Of Witches and Goblins and Big Black Cats

As many of you know, I avoid creating sermons for holidays—they seem so perfunctory and repetitive. That, and I'm rebellious and stubborn at heart, so having the calendar implicitly tell me I must do something makes me want to do it all the less.

Now Halloween, which is a couple weeks away, isn't a holiday where there would be a sermon expectation—other than in very conservative churches where they might expect a "Don't do it!" talk to help keep their children from falling into the temptation of celebrating the Devil's holiday—selling their soul for a bunch of unhealthy foodstuffs that modern liberals consider so evil that they are trying to tax it and ban it from schools.

Hmmm…has Alan just shown his hand…and is about to say that those who celebrate Halloween are celebrating with Satan?

You'll just have to wait and see. 🙂

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Where did you get the title?

Before we open our bibles, you might be wondering where the name of this talk came from. Unlike Christmas, I can't think of a whole bunch of Halloween carols…probably a good thing. However, for some reason the phrase "witches and goblins" had stuck in my head, and when I googled it, one of the results was a song for children called Halloween Day, which says:

Do you know about a day
That's not so very far away
Everywhere there's orange and black
And chills are running up your back.

Jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and bats,
Witches and goblins and big black cats
Spooky spooks come out to play
On the thirty-first, Halloween Day.

Let's pick a costume we can wear
And all the neighbors, we will scare
When at their door we trick or treat
And they will give us something sweet.1

And then the chorus repeats…

Does that sum-up your childhood Halloweens? It does mine, although I would have snuck in a verse about candy, candy, and more candy…something I suspect the lyricist didn't because Listen & Learn Music songs "are meant to help children of all ages and abilities learn and grow through music." The same public schools that are banishing sweets probably wouldn't be terribly excited about a song that celebrated hoarding sugar and eating so much of it you almost get sick. 🙂

Should you…?

Enough of this preamble.

Simple question.

Should you celebrate Halloween?

But for Christians it isn't really a question of whether you should celebrate Halloween, is it?

Isn't it rather, "Is it okay to celebrate Halloween?"

It's not like the controversy is because there is a yearly argument between churches that liturgically believe we should recognize All Saints' Day (and the evening before it) and those who don't. Although Halloween is a contraction of All-Hallows-Even, which is just another name for All Saints' Eve…and thus actually the name of a Christian holiday, we all recognize that the standard Western celebration is far from Christian.

And it's hard to argue as we put on a Devil or a witch's costume that we aren't connecting with the pagan aspects of the original non-Christian holiday the preceded it.

So…we aren't asking if we should follow a Christian tradition…we are asking if it's okay we celebrate a holiday that has kept a fairly tight connection to its pagan roots.

Principles

Before we answer that question, let's establish a few principles.

The first one we'll get (in part) from a very familiar set of verses, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Before we mold a principle out of that, let's look at two other quick references. First Romans 15:4:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

And 1 Corinthians 10:5-6:

5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Principle #1 for today's discussion is:

We look to the Bible, and the Bible only, for "our instruction."

This is very important. If you've ever heard arguments for or against Halloween, how scripturally-based have they been? Even when they have given plenty of biblical references, how tenuous have the connections been? Did they clearly say, "Yes, it's okay" or "No, avoid it like the plague?"

No matter how great a preacher can make an argument sound, it isn't sound if it isn't the clear voice of Scripture.

Our second principle comes from Ephesians 5:11 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

"Take no part in…works of darkness."

20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

"Abstain from every form of evil."

Principle #2 is:

If it is wrong, don't do it.

A simple principle that even we Christians seem to ignore frequently…aided often by the power of rationalization.

For our third principle we'll look to a section that seems both appropriate and not appropriate to suck into this discussion, Colossians 2:16-19:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

The reason I said this might not seem to apply is because, as alluded to before, we generally don't think of Halloween as a Christian holiday…and Paul is definitely speaking of not judging other Christians on how they choose to worship and what liturgical days they choose to keep.

However, in that and other places Paul (or I should say God through Paul?) made it clear we should also not judge people who don't get caught up in the pious religious rules…for instance, whether it is okay to eat meat sacrificed from idols. Of course, it works both ways…if someone doesn't want to do something we should not judge them for avoiding it.

To quote Paul again:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 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.

5 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 (Romans 14:1-5)

"Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

Principle #3 is:

You must decide…not someone else for you…or you for someone else.

Well, I suppose, unless you are parents…in which case it is your duty to learn God's will and bring your children up in it.

Our final principle could come from Scripture, but it jumped out at me while I researching Halloween in my Bible software. This was in a Discipleship Journal from back in 1995:

Local author Jean Fleming tells about a woman she invited to study the Bible with her. Jean's friend had seemed interested in spiritual things, so Jean was surprised when she was hesitant.

“I don't want to have to be against so many things,” her friend explained. From observing some Christians, she had the impression that one of the major Christian doctrines was that celebrating Halloween was sinful.

It is a tragic statement that believers in our city have become known to many unbelievers mostly for what we are against. We may win a few elections, but, thus far, we have not won the hearts of the people.

Ouch!

Is that how the Antrim Church of Christ is known?

Is that how you are known? By all the things you won't do, instead of all the freedom, through Christ, you can share with unbelievers?

Principle #4 is…

Even not doing something reflects back on God. Choose wisely.

Four principles

So our four principles are:

  • We look to the Bible, and the Bible only, for "our instruction."
  • If it is wrong, don't do it.
  • You must decide…not someone else for you…or you for someone else.
  • Even not doing something reflects back on God. Choose wisely.

Rapid Fire

Now that we've laid a foundation I'd like to share some thoughts rapid-fire.

First, nowhere in the Bible does it say you cannot celebrate Halloween unless you are doing so in a pagan manner. In my opinion the burden of scriptural proof is on those who vehemently say that Christians should avoid Halloween completely—since they are making the proactive claim. Although they can provide some reasonable arguments against recognizing the day, they can't prove letting your little munchkin dress up as a cow and go milk people for candy is Satanic.

However, if you are celebrating it in a pagan manner, then verses like these come into scope:

19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).

What you choose will either scoot you up to the table of the Lord or the table of demons. Again, choose wisely.

Second, dressing up as evil beings is participating in a pagan ritual. It comes from the old Celtic feast of Samhain (sah-ween) where they believed "that during the night of November 1 demons, witches, and evil spirits roamed the earth in wild and furious gambols of joy to greet the arrival of ‘their season'—the long nights and early dark of the winter months."2

The only way, it seemed, for scared humans to escape the persecution of the demons was to offer them things they liked, especially dainty food and sweets. Or, in order to escape the fury of these horrible creatures, a human could disguise himself as one of them and join in their roaming. In this way they would take him for one of their own and he would not be bothered. That is what people did in ancient times, and it is in this very form the custom has come down to us, practically unaltered, as our familiar Halloween celebration.3

I suspect most of us weren't familiar that such a major part of our Halloween activities was so directly connected with pagan superstition and rituals.

So, although the Bible doesn't tell you you can't celebrate Halloween, it does cast dark clouds over dressing up as evil beings. Technically receiving candy isn't the same as putting it out for demons…but you should also be aware of that connection with its precursor.

And if you still aren't convinced you shouldn't dress up as a monster or demon or witch or other bad character, let me ask you this.

Would you go to a costume party dressed up like the person who raped your neighbor?

Would you go to a costume party dressed up like the man who murdered your cousin?

If not, why would you dress up like Satan or any being, mythical or not, that represents the one who is constantly raping your neighbors and killing your relatives?

Having said all this, at some point former pagan connections can become so remote or weak they no longer matter. If we were going to avoid everything that has pagan roots we'd find even communication difficult.

If you don't believe me, just tell me what day of the week it is without allowing any pagan connections.

Well?

Well? 🙂

And often you can't even tell me what month it is given that restriction.

Third, beyond not keeping it in a pagan way…don't celebrate in any other way that would go against God's commandments. I'm going to assume I won't have to give you Scriptures that prove, for instance, you:

  • Shouldn't eat too much — that is gluttony
  • Shouldn't drink too much at Halloween parties
  • Shouldn't dress in an immodest costume…no, it's not okay to show up as a Playboy Bunny just because you are pretending
  • Shouldn't get to caught up in any "sensual pleasures" — that is debauchery

If you think it's okay to celebrate Halloween, do so acting like a Christian.

Otherwise your true costume may be your Christianity.

Let me repeat that.

If you celebrate Halloween in a manner not befitting a Christian, then…

Perhaps your true costume may be your Christianity…

And maybe how you act on a holiday is really you finally taking your costume off.

Wrapping up…

So…at this point have I proven to you whether you should or shouldn't celebrate Halloween? I hope not…the time limits of a sermon…even with me running over as I have today…mean we've really only touched on some items. If that restriction didn't exist, we (for instance) would spend a little more time looking at the concept of syncretism…where paganism is mixed with Christianity…and see what things like the incident with the golden calf tell us about God's view of at least some aspects of Halloween.

We might even share a couple funny stories…but all I'll do is share one joke from Jim Samuels:

Last Halloween was bad for me. I got really beat up. I went to a party dressed as a piñata.4

🙂

Okay…so I like corny jokes!

But instead of going on for a whole bunch longer I'd like to read something that, for now, sums up my view of whether you or I should celebrate Halloween. It's written by Hank Hanegraaff, the "Bible Answer Man." I'm reading from his The Complete Bible Answer Book pages 81 and 82:

First, we should recognize that Halloween is indeed rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (sah-ween). The Druids believed that on the eve of Samhain the veil between the present world and the world beyond was pierced, releasing demons, witches, and hobgoblins en masse to harass the living. In order to make themselves immune from attack, people disguised themselves as witches, devils, and ghouls; attempted to ward off evil spirits by carving grotesque faces on gourds illuminated with candles; and placated the spirits with a variety of treats.

Furthermore, we can learn a lot from how the early Christians responded to Halloween. October 31, the eve prior to All Saints Day was designated as a spiritually edifying holiday (holy day) on which to proclaim the supremacy of the gospel over the superstition of ghosts. Thus, "all Hallows Eve," from which the word Halloween is derived, was an attempt on the part of Christianity to overwhelm the tradition of ghouls with the truth of the gospel.

Finally, although Halloween is once again predominately pagan there is a silver lining. Like our forefathers, we can choose to celebrate "all Hallows Eve" by focusing on heroes of the faith—those who, like Martin Luther, were willing to stand for truth no matter what the cost. We might also use the occasion to introduce our children to such great classics as Pilgrim's Progress. In the end, the trick is to treat Halloween as a strategic opportunity rather than a time of satanic oppression.5

Punch line? Whatever you do or don't do, do or don't do it like a Christian.

Footnotes

1Halloween. (n.d.). Listen & Learn Music. Retrieved October 15, 2011, from http://albums.listenlearnmusic.com/album/halloween

2The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students' Source Book; The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 9. 1962; 2002 (447—448). Review and Herald Publishing Association.

3Ibid.

4Streiker, L. D. (2000). Nelson's big book of laughter : Thousands of smiles from A to Z (electronic ed.) (187). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

5Hanegraaff, H. (n.d.). How should Christians respond to Halloween? Christian Research Institute. Retrieved October 15, 2011, from http://www.equip.org/bible_answers/how-should-christians-respond-to-halloween-


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