When I grew up we didn’t celebrate Halloween. We did, on occasion, participate in a Fall Festival at our church where I would dress up like Moses or David or some other appropriate Old Testament character. I still remember my David costume with my five stones made out of cotton balls that were spray painted silver. Halloween was witches and goblins and other such unsavory characters. Good Christians did not participate. I understand the motivation. Much of the images that surround Halloween don’t seem to honor Christ. There are people in every neighborhood who seem to celebrate the most ghoulish elements of the holiday and it can be disconcerting for some, especially young children.
With that said, we handle things a bit differently in our home with my children than we did when I was growing up. Our kids dress up and we trick-or-treat with them. While I appreciate and can honor different convictions regarding Halloween, I thought it might be helpful to take a minute to help you understand why we made the decision we did, and why we think it might be helpful for you to do the same. Consider a few guiding principles as you make your own decision:
This is an area of conviction, not command.
Before we go any further it’s important to note that whether we celebrate Halloween or not is not a question that is morally certain in scripture. I didn’t realize this growing up in a more strict environment. In my childish mind it was pretty clear; those who celebrated Halloween were bad, and those who didn’t were good. As I have grown and understood the gospel more fully, and studied the Bible more thoroughly, I realize that, first of all, there is no such thing as good and bad people. We are all bad. Every last one of us. Thankfully our badness doesn’t keep us out of heaven; disbelief does.
Beyond that, though, it’s also clear that engagement in celebrations like Halloween are areas where our conviction, based on scriptural principles, needs to guide us. Much like what school our kids should attend, and whether we should watch certain movies, celebrating Halloween is a question of conviction and people who love Jesus will come down on both sides of this equation, and that’s ok. What’s not ok is determining that your conviction has to be shared by everyone else and then equating moral good or evil based on adherence to your personal conviction.
This is an opportunity for engagement with your neighbors.
One of the primary reasons that our family participates, beyond the fact that kids dressing up in cute costumes and getting candy from their neighbors is fun, is that Halloween gives us a unique opportunity to meet our neighbors. There are a few things that shifted in American culture in the past few decades that have made this increasingly difficult. Things like air conditioning, television, garages, and back decks have moved our culture away from sitting on the front porch and waving at our neighbors as they walk by with their families in the cool of the evening. Instead we park in our garage, shut the door, watch TV in the a/c until it’s cool enough to sit on our back deck and look around our fenced-in yards, and we never get to know our neighbors.
Many of us might go days or weeks without ever even seeing our neighbors. There are precious few times in the year when our neighbors open up their homes, or walk down the streets, and want to have conversations with us. As an evangelistic people who believe that most people come to faith in the context of relationship, Halloween affords a unique, nearly unprecedented opportunity to get to know people we might not otherwise get to know. Halloween can even be a godsend as our neighbors want to engage with us. I don’t want to miss that opportunity.
This is a time for the church to leave her walls.
While the Great Commission calls us to “go and tell,” let’s be honest, most of our churches function on a “come and see” philosophy. Nearly the entire life of many of our churches is self-contained on our church building’s physical property. We have clubs, studies, and even sports leagues. Our intent has often been good. We want fellowship, we want to support Christian environments, and we want to support other Christians. While these may be good intentions, they can miss the Great Commission impulse of the Christian church.
Intentionally or not, many Christians aren’t fulfilling the Great Commission because they are absent from the mission field around them. Halloween is a great opportunity to encourage church members to engage their community. Halloween happens to fall on a Wednesday this year. At the church where I pastor we have cancelled our Wednesday night activities so that our people are free to participate in Halloween with their kids, or to engage their neighbors if they don’t have kids at home.
Cultural engagement is not in opposition to holiness.
Finally, there is a theological point that needs to be made. There is a prevalent idea in the church that seems to believe that withdrawal from culture is more holy. This is unfortunate because it contradicts both the Old and the New Testament understanding of Christian engagement with the world. In Jeremiah 29, for instance, when the Israelites found themselves as exiles, waiting for God to take them out of Babylon and take them back to Jerusalem, God told them not to withdraw from culture, but rather they were to embed themselves in culture, settle into the culture, and make it their home. What’s more, he told them to seek the peace (shalom) of Babylon. Even though Babylon was a hedonistic culture, God called his people to invest in the culture and seek to bless a culture which was much more blatantly opposed to a godly worldview than our culture today.
In the New Testament we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), we are told to be in the world but we are not to adopt the worldview of the non-believing world around us (John 17:14-19). Our responsibility is not to withdraw from the world; to do that would consign the world to separation from God. Instead God has called us to befriend and engage, to love and make sure the gospel is heard and the implications of the gospel are made known. We are called to work within the culture to bring about God’s peace.
So, as you consider your plans this Halloween, consider whether or not this might be a divine opportunity for you to engage your community. Could it be that the “Devil’s holiday” might be God’s unique opportunity for you to work redemptively for the sake of God and the gospel? I think it might just be that.