It was on this date that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church and historically, Protestants have pointed to this action as the spark which ignited the great Reformation of the 16th century. It was not, of course, the spark, if you mean by that the first action to call the church to reform. This had been done numerous times for over two hundred years prior to Luther’s action. But it was the spark in that Luther’s act brought everything that had been done previously to a head and the Reformation came like a flood after it.
But it was no accident that Luther did what he did on “Halloween” — “all saints eve.” The word “hallow” means to “sanctify” (thus we pray “hallowed be Thy name” when we desire God to glorify and exalt His name in the earth). October 31 is the evening prior to All Saints’ Day, which is tomorrow, November 1.
All Saints Day is the celebration of the victory of the all the saints (i.e. all believers) who, because of their union with Christ have triumphed over the world, the flesh, and the devil. The celebration of All Saints Day and All Saints Eve in European Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic paganism or the Church’s opposition to the pagan Druids.
With the coming of Christ and the completion of His work, we no longer fight against flesh and blood, but are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who blind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. His work purchased our victory and made it certain, but the war is not yet over. Jesus stuck the decisive blow and we have the privilege of carrying out the mopping up operation.
And we do battle against these evil spirits with the weapons given to us by the Spirit, the weapons of faith, prayer, and faithful obedience. It is through our faithful worship, prayer, and obedience that we are victorious in Christ. So, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition.
The feast of All Saints reminds us of this glorious victory of the Church over Satan and his hosts. In the first centuries, the church followed the Jewish practice of beginning the day at sundown of the preceding evening. Thus, in the Church calendar, the eve of a feast day is the actual beginning of the feast. Sundown on December 24, Christmas Eve, was the official beginning of the Feast of the Nativity. In the same way, All Saints’ Eve (“Halloween”) is the official beginning of the feast of All Saints.
In a sense, the Christian calendar turns the entire year into a drama. Beginning with the Feast of the Incarnation, the world moves progressively from darkness to light. The death of Winter is turned into the resurrection of Spring which corresponds to the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter). Then comes Pentecost and the time of grow and maturity. We do battle with the effects of sin and the curse upon the ground — we fight the weeds and the bugs to protect the seed until the harvest. Now the harvest is coming in and Satan, seeing the defeat of his efforts to destroy us again, seeks one last time to achieve victory before the year’s end. October 31 came to signify that day. Satan seeks to destroy the saints, but he is banished again by the victory of Christ and the joy and gladness that now has filled the earth through the Church.
The Church vanquishes the demonic realm by its joyful worship of the risen and conquering Savior. Because Christ has overcome, we are able to laugh and make merry in the face of evil. Indeed, this is the place for holy mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our’s as well) is pride. He has been brought down by the Son of God and has suffered a spectacular fall. By the cross and resurrection, Thus, we read that Jesus make a public spectacle of him by virtue of his work on the cross Satan has been exposed as a ridiculous pretender and impostor and has been publicly humiliated (Col 2:15 “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”).
Thus, to drive Satan from us, we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan as being dressed in a red suit with horns and a tail. No one actually thought that he really looked like this (in fact, the Bible teaches that he appears as an angel of light) but the idea was to make fun of him because he has been defeated by the victorious Son and he no longer has power over us. He is not to be feared any longer but resisted steadfast and mocked.
This was the original purpose of placing gargoyles on the cathedrals. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They are ridiculous statues who make faces and stick out their tongues at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles were not demonic symbols but rather they depict the attitude of the Church toward Satan and his angels. They were no longer any threat to us. They cannot do us harm while we abide in Christ Jesus. The church is invincible against the threats and attacks of the evil one. And thus, we who were once slaves of Satan are now able to laugh at and make fun of him.
So, October 31, the eve of All Saints, came to be associated with the defeat of evil and of all demonic powers by Christ and through Christ, by all His people. And it was for this reason, that Martin Luther chose October 31 to post his 95 theses against indulgences and the wicked practices of the Church on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg. He chose this day intentionally, to connect it with the defeat of all things which exalt themselves against Christ and His glorious saving work. And ever since, Halloween has also been the day we mark as the beginning of the Reformation.
All Saints Day (and eve) ought to be celebrated by the Church. And celebrated not as a “harvest festival” (how ironic is it that we attempt to avoid the “paganism” of Halloween by reviving a an ancient pagan form of celebration?) but as a distinctively Christian celebration of the victory of our Savior over the world, the flesh, and the devil.