On our church blog I wrote this. It’s not that I’m afraid to be shot at from both sides, but I don’t have the time to parry all the arguments. Nonetheless, here’s what I wrote.
When you have several hundred Christians together in 21st century America, you are going to to have a divergence of opinion on this holiday. Our church is no different, so let’s talk about it. Some are going to dress the kids up in costumes and go down their street trick-or-treating; others are going to ignore the holiday altogether. The Halloween Christians are going to be tempted to roll their eyes at the uptight non-Halloween Christians and the non-Halloween Christians are going to be tempted to snort disapproval over the shallow Halloween Christians.
Now, to be perfectly transparent, I am firmly entrenched in the middle! So, the following words are meant to be pastoral in the sense that they will hopefully be helpful to all of us as we approach the holiday, but I do not expect or desire everyone to do as I do. Each family has to decide for themselves.
So, let’s just be frank and talk about this as Christian people. Let’s agree on the obvious:
First, Halloween is a bad holiday. There is hardly anything commendable about the day. It’s origins are demonic and to this very day witches and the occult claim that it is a banner day for their abominable ilk. To pretend that it is otherwise is to be dumb, I think.
Second, even if it could be argued that Halloween is not really as Satanic as people claim, one has to be living inside his own fantasy world to not see the obvious promotion of blood, gore, death, darkness, witchcraft, and fear. The fact that this holiday is becoming the most commercialized holiday of the year is astounding. In Rockford, we have a large store that opens only for the Halloween season. Jennie and I walked into the place yesterday and the creepiness was for real. Not fear. The stuff does not make me afraid at all. But we were creeped out by the fact that we live in a society that is not only willing to pour money into the macabre and the sensual, but they do it by investing in sticky plastic!
There are a lot of reasons to despise this holiday.
At this point many of you are saying, “Exactly! So why in the world are Christians even acknowledging the holiday as something they can participate in?”
In order to discuss this, let’s use Bible terminology for the issue. Let’s admit that some things are “clean” (not sinful) and other things are “unclean” (sinful). The key is how we determine what is “clean” or “unclean.” Paul said,
I know and I am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean (Romans 14:14).
It has been granted that much, if not most, of this holiday is categorically unclean. But, wait! Please understand that I am speaking about themes and ideas and interests and affections, not necessarily things, stuff, and activities. The Bible is clear that things are not inherently evil or holy. But affections and ideas are.
I do not think it is a stretch to say that demons, fascination with death, violence, gore, sensuality, fear-mongering, and hedonism are all categorically unclean. I do think it is a stretch to say that trick-or-treating is inherently evil. Or wearing costumes. Or the particular day, 31st of October. Granted, the ideas and concepts surrounding the day are undeniably bad. Compounded to all of that is the raw commercialization and senseless partying that accompanies the holiday along with a secularized and laughing dismissal of the spirit world as something of an enchanting, albeit sometimes scary, myth.
We know, however, that the spirit world is not a myth. Satan is real. The demons are real. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,” the Apostle said. And the thoughtful Christian is more disturbed by the chuckling dismissal of the spirit world as a controllable toy than of the demons themselves. We know that our countrymen are delusional. They are the real zombies, partying around under the wizard-like control of a death-fascinated secular culture. We Christians should all categorize this stuff as unclean.
The idea of zombies hails from Africa and voodoo. It is the idea that the dead walk around under an alien power, perhaps a witch or a wizard. In a sense, our society is walking around dead and under the power of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Christians, however, are full of life and we are no longer zombies simply following “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:1). Instead, we hear Paul’s words ringing in our ears:
for, at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 4:8-10)
Hmmm. “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Try. This is the hard part. What exactly does that mean? It means to be putting to the test, testing, (δοκιμάζοντες) and since it is a participle here it suggests that we are constantly “testing” to ascertain what is really pleasing to the Lord. In other words, as I personally apply this to my family and Halloween, I am constantly testing how I will navigate through this time in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Did you get that? I am constantly testing. This is how most of our Christian life should be lived.
Consider some bad options
There are several bad options:
- I could ban it completely, propagate all kinds of scary facts about Halloween, turn off the light of my front porch and indoctrinate my children to believe that anyone that does anything similar to Halloween is doing obeisance to Satan.
- I could substitute it with another kind of party in which we do “trunk or treat,” dress up, and copy all the elements of Halloween that our unsaved neighbors do minus the creepy stuff plus a devotional at the end and sigh with godly sorrow for the people on my right who are too strict and the people on my left who are so worldly.
- I could celebrate it just like my neighbors and rejoice in my freedom in Christ and laugh off the silly concerns of legalistic party-poopers.
In my opinion, all three of these options are bad because of how they are done and not necessarily for what they are. Let me re-phrase them as good options:
Consider some good options
- I could choose to avoid the holiday altogether. A good Christian response to refuse to feel obligated to do what everyone else is doing just because it’s the rage. I am in the world, but not of it and I can decide for any number of legitimate reasons why I think it is not the best course of action for my family to acknowledge the holiday in any shape or form.
- I could choose to create or support an alternative to the worldly activities, implementing the traditions that are decidedly neutral and harmless and makign up our own traditions. This is a good option too because it is an option that has been used by Christians in the past. In fact, Thanksgiving is the result of an alternative to an otherwise pagan holiday.
- I could participate with my unbelieving friends and neighbors insofar as I only do that which is suitable to “children of light,” thereby exposing those things which are in the dark (by the contrast of my dress and behavior) and radiating Christian light through my love and ability to enjoy life without abandoning my soul to hedonism, sensuality, and sensationalism.
Did you see how similar the good options are to the bad options? In my mind, all three are viable options. The difficulty, for me, is determining from year to year what I will do. Because I am constantly testing. In other words, Halloween is not one of those doctrines in the Bible that we can write a Nicene Creed about and quote every year to remind ourselves what our position on the controversial doctrine is! It’s a life thing that requires thoughtful testing in the present-continual sense to find the action that pleases God. And not all of us will come to the same conclusion. This does not mean that one or the other is wrong. Both could be wrong; both could be right.
Avoid the 2 Extremes
There are two extremes to avoid in the Halloween discussion. Fitting with the theme, I’ll classify two bad extremes as 1/”the spooked” and 2/”the zombies.”
1. The Spooked.
I am saddened to see how many Christians get all spooked by all the dark data around this holiday. They quote witches and give (often fanciful) “historical” analysis of the origin of every single tradition from costumes, to eating treats, to ringing a doorbell. Some of it’s true.
But even if it is all true, the Christian knows so much more. Frankly, these things do not spook me because they have very little to do with the really troubling reality of demons. Satan and his demons are more into presenting themselves as beautiful creatures and in crafty and deceitful teaching. While lots of people this Halloween will be disguising themselves as freaky blood-stained goblins, Satan also disguises himself. As an angel of light! And his servants disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11: 14-15). In other words, I think it plays into Satan’s devices when the world categorizes all things freakish and gory to him, the forked tail and the horns, and all things with the appearance of beauty and light as necessarily good. Likewise I think Christians who hyperventilate about the sensationalized occult elements of the holiday in order to build their case that Christians everywhere should abstain from all appearances of association with it are really contributing to the same kind of misguided fear that their secular neighbors embrace as part of the ritual of Halloween.
Let me put it this way: part of the aura of Halloween is to actually embrace fear for the fun. When Christians get all worked up about the dark side of the holiday they end up actually promoting the very thing they abhor. They come across as spooked. And that makes the holiday all the more appealing.
2. The Zombies.
When Christians gullibly walk the way the worldlings walk, they are like zombies. It is very frustrating to me to hear Halloween Christians glibly mock the concerned non-Halloween Christians for having any concerns at all as if they are superstitious or legalistic. But the opposite of superstition is not naivete. Our theology should govern our analysis of the world and its activities. Therefore, we should know that Satan is real, sensuality is real, and the chronic obsession of our society with death and darkness is indicative of the fact that men love darkness rather than light. Besides, the ghoulish costumes and fascination with death, the trite and mindless vanity of the holiday should cause all Christians everywhere to pause. Instead of walking like zombies who follow the course of this world from one holiday to the next, Christians should thoughtfully interact with their world in such a way that proves that they are lovers of light rather than darkness.
Now, is there only one way to be a lover of light during this holiday that so obviously exults darkness? I don’t think so. I do believe that all three of the options I listed above, if done with the right motive and disposition, are good options. And, of course, there are certainly more options I have not mentioned. But, let’s be clear. Paul said,
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret (Ephesians 5:11-12).
If by dressing up my kids and going to the neighbors’ doors and by distributing candy to the kids on my street I am taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness then I am in clear violation of Scripture. I would be glibly unspiritual if I wasn’t willing to put all my decisions to the test, including this one. The answer is not obvious and that is one reason mature Christians are on both sides of the argument. For some it is clearly taking part in the works of darkness and is therefore categorically wrong. I am personally not in that camp. But this issue is among the closest to the 1 Corinthian 8-10 issues of Paul’s day because of the alignment of the activity to idolatry and the demon world. And Christian interaction with the holiday will differ among themselves. Sometimes it will vary from season to season.
This is analogous to the problem Corinthians had with meat that had been offered to idols. (Please remember that all analogies are imperfect). Some could eat it; others could not. The reason they could not eat it was that they ate it “as really offered to idols” (1 Co. 8:7). They actually saw their eating of it as an extension of the idol worship. The Apostle Paul clearly believed that Christians with knowledge would not be bother by eating meat that was offered to idols. In fact, he would go so far as imply that one could actually eat the meat in the temple of the idols without sinning if he could do it without causing a brother to stumble (8:10). In this text, he’s obviously discouraging the eating of meat in the temple, but it is not because the action is inherently sinful. It is because of the law of love. Because, bottom line, it comes down to what you make of a thing whether it is sinful or not.
Christians should not be intimidated by the fact that the whole holiday is practically a temple to Satan. Christians of former times lived and ate and shopped in entire cities that were conscientiously idolatrous and pagan. If one chooses not to do Halloween activities, it should be out of love, not out of fear or the belief that those activities are inherently sinful. To the pure all things are pure. And, frankly, for my children and me walking along the street with our neighbors is a delightfully pure opportunity to get candy and build warm relationships! We simply are not contaminating ourselves. In fact, we consciously embrace the rare opportunity to interact with so many neighbors.
While I can see a relation to the “meat offered to idols” issue in 1 Corinthians, I also believe that those who make this analogous to the Romans 14 issue are off the mark because both the eating and holiday issues in that chapter are referring to Judaism and not food or holidays directly linked to pagan ritualism. Having admitted that, I do think that there are principles from Romans 14 that could help us navigate to a wise decision in these matters. Simply put, I think Paul would say about a number of the Halloween activities,
I know and I am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean (Romans 14:14).
The problem, however, is that most Americans (particularly those who are reacting to anti-Halloween legalism) do not understand how to move one activity from the “unclean” category to the “clean” category except by categorically declaring, “I think my parents were prudes when they said I couldn’t enjoy Halloween (unclean), but now I say it’s fine (clean).”
Is that what Paul really meant? Was he really suggesting that it all comes down to what we feel about something? The ESV “think” implies a lot more than the way the average TV-saturated American conceptualizes the word. The word “think” (λογίζομαι) means to think according to logical rules, to “reckon.” And there are some issues in which two Christians can follow a logical course of thinking that is biblically faithful and arrive at separate conclusions. Thus, Paul said if one reckons something to be unclean, to him it is unclean. If the other reckons it to be clean, it is clean.
It is not just the categorical declaration of a Christian that he thinks a certain activity is okay that legitimizes said activity. He has to “reckon.” Furthermore, Paul said in Romans 14 that whatever is not of faith is sin. In other words, our decision to participate in Halloween, not participate at all, or create an alternative must be an outcome of our faith! Everything we do should be conscientiously rooted in our theology, our belief system.
Sadly, however, too many American Christians compartmentalize their lives, their activities, their music, and every aspect of their existence without rooting it all in a thought-out development of their faith. Thus, two extremes emerge. On the one hand, it is easy to categorize an activity as inherently evil and thus thought is not necessary. On the other hand, it is easy to categorize an activity as good because there is no obvious command in Scripture against it. Both are wrong.
By my reckoning, then, I personally think light should shine in darkness. I can understand the reckoning of those who choose not to do anything at all. I support them. It is done by a logical thought process. I can also understand the reckoning of those who choose to offer an alternative. I support them as well. They have thought it out.
But it is also valid reckoning to to choose a moderated involvement and conscientious interaction with our society in those things that are not inherently evil for the purpose of being light in darkness; with the kids at school and on the street as much as is possible without causing anyone to sin.
Insofar as it is possible for us to do Halloween activities alongside our lost neighbors, we will. There are some activities and traditions in Halloween that are clearly antithetical to the Scriptures and the God of Light, but there are elements of the holiday (collecting and distributing treats, wearing costumes, etc.) that, despite their origins, are not inherently evil. And I personally reckon that it is healthy to boldly enjoy those things that are not inherently evil if by so doing we can shine light.
If by the light anything is exposed, it becomes visible. For anything that becomes visible is light (Eph. 5:13-14).
Light shining in darkness has this effect: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14). Now, that’s a good Halloween theme message!
And it is actually the effect that we hope our light will have on our neighbors and our culture. We know, of course, that the time may very well come when we can not do anything at all with this holiday except to ignore it or create an alternative. Many of our friends have already opted to disassociate themselves completely from the holiday.
So, here’s some general advice:
1. If you choose to do Halloween, don’t be naive. Halloween is a bad holiday. Period. It is not becoming of Christians to trivialize darkness, demons, witches, death, gore, violence, and fear. You should think through every thing that you are doing and make sure that you are being children of light in this celebration of darkness and not walking like zombies according to the dictates of this world.
2. If you choose to do Halloween, talk to your children about respecting the careful thinking of those Christian friends in the church who have chosen to ignore it. Teach your child to respect differing opinions. Instruct them not to flaunt their “freedoms” at church. Teach them why you are repudiating the dark choices of the neighbor kids and the classmates. Teach them that just as real as the goblin monster costume on their friend are the demons of hell. We are in a world of demons every day of the year. Teach them about angels, the servants of God for his children. Teach them to be confidently bright and cheery and pure and beautiful while all others are touting the opposite.
3. If you choose to ignore the holiday or to create an alternative, do not judge those who are participating in some of the traditions surrounding the day. I fully believe you can come to that conclusion with good reckoning. But make sure you are doing it with good thinking. Don’t do it out of irrational and ungrounded fear of touching the unclean thing. Teach your children that some people, certainly your leaders, have carefully “reckoned” their actions and that different decisions do not necessarily imply that there is only one right way to deal with the holiday.
4. Pursue peace with all men. This is our opportunity to respect our differences.
Filed under: Culture