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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What are Christians supposed to do on Halloween?

This is a question that gets lots of opinions. Some well-meaning, some under grace, some seem legalistic, others divisive. The bottom line if you have kids is that this issue will come up and you should have a reason for how you react to it. You shouldn't act out of guilt or superiority, but it should be based upon the Bible and the Holy Spirit acting in your life. I liked the following summary that our pastor presented last week in church.

There was a time where I felt like we needed to leave town if we wanted to take our kids trick or treating due to the condemnation from other believers we worshiped with. Now, we take the approach our pastor does and feel it's the right one for us.


“Pastor’s Point of View: Finding the ‘Hallow’ in Halloween”
By Joel R. Breidenbaugh, PhD

Well, that title alone is enough to cause some of us to begin to get a little “hot under the collar.” Why in the world would I, as your pastor, argue for taking advantage of a pagan holiday like Halloween? Has the world influenced me so much that I no longer argue for a distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian? Not hardly. Please read on.

Historically, Halloween has had something of a mixed message—both as a time to sacrifice to false gods and later as a time to remember special Christians. You may know about the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain built around their commemoration of the New Year on November 1st (the beginning of winter in Ireland and just after harvest season). This winter season symbolized death and the Celts believed that the evening of the New Year saw the boundary between the living and the dead dissolve. They believed spirits were present and that the presence of these spirits enabled the priests (druids) to predict the future, so they built bonfires and offered crop and animal sacrifices. The Celts further celebrated this festival by wearing costumes of animal skins.
"My son (Kyler) checking out all the 'loot.'"

In the early 7th century AD, Pope Boniface IV declared an “All Saints’ Day” in May (something like a spiritual memorial day), a time for Christians to honor saints and martyrs (similar to our political Memorial Day when we remember men and women who have given their lives in service to our country). The festival was transferred to November 1st by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century. This holiday (literally, holy day) was also known as “All Hallows,” for “hallow” and “saint” both refer to that which is set apart or holy. The day before “All Hallows” was naturally “All Hallows Eve,” and eventually it was shortened to “Halloween.”

In addition to this history, Protestants do well to remember October 31st as Reformation day, for on that day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s work challenged Roman Catholicism, primarily over the issue of the sale of indulgences. Years later, historians have recognized that this moment sparked the eventual Protestant Reformation, ushering in such doctrines and practices as justification by faith, Bible translations in the language of the people, religious liberty, and more.

Much of the spiritual connotation for Halloween has been lost in our current observance of spooky themes, trick-or-treats, and the like. Some Christians, seeing little harm once a year, have completely adapted to this form of Halloween. Other more Fundamentalist-minded believers ridicule anyone for associating with this day.

I prefer to take more of the middle-ground by seizing the opportunity and redeeming the time (cf. Ephesians 5:17; Colossians 4:5) to teach others about the Protestant Reformation and the grace of God at work through Christ in turning sinners into saints. Even though Halloween is largely celebrated in a pagan fashion today, I don’t believe Christians should sit back in idleness. We can put a Christian spin (back) into Halloween—we can emphasize the “hallow” in Halloween.

Turning a pagan day into something different is nothing new to Christianity. We’ve set aside a day in December to compete with ancient Mesopotamia’s worship of false gods. The birth of Christ was celebrated annually as early as AD 98, but Julius I of Rome didn’t choose December 25 until AD 350. Today, virtually the whole world has secularized Christmas into gift-giving materialism, but Christians still remember the importance this “holy day,” when God fulfilled His promise in sending His Son into the world to redeem sinners.
"Yes, the one on the left (Kara) is an 'Air Head' and my other daughter on the right (Kaylyn) is a 'Smartie.'

Or consider Easter as another example. Though it celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it replaced a pagan practice of honoring the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre (“Easter” was a common word that then became applied to Christ’s resurrection). Though worship of this goddess was dying out by the time of Christ, we have no evidence that Christians celebrated Christ’s resurrection annually till the end of the 2nd century. The current date, however, wasn’t established until the First Council of Nicea (325), which set Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. Far too many people associate Easter with a bunny and eggs, but that doesn’t stop people from entering churches in greater mass that day than other day of the year in remembrance of Christ’s victory over death.

Even the very days of the week have been handed down to us from a pagan background. Whether you trace the names of each day of the week through Latin, Roman, or German origins, you cannot escape the fact that our days are named after false deities (Sunday, for the day of the Sun god, Monday for the Moon god, Thursday for the day of Thor, the Norse Viking god, Saturday for the Roman god Saturn, etc.). Though we have retained these names, we should use any and every day to honor our Lord.

Just as Christians have turned special pagan times of the year into holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and just as we live out each day of the week for Christ, so we can redeem the time with Halloween by focusing on that which is hallow (holy). We carry a hope-filled message about God’s faithfulness, and I believe Christians can reform Halloween into something positive for our children and our community.

How do we do this? Maybe we can give out candy with a message for people to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). What about jack-o’-lanterns? Perhaps you could carve a “Christian” version with a cross-shaped nose and underscore the candle as the light of Christ shining through His people. What about dressing up in costumes? As long as the costumes don’t promote evil or aren’t gory, I don’t see any harm in these things. Kids (and adults) have fun playing dress-up, so why not let them express themselves for such an occasion You may want to dress-up like a Bible character or wear an innocent costume and teach others that though we may try to change into a different character, God’s character never changes.

Does that mean that everyone will come to see a message of spiritual hope and that which is hallow in Halloween? No, but neither does everyone understand the significance of Christmas and Easter. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be separate from the world, while seizing the opportunities around us. I would rather redeem the time (and the day) for Christ and put hallow back into Halloween.

Redeeming the time,
Pastor Joel Breidenbaugh


R.P.H said...

What a wonderful post Eric Reinhold! I highly enjoyed that, thank you. I will even pass it on to others, if you don't mind :)

Oh, I left a comment on your "Warspiders" post to get the third clue for Wayne Thomas Batson's, and Christopher Hopper's, Treasure Hunt, When you get a chance can you please send me the third clue?

Barie-ah Hue-en-la said...

Very interesting, thanks for posting that. I used to celebrate Halloween until I met people worshipping their witch gods that day. Ever since then I haven't been able to join in on Halloween. The thought of celebrating the same holiday as THEM . . . Ich.

High School student, Jason Derfuss films a summary video of book 1