Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom


One of the things that has been changing in my life time, certainly here in Devon, is the growing tendency to celebrate Halloween. To me it is not a welcome trend. While it is true that many of today’s Christian celebrations are on days that were previously associated with pagan festivals, Halloween (properly ‘All Hallows Eve’) has never really shaken off its pagan roots and in modern Britain on 31 October people are far more likely to be thinking about ‘ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night’ than they are to be contemplating (to quote the creed) ‘the communion of saints and the life everlasting’.  No one wants to be a kill-joy and stop children having a party, but do we really want to give our youngsters the idea that the evil supernatural is something with which we can have harmless fun?  In my experience, dressing up as witches and making pumpkin lanterns is harmless fun but some thoughtful Christians are urging caution and encouraging people to consider whether this could be a ‘doorway to danger’. 

Celebrating light rather than darkness, and life rather than death, seem good ideas to me.

This year, 31 October has a very special significance as it is the 500th anniversary of the day that a German monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church (sometimes called the ‘Castle Church’ ) in Wittenberg. This is not as odd as it initially seems as, in those days, the church door served as a public noticeboard. The publication of the 95 Theses is generally reckoned to be the start of the Reformation. What Luther had written in Latin was quickly translated into German and within weeks it was being read all across Europe. Following the various twists and turns of the development of the Reformation in Britain is fascinating history, not least because the church and the state were so closely entwined. However, these developments are not only of historical interest. Luther and the Reformation gave us two central beliefs – firstly, that the Bible is the supreme authority for Christian belief and practice and, secondly, that men and women are made right with God by grace, through faith, and not by good works.

The Lutheran heritage of the Reformation in Germany is passed down to Methodists through John Wesley, for it was while listening to a public reading of Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans that John Wesley felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’.  Not many people read Martin Luther’s Bible commentaries these days – but here’s an extract:

Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God's grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.

Luther concludes this section by writing, ‘Ask God to work faith in you’.  This autumn, I hope you will take some time to pray that God will give, renew or increase your faith in him, in his grace, and in all that he has done for you through Jesus Christ, our Lord. I hope you will take some time to share words of hope, of light and life, especially with children and young people as they think about Halloween.  It is fair to say that not all Christians think alike.  In his great sermon on the Catholic Spirit John Wesley reminds us that even though we cannot think alike, we should love alike.  Let’s be committed to sharing faith, hope and love on 31 October … and every other day of the year!

John Haley

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