Halloween for Christians: Reject, Receive, or Redeem?Monday, October 31, 2011
Justin Holcomb at The Resurgence has a great post today about the church's uneasy relationship with Halloween. Here's an excerpt below. Check out the complete article "What Christians Should Know About Halloween" here.
Halloween has an uneasy history with the church; Christians have not always been sure what to do with a holiday of apparently pagan origins. Is Halloween unredeemable, such that any Christian participating in the holiday will necessarily compromise their faith? Is it something Christians can participate in as a cultural celebration with no religious ramifications? Or is there the opportunity for Christians to emphasize certain aspects of our own faith within the holiday?
1. Halloween as “Devil’s Day” (Reject)
One of the most famous recent examples of Christian interaction with Halloween comes from Pat Robertson, who called Halloween the “festival of the Devil.” As such, he claimed that participating in Halloween was a mistake for Christians and therefore wrong.
In rejecting this holiday outright, Robertson fails to ask the following question: To what extent does something’s evolution from pagan roots entail that its present practice is tainted? As Albert Mohlernotes, there has been a shift in Halloween from pagan ritual to merely commercial fascination with the dark side. What Pat Robertson misses is that for most people in America, Halloween is about candy. A quarter of all candy sold annually in the US is for Halloween night!
Granted, dressing up as witches and goblins is a tricky issue, but to think that putting on a scary mask or makeup opens you up to the dark side is a bit naïve.
In addition, there are two built-in problems with a blanket rejection position. One is that those who insist on rejecting certain holidays are not being consistent. Should we reject other holidays because there is a propensity toward excess? In other words, if people are inclined toward gluttony on Thanksgiving or Christmas, shouldn’t those holidays be rejected as well? After all, gluttony is a sin. Second, many times the reject position assumes that the evil of the extrinsic world will taint the faith of a Christian. The idea is, “garbage in, garbage out.” But Jesus says the exact opposite is true (Mark 7:21-23). The fruit of our lives (whether in holiness or sin) is always inextricably tied to the root of our hearts. If our hearts are prone toward sin in certain ways, we will find a way to sin. Sin indeed corrupts but the sin is not so much “out there in the world” as much as it is in the heart of every person. The reject position falsely assumes sin is mostly what we do rather than who we are.
2. Can Halloween Be Received and/or Redeemed?
The Christian church has tried to deal with Halloween in many ways throughout the centuries. It has been rejected as demonic and pagan, subsumed into (medieval) Christian ritual, and accepted unthinkingly as harmless fun.
An informed understanding of the history of Halloween and the biblical freedom Christians have to redeem cultural practices (1 Cor. 10:23-33) leads to the conclusion that Christians can follow their conscience in choosing how to approach this holiday.
Just how Christians ought to go about redeeming or receiving Halloween is still a tricky subject. In order to navigate the waters successfully, one must always distinguish between the merely cultural aspects of Halloween and the religious aspects of the holiday. In the past the church has tried to redeem the religious aspects of Halloween by adding a church holiday. But again, this is a questionable area. It seems that Christians can easily receive (with wisdom) some cultural aspects of the holiday, and there is some potential for the pagan cultural practices to be redeemed—but care must be taken. There is a big difference between kids dressing up in cute costumes for candy and Mardi-Gras-like Halloween parties, offensive costumes, and uninhibited excess. Therefore it’s naïve to make a blanket judgment to reject or receive Halloween as a whole. There should be no pressure to participate, but for those Christians whose conscience permits we should view it as an opportunity to engage wisely with our culture.
For those who are still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the devil: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.” Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.
Justin Holcomb is a pastor at Mars Hill Church and Director of the Resurgence. He is also an adjunct professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a PhD from Emory University.