Every year in late October, Christians divide.
There may be no other national holiday or celebration that elicits more ideological battles and relational divides within the body of Christ than Halloween. Some families and churches understand Halloween as a yearly celebration of occult and pagan practices. If this is truly the case, then of course Christians should have no part in it! For others, however, it is a fun and innocent time to gather with friends and dress up in costumes. Kids get to find joy in pretending to be their favorite movie and cartoon characters for a night — all while consuming unreasonable amounts of sugar.
So how should a follower of Jesus think about Halloween? Most churches handle this question in one of four different ways. They either…
- Encourage the practice of Halloween.
- Actively preach against the holiday.
- Replace it with a different celebration, such as a “Fall Festival” or a “Reformation Day celebration.”
- Ignore the issue altogether.
How should you think about this complicated holiday? Consider these three questions before you decide how you and your family should respond.
Whether we celebrate Halloween or not, our neighbors will.
Is this prohibited in Scripture?
This question is the most natural place to begin for the Christian. We were reminded by the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that Scripture is the ultimate authority for the Church. Scripture should be the beginning of every Christian debate and, if there is a clear answer, the end as well. Scripture obviously contains no command against Halloween, since it was not created until centuries after Scripture was written. But does Scripture give us any declarations against the practices that take place on this day?
Recently, I become aware of a statement on Halloween, being circulated to parents by a missions-minded gospel-preaching church. It attempted to dissuade them from observing Halloween on the basis of Scripture. To argue this, they cited Leviticus 19:31: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” Others have used similar passages condemning the practice of sorcery (Exodus 22:18; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8).
These passages show that God hates any sort of spiritual experience that is not from him. These are demonic and only lead to death. For some, this is their Halloween experience. For instance, Wiccans often gather for their own holiday of Samhain on the same day as Halloween. On top of this, Halloween has also become known for the rampant sexual immorality and drunkenness that takes place on it. God explicitly condemns these actions as well (Ephesians 5:3; Galatians 5:21).
What is not obvious, however, is how this relates to most people’s experience on this day. There is nothing intrinsic about the day, its history or the majority experience that is inherently sinful. For most families in America, including Christian families, Halloween is an innocent holiday. They may sin on Halloween, but no more than any other day. The majority of objections against Halloween seem not to be against the holiday itself, but against some imagined holiday that is foreign to most.
Halloween is not just a fun holiday, but an opportunity to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Would this dishonor Jesus?
One could still object by arguing that even though this may not be explicitly decried in Scripture, it would dishonor Jesus if his bride was included in a celebration sometimes connected with evil. As any youth pastor could tell you, our question should never be “How far is too far?” Instead, we should ask, “Would this action honor Jesus?” Put in another way, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
Even with this, Halloween does not dishonor Jesus. It can, but in no way does it have to. One of the primary ways I serve my church body is by teaching elementary age children. In the weeks leading up to this holiday, I have asked them what they plan to dress up as and why they are excited about it. I have been given many answers, but none that anyone would call sinful. They are excited to don the identity of a Jedi or a princess for a night, not to worship idols or summon spirits. There is an innocent excitement, and not just in children. In talking to parents, kids, and college students within my church there has been great enthusiasm, but never in pagan spirituality.
Can this be used to glorify Jesus?
Halloween can absolutely be used to glorify Jesus. Though it may not be explicitly Christian, it has many elements which can be redeemed for the mission of God. If Paul used pagan literature to preach the gospel to those in Athens (Acts 17), then we absolutely can use that which is not explicitly pagan for the same purpose.
In my church, many people have seen Halloween not just as a fun holiday, but as an opportunity to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several small groups in our young church have even changed the day that they normally meet in order to be a gospel presence on the one day in the year that people come to their doors. They cook burgers, make cider, give out candy and hand out invite cards for our Sunday services. My prayer is that this mindset would be present in myself and churches throughout my city — that we would use every opportunity, especially a day like Halloween, to love our neighbors and to be witnesses to the grace we have in Jesus.
Ultimately, however, whether you celebrate Halloween is an issue of your conscience. If you still feel Halloween is sinful, then you would be in sin by observing it. I believe, though, that there is no reason in Scripture or in experience that should exclude Christians from partaking in the festivities. Whether we celebrate Halloween or not, our neighbors will. Use this opportunity to be a witness.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
A version of this article originally published on Oct. 30, 2017.