Should we celebrate Halloween?

Q: Should we really be doing Trunk or Treat as a church? Doesn’t Halloween emphasize witchcraft and devil worship?

This is a fair question. As a matter of fact, it’s a great question primarily because it’s important for us to spend time understanding what the Bible has to say about the culture we live in and how the Church has responded to these challenges throughout history.

The first thing we need to do is discuss the spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire and the formation of the Holy Roman Empire. Why on earth would we need to go that far back for this conversation? The first thing we need to note is that Christianity is for all peoples and nations with one simple message: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). When this new faith known only as “the way” began to spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire, it swallowed up every kind of people group. Gentiles of all creeds, colors, and customs were welcomed with open arms into the faith. With this diverse group of people came a diverse group of practices. Now before we discuss why this is a good thing, understand this caused problems in plenty of instances.

A close look at both letters to the Corinthians reveals a gentle, yet firm, Paul chastising the church for all the cultural things they’ve allowed to creep into the church and distract them from the truth of the gospel. While cultural practices can distract us, that does not mean they are necessarily bad. When Constantine began his accension to the Roman throne he saw Christianity as capable of doing something no other religion could. Christianity gave diverse peoples with diverse customs a shared identity of brotherhood and love. To be Roman was originally a statement of ethnicity. As the empire grew, to be Roman evolved into a statement of government issued rights. The right to vote, to be tried by Caesar, and the obligation to pay taxes were all characteristics of being Roman. But neither of these definitions had the power to unite the increasingly foreign populous of the empire in a way that bonded people’s identity. Christianity had that power. Because of Christianity’s simple message of identity and unity in Christ, it was the perfect vehicle for Constantine to unite the largest empire the world had ever known.

Why does this matter to a discussion on Halloween? Although Christianity asks us to make Christ our identity it doesn’t strip us of our personality, culture, background, or uniqueness. The first and lasting fight in the early church was whether or not a Christian gentile had to become a Christian Jew to be saved (Acts 15). Every Apostle landed on the same side with a resounding no!

Some claim that as Christianity spread it stole or “copied” a bunch of pagan holidays. For those who research this, it can be difficult to determine which holidays are mimicking which, which started first, and if some are just flat out coincidental. As Christianity spread and gentile believers became more diverse, more customs and holidays were absorbed. Picture this: you’re a second century gentile. You’ve just become a Christian and one of your favorite holidays is right around the corner. You can’t celebrate it anymore because it involves worshiping a false God. What do you do? You celebrate Jesus instead! How do you celebrate Jesus on that day? The same way you celebrated in the past, because that’s how you know how to celebrate! Now, obviously, if you celebrated a holiday with a child sacrifice, your new found faith in Jesus would prevent you from such abominations. But what if your past celebration was just singing? Is it wrong to sing to Jesus on a specific day because you used to sing to a false god on that day? Is it wrong to sing to Jesus because you used to sing to false gods? Is there anything sinful about that day or singing? Do you see where this is going? Early Christians were not copying other holidays. They were not competing with other holidays. Early Christians were taking the non-sinful, cultural elements of their lives and worshiping their new Lord and Savior.

Halloween’s origins are more than a little tricky to pin down, but it basically goes like this: some 2,000 ish years ago the Druids and the Celts celebrated the holiday Samhain where they worshiped the “Lord of the Dead” and welcomed in the Winter season. In this holiday they conducted animal and human sacrifices, dressed up as ghouls, built bone fires (later known as “bonfires”), and interacted with spirits of the dead. When the Romans conquered the Celts they combined Samhain, over a 400-year period, with their Fall festival, Feralia. During the Middle Ages Samhain gained popularity again with a renewed emphasis on witchcraft. In 835 A.D. Pope Gregory the IV moved “All Saints Day”, which celebrated the lives of dead saints, to November 1st, the day after Samhain, as a day for Christians to celebrate. All Saints Day, or “All Hallows” in old English, led to Samhain, celebrated October 31st, being called “All Hallows Eve.” All Hallows Eve would eventually become Halloween.

What does the Bible say about this?

We mentioned earlier that some unbiblical cultural practices had entered the church and child sacrifices were not an appropriate way to worship Jesus. We know that the Bible condemns witchcraft. And we know that Halloween, or at least Samhain, has to do with witchcraft. So where is the line? Well, that’s enough history. Let’s see what the Bible actually says about this.
Roman’s 14:5-8 says,
“One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.  Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

The real question has to do with your motivation behind celebrating Halloween. There is no doubt that some people out there celebrate Halloween for the sake of celebrating witchcraft. Do we celebrate witchcraft at Trunk or Treat? The more troubling question is should we avoid any practice which resembles unbelievers in their celebration of false religion? If yes, we have to give up the rainbow, singing, Superbowl parties, and much more. Doing something that is not sin while someone else does that same thing for a bad reason does not mean you’re condoning the bad reason. When your non-believing friend says, “your church does Trunk or Treat? Isn’t Halloween about witchcraft?” it’s not a reason to back away, but an opportunity for us to share the gospel and hope we have in Christ to celebrate without witchcraft. The average person doesn’t even associate Halloween with evil. The average person associates Halloween with Elsa, Spiderman, and candy.

Colossians 2:20-23 says, “If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch’? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.” In this verse Paul tells us that some people apply a strict code of regulations because they remain focused on the temporary. It is possible to be so overly religious about the way we live that the regulations become their own religion. A religion of pride in regulation instead of a relationship in our heart towards God. This was exactly what the Pharisees had done while Jesus was alive. The point is, if you don’t celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or any other holiday because someone somewhere can connect those holidays to pagan traditions, I have bad news: almost everything in our everyday life has pagan roots. The Bible says the world is totally depraved. Jeremiah 10:1-5 is not God telling us to avoid Christmas trees; God is saying not to worship idols. The Bible doesn’t tell us to tip toe around life avoiding anything anyone could misconstrue as evil. Christianity is a faith of freedom not a faith of being scared to do anything besides sit still and read the Bible. It teaches us to guard our heart and ensure it only loves our Lord Jesus Christ.

God is not a legalist. In Matthew 12, as Jesus and His disciples are walking through a grain field the disciples began to pick and eat the grain. They did this on the sabbath. The Pharisees took this opportunity to point out that his disciples were not keeping the law, and Jesus tells them a story about David taking the Showbread from the Tabernacle. We know that Jesus kept the entire law, but was constantly accused of breaking it by the Pharisees. They even set traps for Him to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. How could Jesus have kept the whole law if He was openly “working” on the Sabbath? Because the law is not about the list of rules the Pharisees prided themselves on keeping. James says in James 2 that keeping the “Royal Law” (Jesus’ law or what Paul calls the Law of Freedom) is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The law has never been about a list of rules. It has always been about loving God and loving others.

At this point some may bring up the “weaker brother.” Let’s talk about the weaker brother concept as it relates to Halloween. “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to pleasure ourselves” (Romans 15:1). The Bible is crammed full of the message to love others, deny yourself, and generally be selfless. So, you could claim that someone who has struggled with witchcraft or devil worship in the past could be caused to stumble by Trunk or Treat. First, you’d need to show how Trunk or Treat in and of itself glorifies Satan or witchcraft. It’s children in their favorite super hero costumes walking around getting candy from adults in their favorite super hero costumes. No one there is trying to scare anyone, worship the devil, sacrifice children, or do anything remotely resembling witchcraft. The next problem here is what it means to cause someone to stumble. If you’re a believer it is okay to not attend every event the church puts on. It’s not a Sunday morning service and it’s okay for not everyone to participate. Is this “weaker” person a non-believer who has struggled with witchcraft or devil worship? Well, now we’ve come full circle back to the historical portion of this discussion. Wouldn’t it be better for that person to be celebrating Trunk or Treat with kids, costumes, and candy, than be anywhere with people who are actually worshiping the devil and participating in the dark arts? The whole reason we do Trunk or Treat is to give parents and kids a safe place to enjoy the cultural holiday and hear about Jesus. Halloween is a two billion dollar a year industry. And that’s just in candy. So, when we opt out of the cultural scene, all of those kids and parents will go trick or treat somewhere else where there might be actual devil worship or witchcraft going on in the backyard. And finally, the weaker brother passages of the Bible were never meant to be used by the weaker brothers to police everyone else’s behavior. They were meant so we don’t forget our brothers and trample on those who struggle.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not eat meat sacrificed to idols if it causes their brother to stumble and be in sin. They should not eat the food sacrificed to idols if it ruins their testimony, but in chapter 9 Paul says he has “become all things to all people” in order to save many. The part you can’t miss is in between the two. 1 Corinthians 10:25-27 says, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.” Is Paul saying that it’s not a sin if I don’t know about it? No, Paul is saying the same thing the whole Bible says, that God wants our heart. It’s not about a list of rules. We shouldn’t look for reasons to be offended. We shouldn’t seek out ways to determine how everyone else is sinning. Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus for mercy and grace.

So where should this whole discussion lead us? Do we all have to agree that Halloween is acceptable and hand out candy? No! The real point of this discussion is centered around Christian liberty. It’s okay to stay home from Trunk or Treat and have family time. It’s okay to have a Fall festival or Fall party with friends or family instead of Trunk or Treat. No one should look down on their brother or sister who is bothered by Halloween or Christmas. But those who are bothered should not condem those of us who are not bothered by it either. Family does not have to agree perfectly on every topic, but family does have to be family even when they disagree. Jesus gave us the liberty and freedom to act on our conscience within the boundaries of Scripture and told us to do one thing above all: love God, and love others.

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