Halloween has long been a source of controversy for Christian families; while some Christians embrace the holiday (more or less) others just turn the porch lights out and seek to warn people away from the ‘devil’s holiday.” In around 25 years of ministry, I have served in churches that have preached against the holiday, churches that have tried to redeem it, and churches that have simply taken a neutral stance. I’m now about 4 months into my tenure as the pastor of a California Baptist church 2300 miles from our original home, and this particular church over the years has taken the ‘redeem the holiday’ sort of approach, seeking to do an outreach focused Trunk or Treat that is designed to reach the community while not full on diving into the more violent/dark/scary parts of Halloween. Predictably, such an approach has caused some discussion among church members – should we be implicitly supporting such a holiday by doing a Halloweenish themed outreach? It’s a great question to grapple with!
Last night at our normal VBC prayer time, I was asked a very direct question: “What do YOU think about Halloween?” I thought it was a great question, and I was happy to answer it verbally, and thought it might be a good idea to write some of it out, so here is my take on Halloween in a large nutshell: About 15 years ago, I was the youth pastor in a church that disdained Halloween and anything to do with it. The overall teaching was essentially that Halloween was a demonic holiday and that Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I have some very dear friends who are deeply committed (and mature) Christians who have similar views, citing verses like Ephesians 5:11 (“Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”) as justification for Christians to not associate with Halloween. While I think vs. 12 indicates that Paul was probably talking about something that would only be tangentially related to Halloween, Ephesians 5:11 does contain a powerful truth for Christians. We should NOT participate in the dark things of the world. We are to be IN the world, but not OF the world. I greatly appreciate the viewpoint of people who have nothing to do with Halloween because of conviction or conscience. Personally, our family does not celebrate Halloween. I put the word ‘celebrate’ in italics for a reason. We do have a couple of pumpkins on our front porch. Some of our kids might acquire some candy on or about the 31st day of October. Indeed, some of them will likely dress up – not in costumes that glorify the darkness, but in lighthearted and whimsical outfits. I myself might even dress up for Trunk or Treat – I do have an apropos Brother Chase the Monk outfit for the occasion. In my mind, that doesn’t constitute celebrating Halloween. Perhaps it does to you…and, in Christ, we have the freedom to disagree on that – and both of us could be right!
How can that be? Great question! Romans 14 is a very, very helpful passage in the Word of God that does not get the attention that it deserves. If we would understand and follow the truths of Romans 14, there would be far less quarreling and separation in the church, both of which are clearly forbidden by Scripture. Consider this chunk of Romans 14, discussing different approaches to eating and the celebration (or non-celebration) of various holidays and holy-days:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.“
Did you catch that?! Paul warns us first about passing judgment on other Christians, assuring us that it is the job of the MASTER (Jesus), not fellow servants to pass judgment on each other. Then he presents two sets of hypothetical people. One eats anything and the other only eats vegetables. Which one is right?? According to Paul, the astonishing answer is that BOTH are right, as long as what they are doing is done out of faith. In his second example, one Christian observes multiple religious holidays (probably Jewish sabbaths and festivals) while the other Christian has the view that all days are the same. Again – who is right?? BOTH!! Both opinions are valid as long as they are held in faith and a sincere desire to please the Lord. Let’s read a little bit more of Romans 14:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Great, great passage, and so relevant and needed for the church today! Two major things I see here in the above paragraphs: #1 Do NOT judge each other and #2 Do NOT cause one another to stumble by your actions. We must be careful on both accounts. Our commands are to not cause anybody to stumble, nor to judge fellow believers, but to PURSUE what leads to peace and mutual upbuilding. Upbuilding is my new favorite word, even though my spell check doesn’t like it at all!
How does all of this apply to Halloween and ‘Trunk or Treat’ style outreaches? First of all, let me say this: Romans 14 is discussing what we might call ‘doubtful matters,’ or things that Scripture doesn’t clearly teach about. We can’t use these passages as a justification for things that Scripture clearly forbids (drunkenness, abusive words, racism, sexual immorality etc.) But in the case of Halloween, some Christians are convinced by their understanding of the Word to NOT have anything to do with it. Those Christians should indeed NOT associate with Halloween! (“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5) Other Christians do not share that same conviction and have liberty, as long as they are not a stumbling block and as long as they are doing what they are doing in faith. Neither group should judge the other. That is the Lord’s business, and not mine or yours.
My own view of Trunk or Treat is that we, as a church, are doing a Mars Hill sort of thing (see Paul’s sermon in Acts 17) whereby we are using a cultural holiday as a springboard for sharing the love and gospel of Jesus. I am hopeful that it will be a fruitful outreach, and that such a thing pleases the Lord! If, however, you struggle with the idea, then you should most certainly NOT participate in such a thing if your church does it! (“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23) And, as mentioned above, you really shouldn’t judge or condemn those who do participate in it. That’s not your role, and the Bible is much more clear on its teaching to not judge fellow believers than it is clear on whether or not (and to what degree) Christians should participate in secular holidays.
So – if you are a Christian with concerns about Halloween and being a party to darkness, then do NOT participate in Halloween. You would not be able to do so with a clear conscience, or in faith. You should not feel guilty about not participating, and you are not a stick in the mud. I would urge you not to seek to evangelize other believers to that position, as ‘each one should be convinced in their own mind,’ and you have more important things to evangelize people about. Similarly, if you are not convicted about participating in Halloween, or in a Trunk or Treat style outreach, I believe you have the freedom to do so, provided you stay faithful to the Word of God. I would advise you to avoid movies that glorify gore and violence (let’s be honest: very few Halloween themed movies are wholesome in any way), and I would advise you to be careful not to glorify darkness or evil, but other than those things, celebrate with liberty! Just be sure to avoid judging those brothers and sisters who believe they should have nothing to do with Halloween. They don’t have to answer to you, they have to answer to their Master (and yours!)
Here’s the whole of Romans 14 in the HCSB translation for your edification:
1 Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does,because God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 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, yet he thanks God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 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. 9 Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. 10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. 11 For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. 14 (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) 15 For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. 16 Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. 20 Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. 23 But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.