kschaub said...

Wow Lisa, you write a lot in one day. I'm pretty tired after work, so I'll re-read this later tonight or something . . . and give a real comment.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Yeah, and imagine how hard when I'm getting a new comment in my inbox every five minutes. And supposed to be listening to recommended music.

But I write some of it when I'm at work with nothing to do. I didn't blog yesterday, so I make up for it.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

kschaub said...

Indulgences trick or treat? Trick. Attractions trick or treat? Treat plus trick minus candy. Gospel trick or treat . . . treat always, if that's what you're really giving them.

I read probably 20 Reformation articles today. This may be one of the top 5 best.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Good! Then the research was worth it. Thank you.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn