October 31st is quickly approaching and we have labored to make it a significant celebration. Its outcome is up to God, but for our part it is an important event to us. Why is this date so anticipated? No; not because we are Halloween enthusiasts. It is instead because our family has realized that God has graciously provided an entirely different reason for partying hard on this date that has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.
This all started a few years ago as we were examining what traits would be true of our home culture. Naomi and I began having an intuitive unease with Halloween as a reason for celebration, but had not yet fully articulated our reasoning for backing out. Some of it was an objection to the historical origins of Halloween that left the wrong taste in our mouth when considering dressing up our children to take them out trick-or-treating. There's much latitude one might grant one's self when engaging in an activity on their own, but that same person had better be much more certain of the "rightness" of a thing before pulling their children into it. Our unease has been dismissed as puritanical zeal over the years by those who argued that none in our present culture are seeking to celebrate historical meaning during Halloween. Such a point, though concedeable, did not alleviate our remaining concerns. Over the years we grew tired of trying to defend our abstinence of Halloween to those who were quick to accuse us of legalism. We found that a Christian liberty version of McCarthyism exists in many churches that will set upon (rather quickly and rabidly) any believer that hints at self restraint as a responsible component to Christian liberty. We got tired of arguing the Halloween issue every year to our peers.
Enter the Dallas Theological Seminary bookstore and "Reformation Week"...
My first year at DTS was thrilling. I was quite excited about all that I was learning for the first time. In fall of 2004 I took my first church history class with Dr. John Hannah. His lectures about the ancient church opened my eyes to what a rich and wonderful heritage Christians have dating back to the Apostolic era. In addition, I noticed that the DTS bookcenter was advertising special activities during the week prior to Oct 31st as "Reformation Week." Keep in mind that I was raised in a Baptist tradition that doesn't like to acknowledge ties to the rest of Christendom and pretty much acts as though the Christian church took a break after the Apostles until Roger Williams began preaching in Rhode Island in the 1630's. For this reason I was very intrigued by the bookstore's Reformation Week celebration. After some further investigation, Naomi and I saw the Reformation Day idea as an answer to our dilemma.
In addition, we began to articulate our "philosophy of celebration." In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we find repeated commands from the Lord for the Israelites to "remember." This appears to be the function of the various feasts that God prescribes earlier in the Pentateuch. To go even further, the purpose of these feasts appear to function in a past-present-future capacity: (1) The feasts are to remind the Israelites of the great historical acts of God on their behalf, (2) this act of remembering through celebration grows their devotion to him now and (3) renews their hope in his provision for the future. This appeared then, to our mind, a God-prescribed reasoning for celebrating - a "philosophy of celebration."
Bearing this in mind, holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and even birthdays make better sense. Such a philosophy of celebration not only explains such festivities, but invites (even requires) a deeper experience of them. St. Patrick's Day, New Years and even Independence Day also fit this template. Halloween stood out as the one cultural party that does not fit this mold, and therefore was quite discardable. However, Reformation Day fit it extremely well. Thanks to the DTS bookstore, God appeared to have graciously provided a reason to celebrate that allow for consistency in our festivities. For this reason, we're not merely abstaining from Halloween. We're instead bypassing it altogether by diving fully into a celebration that fits with a philosophy that we think is biblically derived.
October 31st, 1517 is the traditional date given for when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of his church in Wittenburg. Though the great Protestant Reformation had many players, factors and catalysts, this act of Luther remains a symbolic focal point for celebrating the God who reforms us as needed, and will continue to do so out of his great love for us. Reformation Day is coming up. Let's party like its 1517!