When I was very young, my sisters and I got to choose what we wanted to be for Halloween. One year I was a witch. I had the pointy black hat, a big rubber nose with a gnarly mole on the side and a black tunic. My younger sister was a ghost. We were allowed to wear our costumes to preschool and then again for Trick-or-Treating, and it was a blast. Then something happened which we as children did not fully understand. The big nose remained in the toy box for a while, but the next year when we were choosing our characters, we were no longer allowed to be characters associated with witchcraft, evil or sorcery. We could be fun characters, however, and we embraced that! One year my older sister decided to be an order of french fries, so my mom made a carton out of paper mache! Then, as the years progressed, we started attending the church fall festivals, and we got to dress up like Bible characters! I was the lame man whom the Good Samaritan helped, and my younger sister was the rock from which Moses drew water. Yes, my mom again came through with the paper mache, forming a large rock in which she cut a hole from which she shot water with her water gun! Then we moved halfway across the country and lived out in the country, and the whole event of Halloween sort of died off. It is difficult to go trick or treating when your neighbors are spaced miles apart!
But as I grew older I began to hear the rumblings and disputes that we all know well. “Halloween is a holiday of the occult”. “All Hallow’s Eve is wicked and good Christians would never recognize or celebrate it.” “Celebrating Halloween is fine, as long as we keep it without celebrating witchcraft.” Or, “What’s the big deal anyway?”
I would ague that the issue is not as cut and dry as some like to make it. God has made us each uniquely with a variety of convictions and personalities. There are some among us who love history and study the heritage behind our traditions. They like to celebrate the passover, they dig into ancestry, they study their family lineages, they like to understand why things work and find meaning in the roots. Such people, who follow Jesus, might struggle with the fact that we have a holiday so marked by evil and pagan practices. Such people, however, might also embrace the Catholic roots of Allhallowtide – remembering and praying for the dead.
There are others among us who pay little regard to history and think of Halloween as a fun fall event, to dress up as a neutral character (or even Bible character), and to engage the community in the practice of asking for and giving our candy to local children.
As with all issues and decisions that we make, we must remember to ask the question: What does the Bible say about it? If you look up “Halloween” or even “Alllhallowtide” in your concordance, you will not find the term. What you will find, however, is Paul’s teaching on eating meat sacrificed to idols. If we cannot find the exact cultural issue addressed in Scripture, then we must seek out its teaching on a related topic. Here, we must ask ourselves: Can we or should we partake in a cultural or even religious event that is not based on our religion?
In the days of the early church, there were many religions present. There was an array of gods and idols that were worshipped and there were many holidays and events around these religions. As the Christians were scattered and as the Church was established amongst these people, there were an abundance of questions as to what was allowable and what was right. For example, the Old Covenant taught clearly that there were types of meat that were never to be eaten, and any allowable meat that had been sacrificed to a foreign god was forbidden. But Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law and in doing so He declared all meat clean. You can read more about that here. Yet people struggled with eating meat sacrificed to other gods, and understandably so! This was Paul’s teaching on the topic:
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
– 1 Cor 8.4-13
Paul’s argument is simple: God is the only god. Meat that was sacrificed to an idol or false god has no intrinsic evil or wickedness associated with it, and it will cause us no hindrance nor offer us any benefit before God in eating it. We should be conscientious, however, of the fact that there are some who were raised with the rituals so ingrained in them that they cannot eat the meat in good conscience, and it can cause them to stumble if they see us eating the meat. It is our responsibility as the body of Christ to protect the minds and hearts of our brothers by our actions.
Scripture teaches us plainly that if our conscience will not allow us to do something, then for us it is sin. Even if God does not define the action as sin, such as eating meat. If our conscience condemns us for eating meat, for instance, it is sin to us:
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
– Rom 14.14-23
Whatever is not from faith is sin. My grandmother’s generation considered it a sin to play with playing cards because they are used for gambling. We must avoid the appearance of sin and not even touch cards. They also would not go to movies or even eat in a restaurant that served alcohol. These cultural matters have all but died – and you only run into them today in very small circles. My parent’s generation would eat in restaurants that served alcohol, but would never touch it. Dances and choir that used choreography were forbidden. And when I moved to Denver two years ago, I attended a church that used wine for communion and a small group that had alcohol at Bible study, and a monthly event at a brewery.
I like to play card games. Euchre, namely, is my favorite. But I would never take them to my grandmother’s house or ask her play with me, as that would cause her to stumble. Paul clearly says here that alcohol is clean (as long as one does not get drunk – Eph 5.18), but many were raised with the mindset that it is intrinsically evil and their conscience will not allow them to drink it. There are also many who have a history of abusing alcohol, or saw it abused in their home and cannot drink it in good conscience. These people might very well stumble seeing others drinking. Paul simply states that if you cannot drink wine or play cards in faith, then to you it is sin. Anything that is not from faith is sin.
Therefore, if your conscience convicts you because of your disposition, your affinity for history, or your past experience to celebrate Halloween, then you should not celebrate Halloween. Do not burden your conscience, do not allow yourself to sin by participating in something you cannot do by faith.
But Scripture is clear that a pagan ritual – even a worship service complete with a sacrifice – has no moral weight in and of itself because God is the only true God. If you can receive meat offered to an idol in clean conscience and infiltrate the community by doing so, then Paul affirms it – as long as you do not cause your Christian brother to stumble. Thus, if you can celebrate Halloween to glory and honor of God, if you can do it in good conscience and by faith, then by all means celebrate!
How, then, do we not offend our brother? We cannot live our lives based on every random conviction that other Christians have. There are many Christians who require women to wear dark dresses, prayer bonnets and no makeup. Must we all practice this in order to not offend? There are many Christians who believe instruments are evil. Does that mean every church should remove them from the building in order to not offend?
I do not believe that Paul is teaching us to walk on egg shells. I believe Paul is teaching unity. We must be unified in the body, in mission (to reach the lost), in heart (to glorify God), and in community. Jesus and all of Scripture teach this plainly by admonishing us to consider one another better than and before ourselves. For instance, suppose an alcoholic joins your church. If you drink wine – without getting drunk – over a meal, you might cause an alcoholic to stumble. But the best method of walking through this matter is to talk about it. Do not assume about him, and do not let him assume about you. Have an open dialogue and come to a conclusion about how you will act together. Suppose you have a Muslim woman join your small group. To her, modesty is covering her hair and she feels naked without her head scarf – even after trusting Jesus as savior. Talk about it! There should be mutual respect for various understanding of modesty! The same would go for a Hindi woman who regularly wears abdomen-revealing saris! In her culture this is commonplace.
Now, suppose you have a Wiccan witch come to faith and join your church. She might have celebrated Halloween in a vastly different way than you, and she might have to remove herself completely from the remembrance of the day. But you, on the other hand, recognize that this is the only day of the year when nearly every one of your neighbors will come out of their house and knock on your door. You might hand out tracts with the candy, you might host a meal on your front yard and ask lonely neighbors to join. You might begin the first conversation with a stranger that leads to a friendship and ultimately their salvation. To you, Halloween and trick or treating might be an outreach event. Instead of mutually judging one another, the ex-Wiccan might respect your efforts, and you might understand and respect her need to abstain. Thus you both honor your conscience and you both respect one another.
So, should Christians celebrate Halloween? All Christians should seek to live by faith. Anything that we do that is not of faith is sin – and that means anything we do with neutrality, selfishness, or “just because”. Our actions should be intentional, they should be God-honoring, and they should be free. Are you claiming Halloween as a time to reach out to your neighbors? Are you glorifying God in the costume you choose and the candy you distribute? If so, then by all means celebrate! If your conscience convicts you for the celebration, if you have baggage or a belief system that condones it, then by all means honor your conscience and refrain. And if you have mixed convictions in your small group or church, talk about it. Understand one another. Do not allow a root of bitterness or judgment to be established, but respect and love one another.