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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween: Do or Don't?

"Should Christians participate in Halloween?" 

Admittedly, this is a strange image.
Every year I've managed to dodge this question fairly successfully - preferring to respond: "But the real question is: Should Christians participate in Valentine's Day? The origin of love according to Hallmark and the Peanuts card that Ramsey Rives gave me in 3rd grade is a Greek mythological figure who shoots arrows -- not Yahweh. Well, that's heresy right there (see 1 John 4). Okay, I'll wait for that. This is a legitimate and serious question and I've been asked by a host of persons about it this year. Katie and I have actually given it quite a bit of prayerful & biblical consideration over the years so here we go...

A word of grace. Wherever we land on these types of gray-area issues, I always encourage folks from Romans 14:4: “To his own master a servant stands or falls.” In other words, We each will have to give an account to God but we should not demand others give an account to us. But we often do demand, don't we? If not in word, through our attitudes or our judgments toward others about 'other' things (but really, it's all about that thing).  Pressing accountability is not true of every or even most issues. Most issues aren't matters of Christian liberty or gray-areas. Most issues Scripture is pretty clear about. So while we should refrain from being demanding of accountability about drinking in moderation, watching R-rated films, or perhaps (??) certain language we use, the same isn't true for "sleeping with someone" before marriage - some will argue that this is a gray-area issue so they can keep doing who they are doing  but Scripture (not to mention wisdom!) gives us clear instruction with regard to "keeping the marriage bed pure" (Hebrews  13:4). So with this issue of Halloween, some will walk away happy, even smug with what the Oelschlagers have decided to do, while others will be infuriated. Which is why my intent here is not to change a person's mind as to whether they should celebrate it. It ain't gonna happen. My hope is that, by considering the matter from God's Word, we extend further grace to persons on both sides of the issue.

Where I my "Megatron" costume. I do not think it is wrong for Christians, who have a clear conscience in doing so and are not causing a ‘weaker’ brother to stumble, to participate in Halloween. Let me give a few thoughts to support that statement – allowing God’s Word to be our primary guide.

The counter argument. The two major points against Halloween:  (1) That we are celebrating an ancient druidic/Celtic holiday in which spirits of the trees were worshipped and (2)  add to that the continued existence of modern day witchcraft, sorcery, ghoulishness still celebrated today around Halloween (even though isolated & amongst a small minority at least in Cayman's varied cultural landscape). These are both serious matters. We are called to be “in” the world yet not “of it” (John 17). So we are equally called to guard our hearts from evil yet also be a friend to sinners. 

God’s Word. While it doesn’t speak to this issue directly, it does speak to a surprisingly similar issue. Namely meat sacrificed to idols/false gods/demons. 

1 Corinthians 10:19-31:  19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.  21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?  23 "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.  24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  26 For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."  27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  28 But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-  29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?  30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

A few notes:
Conscience. If your conscience (see also 1 Corinthians 8) doesn’t allow you to participate & if God has convicted you it’s wrong, don’t do it until/unless God changes your mind. Far worse to do what you believe God has told you is wrong than to do it doubting with every timid step.
     >>> If you can in good conscience, dress up your kids, have them walk around the neighborhood & pilfer candy from the neighbors (but "Take only One" if they aren't home), do it without being burdened. 
     >>> If because of your past, concern for your kids, deep belief/suspicion in dark spiritual forces being harder at work, don't do it even if you acknowledge someone else's freedom to do differently.
Idols & Candy. You might make the parallel of meat with Candy or with costumes. Were either dedicated to the Celtic figure Samhain or any sort evil spirit? Likely not. Could they have been, sure. Was that a Wiccan who just handed me a tootsie roll and cursed it with a spell that will make me prematurely bald? Perhaps. Is it likely? Depends on your culture, where you live, etc. But likely not (I hope someone put Rogaine in my bag just in case).
So verse 28: “BUT if someone says to you, “This party, candy, costume is in honor of Samhain who we believe to be the Celtic Spirit of Halloween,” don’t eat it, put it on, participate. Lest we cause a young Christian or non-Christian to confuse our faith in Christ with hypocrisy. 
Helpful? Then the next logical question comes from v.23: I can understand how the participation in Halloween can be “lawful” or “permissible” (NIV), but how can it actually be "helpful" or "build" someone up??  Great question (see two points below).

Your situation. If our children had a strange unhealthy interest in ghoulish, ghastly, fearful, & all things “dark,” I would certainly abstain. Also, if we weren’t being intentional about exposing our kids on a daily basis to the truth & light of God’s Word & the truth and light of the Rescuer Jesus Christ, then I might also be more hesitant about making much of any holiday lest they put all their hope & attention on a self-indulgent occasion to stuff themselves full of Laffy-Taffy (not to mention the potential of impish evil spirits...although they do act rather impish themselves after a half-bag of High Fructose Corn Syrup and a pint's worth of Red Dye #3) . If we ran into a haunted house or a block party that stressed the perverse, spiritual strangeness, fear-based entertainment, Katie and I would have no problems walking away from it. So I think, practically and with wisdom, you must take into account your own situation as well – being brutally honest about your spiritual state & influences.

Your neighbor’s situation. If you don’t think participating in Halloween poses a spiritual stumbling block for your neighbor (and that’s an important “if"), consider the immense benefit of participating, especially if you are trick-or-treating. There are few opportunities in our culture where people will actually walk up to our door and meet us face to face. There are few opportunities where we can actually walk up and down the streets in our neighborhoods with those who do not know Christ- and they will do this with you willingly and won’t think we are stalking them. Halloween can be a great opportunity to get to know people. I believe you have the opportunity to meet and enjoy some fellowship with the unbelievers God has put around you- and in a setting that they initiate. The ‘dangers’ of Halloween, for our family, do not outweigh these opportunities. Now, of course, being ‘separate’ on these days can be opportunities as well. It might be important to communicate your convictions by turning off the light and not answering the door. I'm sure in some contexts God can and does use this. But Katie and I have decided that we would rather be overtly engaging with those around us on this night with love and wisdom rather than abstain altogether.

The response of someone with a different conviction than me. I get pumped whenever people go to God's Word &, with the help of His Spirit, get it. This past week one of the person's with whom I engaged on this topic had a different personal conviction. She didn't begin to share my conviction about participating in Halloween, but she did look earnestly at God's Word & extended grace. Here are some excerpts from this person's response (which is right on!): 
Halloween is a very sacred day for those who follow Wicca - one of their most "holy" days which is where my struggle to feel ok about it all stems.   I fully realise that people aren't practising Wicca or celebrating anything with evil intent and aren't trying to glorify evil by celebrating Halloween so this is definitely where I get, just because I believe it is wrong doesn't make it wrong and it isn't wrong for somebody else to do it but if I believe it is wrong for me and I do it then it would be wrong.  Is that right?  LOL (YES it is anonymous person!!!!).....

I don't get any holy brownie points for choosing not to celebrate as opposed to another brother or sister in Christ who does but what I do get is that it is ok to feel the way I do about Halloween and at the same time make sure my heart is in check and not get self righteous and maintain a good heart attitude toward others that do.  Correct?  (Yes, and love the "holy brownie points" comment!)
In conclusion: No matter whether you decide to stay at home or participate, 1 Corinthians 10:31 is a good note to end on: 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I realize I responded to this question largely from a “family” point-of-view and you might not even have children, but I think trick-or-treating & carving pumpkins (not dance parties, club scenes, etc.) is where this dilemma is most visible. As just being at a club and partying is itself another dilemma over which we ought constantly to be submitting our hearts unto the Lord, examining our conscience, and striving to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of it’ (ie. In the world, but with a mission). 

To balance out my family's conviction with the equally valid personal conviction that it's not glorifying to God to celebrate Halloween, I provide for you (BELOW) this Halloween evangelism tract, which has no doubt graced the bags of many an unsuspecting child, for your amusement/edification. My favorite part is the clown and the lone ranger praying together to trust Christ. Makes me wonder: Can clowns know Jesus? (subject of my next post).


  1. This is a fantastic posting, and not only did I laugh out loud (which freaked out my co-worker, and probably did then even more so when I said it was a message from the pastor...)but also I feel completely at ease with our family's decision to celebrate Halloween the way in which we do. Our kids dress up, we carve pumpkins and we pray before we go out trick or treating. It works for us. I appreciate your words and your guidance, and as always, enjoy the humour with which you deliver it.
    Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the post brother!

    Here's a thought, why not celebrate "Reformation Day" instead 31 October 1517?Which marks a great day in church history. True, we express the grace we have been given through Christ and by all means stay away from the L word (Legalism); however I wonder if we promote the other L word (License) in those situations, which pose to be (pardon the illustration) sticky when it concerns going against the cultural norm.

    Can we conclude from God's word that whatever side of the fence you fall, when considering whether or not to celebrate Halloween is ok with Him (Gal.5:20)? Because it is with God and His word that the final judgement rest even overruling the Christian's conscience (Matt. 4:4). For while we (Christians) have been free from the penalty of sin we are not free yet from the presence of sin, even that of our own hearts. Pastor O, isn't the pattern of this world to make bad things look good, even ok, even gray? And don't we have a greater responsibility when we do know the origin of something that apposes the truth of God; to expose it and not coddle it. No matter how many hundred year old, teenage looking vampires, caught in a love story they put on the theatre screen, or harmless costumes of your favorite Autobot they create.

    As for evangelism, in Cayman, with most of the population claiming Christianity which is largely nominal and law driven, one would have to explain why they were celebrating Halloween as Christian before they can even get to the cross. Honestly, Halloween presents a different kind of obstacle than other pagan holidays like Valentines Day. Where there lays a risk of even our brother falling "Counting others more significant than ourselves" (Phil. 2:3) and sacrificing our "fun" should be sought more earnestly and holiness should be greatly emphasized over our freedom. In regards to 1 Cor. 10:19-31 consider 1Cor. 8:13.

    I hope this was helpful and lovingly said!

    In His grip!