Halloween: Remembering the Martyrs


getting ready for winterI have always enjoyed the arrival of October. Contrary to most, I actually like the cooler weather and the change in seasons. I enjoy the crisp air, lower humidity, harvest festivities and the subsequent preparation for winter. But October also brings with it a certain line of decor, which has expanded tremendously in recent years as many anticipate the beginning of the holiday season with the unofficial one, Halloween. Yet, in spite of its “fake holiday” status, Halloween boasts the 4th most popular holiday in America.

Now, I have my opinions as to whether Christians should, or should not participate, but every Christian falls, more or less, into one of three categories. Some have no problem with it, but simply keep a watchful eye on their children and restrict activities to a fun, family-driven “trick or treat” atmosphere with their neighbors. After all, there’s nothing inherently evil about dressing up as Winnie the Pooh and asking your neighbors for candy. Others are more prone to object and won’t participate on any level. After all, even jack-o-lanterns came from the superstition that carving faces into gourds with a candle inside would scare evil spirits away. They object to costumes, because those were used to “trick” evil spirits. And they object to treats, which were used to satisfy spirits while they departed into the underworld. For them, to participate in part is to participate in the whole.

Still, there’s another group that objects, not so much to the activities (so far as they aren’t celebratory of death or evil), but more to the name “Halloween” because of its historical association with pagan Celtic practices. They opt to call “Halloween” a “Harvest Festival,” or “Reformation Day,” while the rest of the holiday looks much the same (often, they’ll even dress up as their favorite Bible character or Reformer). Well… if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. duckIt is interesting though, that that position is actually the very origin of Halloween. Believers resented the pagan Celtic holiday and promptly promoted “their version” called, “Hallow’s Eve,” which was eventually contracted to “Halloween.” Of course, the Christian holiday and the pagan holiday eventually blended together. That being said, I’m not really sure how calling Halloween by another name is really any different, but… I don’t really care much either.

As I said, my objective in this post is not to debate whether or not you should or shouldn’t participate in Halloween. If you really want to know my position, I have nothing to add to this.

What I would encourage you to do though (in addition to reading the article above), is something I think every Christian should make the time to do. And what better time of the year than the holiday that was originally supposed to encourage it?

Take the time to remember the martyrs (hence Hallows’ Eve). Read about them, be encouraged by them, and be strengthened by their faith.

I was thinking about this recently as I was reintroducing myself to the life of John Foxe. It had been a while since I read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and I felt it was about time that I picked it up again as I prepared to preach on the martyrdom of John the Baptist in Mark 6.

At one time, there were only two books most Christians would ever own. The Bible, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which was originally titled, Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Days, Touching Matters of the Church (long titles were the thing back then).

Illustration from a 1583 edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, showing Catholic Papists torturing Protestants, in this case by scraping their bodies with shells.

Illustration from a 1583 edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, showing Catholic Papists torturing Protestants, in this case by scraping their bodies with shells.

Foxe, barely escaping martyrdom himself at the hands of Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary), wrote the work, which originally weighed about seven pounds, and used an unprecedented 150 wood cuts (for creating illustrations), in order to provide a well-researched work to answer the Roman Catholic Church, who often criticized Protestantism as being a new convention, asking “Where was the Protestant Faith before the 1500’s?”

(BTW, they still make that argument today)

Well, Foxe’s work successfully accomplished that goal. He outlined the many martyrs who died for the doctrine of sola fide, one of the fundamental differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestants. He showed that the Protestant faith was always the faith of the true church, and that the true church was persecuted from its earliest days, and it was for the same reason the Reformers in his day were being persecuted.

And those Reformers were dear to Foxe’s own heart.

He was born in 1516, only a year before Martin Luther would nail his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Foxe himself, like many of the Reformers, grew up Roman Catholic, and even had the opportunity to live a peaceable life, being well off and quite respectable as a professor of logic at Oxford. However, upon reading the Scriptures and coming to salvation, Foxe knew he had to step down. He could no longer adhere to the doctrines promoted by his institution.

burned at the stakeFrom there, he lived the rest of his life in deep poverty, tutoring the children of the wealthy until he had to flee England to escape Queen Mary’s fury. He barely escaped, but after her death, Foxe was finally able to return with his wife to write the testimonies of those who died at her hand. 287 were burned at the stake, and over 400 more died of starvation and exposure to the elements in her prisons. Many underwent grotesque tortures.

They died because they affirmed one Latin word… “sola.” They understood that the Scriptures teach with unquestionable certainty that salvation is not “through faith” but “through faith alone” by “grace alone” in “Christ alone” according to “the Word of God alone” to “the glory of God alone.”

So, however you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) the upcoming holiday, remember the testimonies of those who have died for the cause of Christ.

We pray that we “may lead a quiet and tranquil life” (1 Tim. 2:1-2), but we also recognize that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Remembering the martyrs will remind you the importance that we pray for peace. But remembering them will also give us greater hope and confidence when the time of persecution comes. You will be strengthened by their strength and encouraged by their courage.

The 5 Solas of the Reformation