I've been a part of churches that have recognized and celebrated Reformation Day, and not even as a protest against Halloween!
These are churches that don't bind the consciences of their members about Halloween (or as I like to call it, national Meet Your Neighbors Day) but simply recognize Oct. 31st as a symbolic celebration of The Reformation.
I say it's symbolic because the posting of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther on October 31st of 1517 was certainly not the start of the Reformation. The Reformation was maybe 200 years in the making by then, instigated by the work of Wycliffe and Hus.
But, symbolism is important, and what symbolism are we recognizing when we acknowledge or even celebrate Reformation Day?
To me, the reforms of the Reformation are vital insights to the Christian gospel. As Protestant Christians we should never shy away from the fact that Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Bucer, Calvin, Melancthon, etc. were engaged in drawing the Church back to its historic, orthodox roots.
Yet, at the same time, even during the Reformation, we see the seeds of future chasm and sectarianism that has haunted the Christian Church for over 500 years.
In 1529 Phillip of Hesse invited Luther and Ulrich Zwingli to a Colloquy (a conversation). Phillip is an astute politician and he hopes to create concord between emerging theological factions. But Luther comes to the conversation thinking Zwingli is a heretic (not a real good start to a conversation), so that's a challenge! But as they talk about 15 points and sub-points, they find that they're in substantial agreement on almost everything. Agreement and mutuality is in the air!
However, they get to the last point, actually they get to the last 1/3 of the last point. Here's the moment where Western Christianity either stays together or splinters, and they can't come to consensus. On the last 1/3rd of 15 points, regarding the "real presence" of Christ in the Lord's Supper, they depart and the Colloquy of Marburg is a failure.
So, should we celebrate this?
Should we commemorate the moment in history when the Christian church became even more splintered and sectarian? It wasn't too many years later that Christianity became a competitive denominational affair, with each sect trying to differentiate itself from the other, and people constantly dividing over the last 1/3 of 15 points.
While there's much to celebrate about what the Reformation reclaimed, it feels a bit misguided to celebrate without caveat the "moment" where the Christian Church began to splinter and differentiate like no other time in its history.
I appreciate the insight of Chuck Degroat as he reflects upon the tremendous insights and the tragic unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation here.
If only us Calvinists could be more like Calvin.