A shy man fully decked out in a full academic costume completed his Halloween preparations early on October 31st. He went out on this day of trick or treating dressed like a seminary professor.
Oddly enough, he walked across the street and stood in front of a door-the only one he went to. That door was one most would never knock upon on the day before All Hallows Day. When he knocked on the door, it sounded like a hammer.
Printing presses published the news concerning this unique Halloween event throughout the country and all over the world. People might call it the "hammer 'heard' round the world".
Fighting in the American Revolution began with the famous "Shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19th, 1775. Although not viewed as famous in his day, Paul Revere rode his horse in 1775 to warn the colonial militia of the British troops' invasion.
The night of April 19th, 1775 led to the independence of the American Colonies from the political and ecclesiastical tyranny of England.
Similarly, the 'hammer heard' round the world on October 31, 1517 led to the freedom of many from the ecclesiastical tyranny and trickery of the Roman Catholic Church in those days.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as All Saints' Day to honor the sanctity all the saints. The name Halloween means the evening before All Hallows or All Saints' Day.
The custom of trick-or-treating developed in Europe. Christians would walk from village to village on All Souls' Day begging for "soul cakes" in exchange for promising to offer prayers for the donors' dead relatives. At this time, the Roman Catholic Church taught that human souls remained in limbo after death and could be prayed into heaven.
On October 31st, 1517 in Wittenburg, Germany Martin Luther grasped a hammer and a long piece of paper covered with his writing. He walked out into the street and straight over to the castle church door and nailed his 95 theses on the door. He only wanted to lay out his newly discovered views of the Bible to other church leaders in the Medieval Catholic church. He thought he was free to do so even though his thoughts were radical. After all, he was an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology.
Without his knowledge someone printed his words on the newly invented Gutenburg press, distributing it all over Germany within two weeks. After a few days, Martin found that he was the subject of everyone's thoughts. In the cathedrals and great stone castles of his homeland, the pubs and peasants' cottages--everyone was talking about the views of Luther. His printed words spread throughout Europe in two months. Without a signal to announce it, the Protestant Reformation had begun!
On that Halloween day, Luther protested the tricks of the Catholic church used to keep people in spiritual bondage and in poverty through various means of spiritual abuse. Seven years earlier, Martin traveled to Rome where he saw ecclesiastical greed, corruption, and immorality in plain view.
Martin Luther confronted the use of Indulgences, "a release from the temporal penalties for sin through the payment of money." These "Indulgences" were being sold in order to raise money for the building of Saint Peter's Church in Rome. Paid for by the common man on the basis of false hope and fear for loved ones trapped in Purgatory.
"Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep." (Martin Luther, 95 Thesis)
Martin Luther hammered 95 complaints about the trickery of the Church in the Middle Ages and called for a return to the treats of the gospel. Salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone based upon the authority of the Bible alone. To forget Luther is not a great loss. However, if he what he opposed is forgotten, we are in danger of falling into the same pit and snare that the church 500 years ago did when it abandoned Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone.
Also, if what he was for is forgotten, then we are in danger of losing the place of Biblical preaching in the language of the common people in their own native language; the place of congregational singing instead of all choir singing; the priesthood of all believers; and the freedom to marry as well as enjoy family life which Luther did very well. It is reported that one day Luther was hanging out diapers. A parishioner walked by and rebuked him for not doing his pastoral work instead. Luther replied, "The angels in heaven rejoice" and continued as he was doing.
Furthermore, in many ways the Methodist revival and the young Methodist Episcopal Church in America brought the freedom of Luther's reformation full circle. Wesley and the early Methodists expanded the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers to include the biblical teaching of the ministry of all Christians. Somewhere along the way, we lost this uniqueness as a post-reformation church.
We are living in the very days of a second reformation focused on the ministry of all Christians. This is the unfinished business of the first reformation. As in Luther's day, any time of reformation brings needed but painful upheavals of our dead unscriptural religious traditions. Then, we stumble like a young child just learning to walk. However, we discover maturing stability with renewed freedom as we walk in the Spirit more fully than we did before.
From the Old Testament history of Israel down through the history of Christ's Church, reformation precedes revival. Revival comes as the reformation work is done. As Luther picked up a hammer on October 31, 1517 to proclaim biblical spiritual freedom and reformation to the church in his day, will you pick it up also? Will you by faith in God's abundantly free grace, and guided by the plain teaching of scripture, seek to complete the work of the 'hammer heard' round the world?
Rev. John Marshall Crowe, D.Min.