Halloween Is Awesome … or Awful: Romans 14 & Matters of Conscience

Occasionally we get this question: Should Christians celebrate Halloween? And, by “occasionally,” we mean “every Halloween.” On one side are those who see nothing wrong with a little dress up and candy noshing (other than the accompanying cavities). On the other side are those who stand at their windows and weep to see all the neighborhood kids slowly circling the neighborhood as Narnia’s White Witch fills their baggies with Turkish delight. (Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you get the point).

We’d posit that neither an aggressively pro- or anti-Halloween approach is completely appropriate. Functionally, Halloween isn’t inherently good or bad. Paul, talking about a similar subject in Romans 14, says that each must be fully persuaded in his own mind; whatsoever is not of faith is sin; and we are not to judge another Man’s servant (Romans 14:4–5, 23). Halloween does offer us all an opportunity, however, to engage our neighbors missionally.

For those that can’t get past the historic ties between October 31 and the occult, that is a matter of conscience and we’d encourage you to be faithful to the Holy Spirit in that. “Hallowed Eve” started as the commemoration of the night before All Saints Day. There is no doubt that some members of the occult have, historically, commandeered it as a time to celebrate the work of evil spirits in opposition to “the saints.” But realize that cultural symbols are like words in a language: their historic roots are not as important as current usage. Most people realize that “rock and roll” was a 1950s euphemism for sex applied to a genre of music. But those today who say, “I like Christian rock music” are usually not trying to infuse sexual overtones into that music. In language, the etymology of a word is less important than its current, semantic meaning.

Cultural symbols work the same way. Thus, a lot of people going “trick or treating” at Halloween are not intending any connection with occult practices. Some even think of it as mockery.

Some believers, however, cannot get past those historic (and they will argue, current) connections between Halloween and occult ideas. Thus they consider anything participation in this history, like giving or receiving candy in its name, to be participation with demons. If that describes your attitude, we would encourage you to follow your conscience carefully. Whatever is not of faith is sin. But Paul tells us to allow freedom for other believers to peaceably disagree in things like this, too. It’s hard to think of a better application point for Romans 14 in our current day than this issue. So, by Paul’s council, follow your conscience before God, but allow your brothers and sisters in Christ to follow theirs without judging them.

For those of you who do send your kids out trick-or-treating, Halloween presents a unique opportunity for outreach. And no, we don’t mean by standing in your yard and preaching against the devil. Here are a handful of articles with some helpful ideas:

3 Tips for Reaching Your Neighbors This Halloween, Jeff Mangum. As Mangum points out, the central question regarding Halloween needs to be, “In light of the gospel, how does God want me to put this day to use for the name of Jesus to be magnified?” Regardless of our stance on Halloween and its origins, there is no other time of year when our neighbors congregate outside en masse. Mangum has three creative solutions: 1. Host a costume party, 2. Have dinner on the lawn while you pass out candy (I really like this.), or 3. Go trick-or-treating with your neighbors.

12 Simple Ways to Be on Mission This Halloween, Jeff Vanderstelt. Like Mangum, Vanderstelt wants us to view Halloween as missionaries. So how do we do Halloween “on mission?” As Vanderstelt reminds us, we should be hospitable, go to “their place, and be prayerful. Some of the easiest (but highest reward) counsel he offers: have something for the parents, join the community events, and don’t just give out candy…give out the best candy.

3 Ways to Be Missional This Halloween, Seth McBee. This is a strong—if periodically sarcastic—defense of engaging in Halloween instead of hiding in the ghetto of your church’s “Fall Festival.” “If you start reading about Halloween’s roots, it’s hard to find an answer of where it came from. But, regardless of where it comes from, the question at hand should be: Why is Halloween celebrated today?  For most of us, Halloween isn’t a time where we celebrate the dead and go and skin a goat and sacrifice it to Satan.  For most of us, it’s a time to dress up our kids as a super hero and send them to strangers’ houses to get free candy. It has become just part of our culture in the West and has very little to do with the ‘darkness’…it’s not good, it’s not evil…it’s just something we celebrate, like the 4th of July.  I know we might have stories of darkness, but there are also many stories of overdrinking and evil happening on our other holidays as well.”

Four Reasons You Should Go Trick-or-Treating Tonight, Ed Stetzer. Ever the missional mind, Stetzer joins the fray to remind us why not only Halloween, but trick-or-treating itself is a good idea for Christians: 1. There is no other night when people you’ve never met come to your door. 2. There is no other night when you get to go to your neighbor’s door and introduce yourself without any awkwardness. 3. You don’t have to worship the devil to go up and ask your neighbor for candy. 4. You can meet more neighbors in one night than any other day of the year.

3 Tips for Discipling Your Kids Through Halloween, John Murchison. Finally, here’s an article geared towards shepherding your kids. It’s one thing to have a missional mindset about Halloween; it’s 2.0 to get your kids to share that mindset. (After all, candy is a strong idol.) Murchison gives us some starters: 1. Every decision is an opportunity for discipleship, so lean on the Word, prayer, and community. 2. Do not fear; you’re going to make some parenting gaffes, so accept it and trust God anyway. 3. For or against Halloween, we’re all on the same team. Christians who choose to do something different than you on Halloween aren’t the enemy, so let’s keep the “friendly fire” to a minimum.

Special thanks to @BoweButler for pointing us toward many of these resources. Bowe claims to be “70% Viking descendant.” Our sources have yet to verify what the other 30% is, but many have speculated Nephilim.