Making decisions about how much we, as Christians, participate in cultural traditions can be tricky. Halloween is one of those things that has brought up a lot of questions for our family. We want our kids to have as much fun as humanly possible, but we never want to participate in something that does not honor God. Here are some principles that have helped guide our thinking.
I remember the feeling of exhilaration when I left my house, dressed all in black. The night air was thick in my lungs. I met up with my best friend, Dion, who was also dressed up like a ninja. It was Halloween, and the world was our oyster. An oyster full of candy. We ninja-stepped into the night, smiling beneath our masks. I will never forget that childhood memory; that moment of excitement and joy, as we went trick-or-treating on that chilly night in October.
Fast forward ten years. I got radically saved when I was 21 and set my mind and heart to follow Jesus with every ounce of my being. I didn’t quite know what being a Christian meant in those early days, and I figured it mostly meant not cussing, not looking at women, and going to church. Throwing away all my CDs with swearing in them was just one of the ways I attempted to follow these rules. It seemed clear to me at the time: This was what it meant to follow Jesus — you get rid of all the bad stuff in your life.
For many years, for me, Halloween was in the same category as my Tupac CD. It was something to be discarded, something incompatible with the Christian life. I felt that participating in this pagan holiday would somehow cause me to be tainted or even compromised spiritually.
As a parent seeking to raise healthy, wise, godly children, it can be challenging to figure out if, and how, to celebrate Halloween. Is it a harmless night of adventure for little ninjas to create memories with their friends? Is it a holiday so tainted by its association with evil and darkness, that participating in any way is a betrayal of Christ?
Asking the right questions.
For my benefit and yours, I am seeking to wrestle this topic down as far as I can. Every year, my kids ask the question: “Can we dress up and trick or treat this year?”
Our track record is inconsistent. One year we did a harvest festival. Another year, we trick-or-treated. Another year, we turned off the porch light and watched shows in the basement.
Every year when they ask, I think to myself, “I don’t have time to engage with this right now.” The question always seems so inconvenient. The weight of this harmless question is so disproportionately heavy on my soul. There’s more theology surrounding this topic than meets the eye. But I think the answers are simple.
What are the options for celebrating Halloween?
There seem to be three main options for how to approach Halloween. In the course of my life, I’ve done all three.
- Avoid Halloween like a used cotton swab.
- Find an appropriate substitute without the negative associations of Halloween.
- Embrace Halloween with little or no qualification. Enjoy the fun with everyone else.
I’m going to fast forward here and let you know that, as a parent of kids aged 5, 7, and 9, I land somewhere between #2 and #3. There is no problem I see with my kids dressing up as ninjas and princesses and participating in trick-or-treating. Dressing them up as demons and witches is something that I would not do. I am not in favor of exposing them to dark, disturbing, or scary things as a part of festivities.
We’ve been candid with our kids that we, as Christians, are people of the light and we’ve explained that Halloween is a time when some people exalt darkness, evil, and death. It’s been an excellent opportunity to get the kids thinking about themselves as ambassadors of life and light, what that looks like, and how that impacts our activities. We’ve tried to use it as an opportunity to get them to engage with the theology of their identity in Christ practically, and that’s been beneficial.
But even as I say this, I want to emphasize that this is where we land in our family and I understand and appreciate how people can land different places on either side of the spectrum. The Bible leaves room for people to be convinced in their own mind and conscience in many areas, and where the rule of law is not necessary. I find this to be one of those areas.
With that said, there are some great Biblical principles that can help frame our thinking about this matter.
Judging one another
The first principle is the framework that even enables me to identify that some issues are a matter of law, and some that are a matter of conscience. Romans 14 talks about this in great detail. Christians need to be very careful not to judge each other harshly on issues of conscience.
The second principle is the act of centering every action (and therefore, every decision) around the axis of God’s glory. This usually cuts right to the heart of our motive, which is the area of God’s primary focus and concern. Am I primarily concerned about what is most convenient or desirable for me, or am I willing to do the deep work of aligning my priorities with God’s and submitting my preferences to His? In other words, how do I celebrate (or not celebrate) Halloween in a way that shows forth the goodness of God, and that shows God to be the center of my affections?
The third principle is fear. For many years, I had a subtle, underlying fear of Halloween. That being out on Halloween could somehow expose me to spiritual corruption. That being out on Halloween could somehow qualify me for divine displeasure and judgment. That perhaps I could unwittingly open myself up to some form of spiritual attack by allowing my kids to go trick-or-treating. First of all, I have found no clear passage of scripture that makes any of the above statements apparent.
But even beyond that, there is a common thread of fear that runs through each statement. Fear that God is going to be mad at me. Fear that I am accidentally going to get some “bad juju” on me, and maybe pick up a curse if I don’t do things just so. This begins to sound more like superstition than Christianity.
We should fear God, and we should never tempt God by going places and doing things contrary to His actual commands.
But we also need to be careful not to make up commands where they don’t exist and obey those pseudo-commands as if they were scripture. We can’t let fear be our interpreter. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.
Let’s engage with the facts, be open to wisdom, and then proceed with boldness and a clear conscience without subjecting ourselves to the bondage of fear. He has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity) but of love and power and a sound mind.
Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. We don’t walk around as timid, fearful people, but as confident and beloved people who serve the omnipotent God.
What’s the opportunity?
By God’s grace, I am learning not to let fear be the main framework and mainstay for my thinking. I am naturally an anxious type, and so this is a giant leap for me. Fear wants to motivate a lot of my decisions. It could be a fear of disappointing God or a fear of letting down the people who count on me or even fear of being criticized or poorly thought of or fear of failure. Most of my worries stem from insecurity, selfishness, and pride. And these fears deter me from being as bold as a lion, which is my birthright in Christ.
Check Your Mindset
Wherever we land on the topic of celebrating Halloween, let’s not be motivated by fear. I want to be the kind of person who is excitedly seeking Kingdom opportunities instead of a person who is anxiously seeking to avoid missteps at any cost. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus contrasts two different mindsets.
In the parable, a wealthy master gives each of his servants a measure of wealth, expecting them to use it wisely and give him a return on his investment when he returns. Two of the servants do precisely that. They act with boldness and without fear. The servants risk, they invest, and they yield a return for the master and when he returns, he is pleased by their attitude of boldness and ingenuity.
The final servant digs a hole and buries the master’s gift. When the master returns, he digs up the single talent and says, “Here, you can have back what is yours.” The master is enraged by this servant’s conservative, anxious, paralyzed mindset. The servant was so concerned with losing the game that he opted not to play. This attitude is not pleasing to God.
This article isn’t about giving you the right answer — it’s an invitation to have the right attitude and posture as we each reckon for ourselves what course of action to take. Let each one be convinced in his own mind and conscience before God.
Let’s Do This!
Let’s be a people of bold anticipation, not a people of anxious calculation. In other words, we aren’t the people who hide in a hole or run away from the issues. We aren’t the people who stick to our party lines and wave our finger at the culture. When did Christianity become synonymous with religious, low risk, anxious, un-passionate people scared that this world will get dirt on me?
Jesus didn’t walk around like that. He did all that he did for the glory of His Father, in boldness and humility and power.
Whether you go out or stay home this Halloween, do it for the glory of God, by the power of God, and without fear.
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