As a pastor, I am sometimes asked if Christians should celebrate Halloween?
Halloween originated under the name Samhain (pronounced sew – in). It was a pagan festival celebrated by the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain. It was believed that this was magical time of the year. Contact with the dead and fortune telling through divination were traditions associated with this event.
When Christianity was introduced to this region of the world, November 1 was established as All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a day where the all the departed in Christ are remembered and those of us who are left behind in this world celebrate their new life in Jesus. October 31, became known as All Hallows Eve, the Eve of All Saints Day.
All Saints Day was a big day for the Church. In times past it was as big as Easter and Christmas. And much like Christmas Eve, everyone would come out for a special worship on All Hallows Eve.
This was this reason that Martin Luther chose to post his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church doors on October 31, 1517. He knew that the church would be full and that many would have the opportunity to read these Theses. The 95 Theses called into question many of the corrupted Church practices of the day and led to spark the reformation. This is the reason why many Lutheran churches celebrate the last Sunday of October as Reformation Sunday.
At Good Shepherd we will be hosting a Harvest Festival on October 27 at 5pm where we will participate in some of the secular customs of Halloween such as wearing costumes and trick-or-treat. Some may wonder why a church would participate in an event like this. There may very well be people who will choose not to participate in this event because of the nature of the holiday and that is ok.
Pastor Stephen Hower, a pastor of a large Lutheran Church in the St. Louis area, writes in his book, Contrary to Popular Belief, of a Halloween where Jay Leno opened up his monolog by telling the audience that he was so frustrated with the way Americans celebrate Halloween. “It has become so secular,” Leno lamented tongue-in-cheek. “I’ll bet none of you even worshiped Satan today! The religious significance is lost! All Halloween means anymore is candy, costumes, and parties! It just isn’t like it used to be.”
What makes this so funny is the way that Christians lament over the secularization of Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Because of this secularization, the true significance of these holidays is often lost.
Many would say the same is true of Halloween. They would say that the Satanic and occult element has been diminished to the point that Halloween has become nothing more than a fun and harmless secular holiday. Whether or not this is true can be debated.
I believe that just as Christmas and Easter have not become totally secularized, neither has Halloween. Christmas and Easter are tremendous opportunities the Church has to bring the hope of Jesus into people’s lives. At the same time, Halloween offers tremendous opportunity for Satan and his legions to plant seeds of despair and fear.
But what does the Bible say to this question? After all, that is what is important. We can say what we want about this day. But as believers we turn to what God has to say.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23 the Apostle Paul writes:
Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive.
This teaching comes in the context of a controversy in the early church in regard to food sacrificed to pagan idols. There were some who would say that it would be sinful for a Christian to eat such meat. There were others who would say that it was just meat and that it really did not make much of a difference if it was part of a pagan sacrifice or not.
In 1 Corinthians 8:4,7–8, we read:
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one… But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Basically what Paul is saying is that two Christians could participate in the same activity; one would be innocent and the other would be sinning. If a Christian believes something is wrong and then does it against his conscience he is sinning. He sins not because the activity in itself is wrong, but because it is against his Christian conscience.
Receiving candy, dressing up in a costume, and decorating pumpkins are not evil activities. A Christian can participate in these things with a good conscience. However, if these activities in connection with October 31 weighs on the believer’s conscience, they should refrain from these activities on that day. This also applies to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other secularized traditions connected with the holidays.
Even if a Christian were to take part in the more innocent elements of this day, they should still be careful to draw a line and refrain from images, activities, and costumes that portray gore, evil, and fear.
Philippians 4:8 says:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
While there may be some Halloween traditions which hold some redeeming qualities, there are many traditions that do not. As Christians we do not need to participate in the activities below the standards of Philippians 4:8.
There is another matter to be discussed here as well. That is the matter of nonbelievers and those who are new in the faith who see us participating in what they might consider to be a questionable activity. Continuing in 1 Corinthians 8:9–13:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone who has a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
In other words, we need to be very careful how we celebrate our Christian liberty around others. Even if we can celebrate a harvest festival on October 37; we should not do so if someone else perceives it as living contrary to our faith as hypocrites. Here we shall deny our Christian liberty for the sake of the cross and the salvation of others.
So what is the answer to the question? Can and should Christians celebrate Halloween? First, let’s not celebrate Halloween – let’s celebrate Jesus. Second, participating in the secular practices of trick or treat, wearing costumes, decorating pumpkins, and other things is permissible but not necessarily beneficial. We should definitely refrain from anything related to Halloween if it goes against our conscience or it would cause someone else to stumble in their walk with Jesus.
If you do participate in Halloween related activities, refrain from images, activities, and costumes that portray gore, evil, and fear. Keep it fun. Keep it friendly. Keep it encouraging. And use Halloween as an opportunity to witness your faith in Jesus.
So what our your thoughts on Halloween? I would love to hear your comments below.