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A Christian Approach to Halloween

The church has a complicated relationship with Halloween. For some Christians, it’s a harmless day of candy and fun. For others, it’s a dangerous, foolish indulgence in cultist practices. By now, the annual discussion is much like the sports debates about whether Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the better basketball player. Most people already have a position, know all the standard arguments, and simply go through the motions of rehashing them each year. Yet a recent survey revealed that the topic remains a point of emphasis for the church.

The “Halloween question” is frequently answered with binary choices: good/bad or do/don’t.  Perhaps the more important issue is not just whether to participate but how.

Do or Do Not, But Please Everyone Just Get Along

The closest biblical analogy to the Halloween discussion is Paul’s instructions on whether Christians could eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols (1 Corinthians 8). Like Halloween, the meat was controversial due to its dark, pagan origins. In response, Paul taught that the decision was a matter of conscience and love.  

According to Paul, meat is just meat. If the knowledge of its origins is a stumbling block, then it is wrong to consume it. If not, then eat away (so long as doing so doesn’t hinder other believers). Paul begins with liberty and then works outward.       

Paul doesn’t dismiss the question, but he makes it clear that the “eat or do not eat” decision shouldn’t be the principal concern: “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (8:8). The primary Christian commands to love God and love people trumped the cultural question about the meat. The individual decision should be, first and foremost, understood as a matter of love. The same might be said of Halloween. There are at least three ways love should motivate Christians during the holiday.

Love the Church

Paul emphasized that the potential division within the church over the meat debate was far more consequential than the issue itself. Despite sensationalist headlines, the modern, commercialized celebration of Halloween doesn’t brew up a new batch of 4-year-old witches and satanists every fall. Unfortunately, it often stirs the pot of discord within the Christian community.

In recent years, there has been a rise in churches offering Family Fall Festivals, which look suspiciously like Halloween. These festivals are an excellent way to love the community. But they exist in large part because of a widespread conviction that Halloween cannot be separated from its ancient roots, despite themselves being rebranded Halloween events. How much condemnation and judgment gets sown each year based merely on some sleight-of-hand semantics and a few days on the calendar?

Paul urged the early Christians not to rebuke other believers or debate them into agreement but to ensure that their own decisions didn’t disrupt the larger community. In short, “it’s not all about you.” Christians who partake in Halloween shouldn’t look down on those who don’t, and believers who don’t participate shouldn’t cast pharisaical condemnation toward those who do. A divided church is more frightening than any Halloween ghost or ghoul.

Love of Neighbor

Whether on Halloween or through a Family Fall Festival, the church should be motivated by our love for our neighbor. Christians are certainly not obligated to join in all the unbelieving world’s activities, but our calling not to be “of the world” shouldn’t prevent us from being a loving presence “in the world” (John 17).

Christians might disagree on Halloween, but can we at least all agree that giving excited trick-or-treaters a gospel tract instead of candy is borderline monstrous? The act is well intentioned, and the church should be concerned about children’s eternal salvation. But sometimes the most appropriate way to love our neighbors is through a friendly smile and a bag of Skittles.  

The gospel-tract approach has the stench of usurping the festivities to trick children. What goes through the mind of an excited child in a fun costume when she gets preached at about the gift of eternal life by neighbors who couldn’t be bothered to gift her a mini chocolate bar? Christian homes should not be the ones kids avoid.   

Christians should send a message that we love children as Jesus did, not that we are merely using them as an unsuspecting, captive audience. If personal convictions lead Christians to keep the lights off on October 31st, then consider taking the opportunity to bake fall-themed cookies or to deliver candy-filled goodie bags earlier that week. Whether we do it under the banner of Halloween or not, the church should be a present and practical blessing in our communities.   

Love of God

As in all things, Christians should be motivated by our love for God. The question of Halloween doesn’t end with the decision to celebrate or not. It should also include wise, discerning determinations about how to celebrate. Thoughtlessly reveling in darkness is akin to offering the meat back to idols. Citing Christian liberty as a justification for wearing objectionable costumes abuses that freedom and dishonors God. Likewise, refraining from Halloween only to sit at home thinking ill of others is not an expression of love for God. Christians should do more than addition or subtraction.

Halloween is a matter of conscience. Some Christians may choose to sit this holiday out and instead gear up for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Others may dress up in a fun costume and share Christ’s love to the children in their community. Whatever we decide, may we all make the holiday a matter of love— for our church, for our community, and for God.

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