Scripture: Romans 14:1-9
This time of year is unlike any other in many respects. Every shopping center and grocery store is filled with all sorts of candy, costumes and colorful decorations. In a few short days children will parade up and down the streets disguised as their favorite characters chanting “Trick or Treat” and hold out plastic bags or molded plastic pumpkins in hopes of collecting vast amounts of candy. This will, of course, result in a stomach ache the next day.
For Christians, Halloween is perhaps the most difficult holiday with which to deal. Its darker side is so disconcerting, yet it holds a bit of charm for us as we remember our own childhood experiences with the day. A myriad of questions surround Halloween. Should we participate? Accommodate? Or vigorously denounce Halloween?
When I first researched Halloween I discovered hundreds of web-sites with articles, sermons, or editorials condemning the observance of this holiday. In fact, many Christians have taken a very strong stance in opposition to Halloween on the grounds that it supports Satan-worship and pagan gods. This places many of us, especially those with children, in an uncomfortable position. How should we, as Christians, respond to this holiday? Is it sinful and evil or just fun and games? Is it a problem or a potential opportunity? To answer such questions, it’s helpful to view Halloween from the perspective of history. So let’s begin with a…
- HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF HALLOWEEN:
First, we ought to recognize that the American celebration of Halloween draws heavily from Scottish and Irish folk customs that can be directly traced to pre-Christian times and is indeed rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (sah-ween). Although modern Halloweens can be viewed as nights of rollicking fun and eerie games, its pagan beginnings were not so innocent.
Originally, Halloween was a celebration of the Druids in honor of Samhain, whom they believed to be the Lord of the Dead, and whose festival fell on November 1st.
The Druids believed that on the eve of this festival, Samhain, the Lord of the Dead, called together the wicked souls that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. The veil, they believed, between the present world and the spirit world, or the world beyond, was pierced, releasing demons, witches and hobgoblins en masse to harass the living.
Interestingly, they thought that the cat was sacred because they thought that cats, especially black cats, had once been human beings whose spirits were transferred into the cat as a punishment for their evil deeds—which makes you wonder why they were sacred.
There was a prevailing belief among many nations that at death the souls of good people were taken by good spirits and carried to paradise, but the souls of wicked men were left to wander in the space between the earth and the moon, or consigned to inhabit animals. Typically, the Druids believed that on this one night of the year, the eve of the Samhain festival, the spirits of the dead returned to their original homes along with other ghosts and goblins.
In order to protect themselves or make themselves immune to the attacking demons, people disguised themselves as witches, devils, and ghouls—from wince we derived the custom of wearing costumes for Halloween. They also attempted to ward off evil spirits by carving scary and grotesque faces on various gourds illuminated with candles (including pumpkins, of course). In order to placate the evil spirits they offered a variety of treats—fruits, vegetables, and other types of food usually. If the demonic hordes were satisfied, it was believed they would leave you in peace. But if they were not satisfied—if you didn’t offer any treats or your offering wasn’t good enough—the ghosts would trick you by casting a spell on you and wreaking havoc in your home. Thus the tradition of “trick or treat” was born.
Despite its sinister origins, however, I think we can learn a lot from how the early Christians responded to this Samhain festival. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and Europe, many pagans and even Druids converted to Christianity, but they were still very superstitious. They didn’t have Bibles back then and most of them were illiterate anyway. So, without proper education, many of these new believers brought their old superstitions with them into the church—including their belief in ghosts and goblins.
In order to establish a rival celebration and to better educate new believers, the church designated November 1st as All Saints Day. Rather than fearing the onslaught of evil spirits who had been condemned during the course of the year, All Saints Day celebrated and honored all the saints, or martyrs, who had died that year. The mass held the evening prior to All Saints Day was called All Hallowmas. And October 31st itself became known as All Hallow E’en (Halloween). Literally then, the word Halloween means Holy Evening. Thus, All Hallows Eve was an attempt on the part of Christianity to overwhelm the tradition of ghouls with the truth of the gospel! So, with this historical perspective on Halloween in mind, let’s get a…
BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF HALLOWEEN:
Obviously, you can’t look up the word Halloween in a concordance and expect to find a Scripture reference to it, but there is one passage of Scripture that is very relevant to the subject.
Accept into your group someone who is weak in faith, and do not argue about opinions. One person believes it is right to eat all kinds of food. But another, who is weak, believes it is right to eat only vegetables. The one who knows that it is right to eat any kind of food must not reject the one who eats only vegetables. And the person who eats only vegetables must not think that the one who eats all foods is wrong, because God has accepted that person. You cannot judge another person’s servant. The master decides if the servant is doing well or not. And the Lord’s servant will do well because the Lord helps him do well.
Some think that one day is more important than another, and others think that every day is the same. Let all be sure in their own mind. Those who think one day is more important than other days are doing that for the Lord. And those who eat all kinds of food are doing that for the Lord, and they give thanks to God. Others who refuse to eat some foods do that for the Lord, and they give thanks to God. We do not live or die for ourselves. If we live, we are living for the Lord, and if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:1-8 NCV)
The Apostle Paul addresses two specific issues here that are relevant to Halloween—meat that had been sacrificed to pagan gods and holidays.
First, there were many new Christians who, as I mentioned earlier, brought their old superstitious beliefs with them when they became Christians. Some, who had converted from paganism, even though they had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savoir, still believed in the gods of Roman and Greek mythology. Therefore, they refused to eat any meat that had been sacrificed to those gods because they saw it as a form of worshipping those old gods. Other Christians, who were more mature in their faith, realized that gods such as Zeus or Hermes or Athena didn’t even really exist—they’re just myths and fairy tales. Therefore, they had no problem eating meat that had been sacrificed to those gods because they are even real.
Furthermore, some Christians wanted to celebrate special days or holidays, such as the Passover or Hanukah or other Jewish celebrations, while other Christians believed that every day was the same and there is no need to celebrate a holiday (or holy day) unless God specifically commanded us to do so.
To all of these Christians, Paul says, “warmly welcome each other into the church, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified” (Romans 15:7 TLB).
Now, if we take these two examples and put them together, we get a clear Biblical perspective on the controversy over Halloween. Halloween is a holiday (holy day) that was once dedicated to a pagan god. Some people understand there is no such thing as ghosts or goblins and have no problem participating in the modern celebration. Others believe that Halloween’s dubious origins make it something in which Christians should not be involved. I believe Paul would tell us exactly what he told the Romans—if it bothers your conscience, then don’t participate; if, on the other hand, you can celebrate Halloween in a way that honors and glorifies God—like the early Christians did—then go for it! Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.
Don’t forget that both Christmas and Easter have their origins in lascivious pagan festivals as well. That doesn’t, however, prevent Christians from captivating their children with tales about Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. Halloween is no different. Just because it centers on witches and warlocks rather than furry woodland creatures and jolly fat men doesn’t put in some other category—as long as we understand the difference between reality and fantasy and we communicate that difference to our children.
Pastors and preachers are always encouraging Christians to use holidays such as Easter and Christmas as opportunities for outreach, and, personally, I would suggest the same thing for Halloween. So, understanding the historical and biblical perspective let me share a…
- PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE OF HALLOWEEN:
In my opinion, the worst thing Christians can do on Halloween is turn off the lights, lock the door and pretend no one is home. Jesus said that his purpose in coming to earth was to “seek and save the lost.” That’s our mission too. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Let your lights shine before men in such a way that they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16 NASB).
So let’s heed the words of our Lord and Savior and let our lights shine—both our spiritual lights and porch lights—on a day that is typically known for its darkness. Let me offer some suggestions on how to use Halloween as a way to glorify God:
- Don’t turn out the lights and ignore it. Halloween won’t go away. So if you don’t support this holiday, determine to turn a negative into a positive.
- If you’re staying home: buy some candy, answer the door and when you put candy in the children’s bags include some information about the church.
- If you have children, don’t take fun away from them, go “Trick-or-Treating” with them. And take some tracts to hand out along the way. I mean, think about it: how often can you go door to door on a day when almost everyone will answer the door with a pleasant attitude?
- Instead of playing scary music, play Christian music really loud.
- Have a Halloween party and instruct everyone to come as a Bible character.
- Buy a pumpkin and carve a cross in it, placing a candle inside to symbolize that Jesus is the light of the world.
- PRAY! Pray for the safety of the children who will be out on that night, but more importantly pray that the Gospel will go out that night as well—and that through God’s word some lost soul might come to know Jesus.
There will always be those who use special events like Halloween for menacing purposes—teenagers who toilet paper houses or vandalize businesses or experiment with ouji-boards and witchcraft. That sort of thing doesn’t make Halloween inherently evil; it just reveals the sinful nature of the human heart. Heck, when I was living in Chicago, people would riot in the streets just because the Bulls lost a basketball game—and sometimes because they won! People will use any excuse to practice evil, it’s our job to overwhelm evil with good—to overwhelm the tradition of ghosts and goblins with the truth of God’s goodness and love. In the end, the trick is to treat Halloween as a strategic opportunity rather than a time of satanic oppression.
I like a story about Halloween that Laurie Beth Jones tells in her book, Grow Something Besides Old. She talks about one Halloween night when she had underestimated the number of children who would come to the door to trick or treat, and she ran out of candy. In desperation, she began giving out quarters, nickels, and dimes.
One little girl about 5-years-old dressed as a fairy princess came to her door. She had the little crown and wand and everything. Jones dropped two quarters into the child’s sack, and said to her, “I’ve run out of candy, but tomorrow you can take these coins to the store and turn them into real candy.” The little girl stepped back, looked up at her, and said, “Lady, this isn’t a real wand.”
We know that Jesus died and was raised again so that He might be “the Lord both of the dead and of the living.” So our obligation is to make Him Lord of our lives. If there is anyone here who is not yet a Christian and would like to be saved by the blood of Christ, Jesus is calling—softly and tender, He’s calling and looking for you…