Thursday, October 8, 2009
My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines on Halloween:
Q: How should a Christian approach Halloween?
There is frequently disagreement among Christians about the suitability of Halloween festivities for Christian families. The responses can be anywhere on a range from unexamined acceptance to fearful rejection.
On one hand, Halloween does have a sometimes excessive preoccupation with death and evil. It can have the effect of trivializing evils of the spiritual realm, such as Satan, demons, and witchcraft, and this is an appropriate concern for Christians. Critics may even be correct that some American Halloween customs have their origins in the ancient pagan harvest festivals of Western Europe.
On the other hand, the name “Halloween” itself, as well as the date of its celebration on October 31, actually have Christian origins. November 1 has long been celebrated by Lutherans, Catholics, and many other churches as All Saints Day. This day was an occasion in the church for remembering all of the saints, both known and unknown, that is all people who have died with faith in Jesus and are saints because their sins have been forgiven and who now await the Resurrection in the presence of Jesus.
In times past, Christian churches began celebrating festivals the evening before their date. As a result, festivals, such as All Saints Day actually began the preceding evening, resulting in church holidays like Christmas Eve and All Hallows Eve (a.k.a. Halloween). The name Halloween is an old word that really means “the evening before All Saints Day.” In Lutheran and Reformed congregations, October 31 is also remembered as Reformation Day, because it is the day Martin Luther nailed 95 statements of belief to his church door, beginning the Reformation.
The first generation of Christians encountered a similar question to the one today’s Christians face regarding Halloween. In the Roman Empire, the temples of Roman gods doubled as meat markets. After animals were sacrificed to the false god, the meat was then sold in the market. In 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, the apostle Paul answers the question of Christians at that time. He says that, although it would not be acceptable for Christians to worship in those temples, it is not a sin for them to eat meat from the meat markets, because the gods of those temples were really nothing. At the same time, some Christians, out of weakness, were fearful that eating this meat might be a sin. He instructs them that they should not go against their conscience by eating the meat.
This Biblical example is an excellent guide for Christians today in many situations. Where God has made a command, we seek to follow it. This means that Christians should certainly avoid any type of witchcraft, destructive pranks, or aspects of the holiday which glorify death and evil, and parents should wisely guide any costume selections made by their children. On the other hand, there is no harm if children dress like princesses, sports heroes, or what they want to be when they grow up. Even the carving of pumpkins is nothing more than an innocent art project, which Americans were already doing decades before the Irish brought the superstition of the Halloween Jack-o-Lantern (made from a Turnip) to American shores. Christians should certainly avoid aspects of Halloween which go against God’s clear commands, but others are a matter of judgment or conscience.
The most important message a Christian can remember about Halloween is that we do not need to fear. We do not need to fear the power of sin, death and evil because Jesus has conquered all of these by His death and resurrection. For all who trust in Jesus, even death, demons, and Satan himself are powerless to overcome them because they stand under the protection of the Lord of all creation. Neither do we need to fear overstepping the regulations of an angry God, because, even though we do desire to please God by our actions, salvation does not rely on our own ability to know and follow a set of regulations. Paul told the Christians of his day, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) Likewise today, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of carved pumpkins, costumes, and miniature candy bars, but of the peace which comes from relying on Jesus alone for to forgive our sins.