Celebration of Satan or Harmless Holiday?
[note: edited 11/2/15 to add and clarify some paragraphs]
Before I begin to answer this question, let me give a brief note: I don't claim that I'm certain I have the “right view” on this issue, though I do think there is an objectively right answer to this question. I do believe that God-loving, Bible-reading, Christian believers from all backgrounds can disagree on non-essential questions such as this one without having to be mean to each other, or denying each other’s faith. I know Christians within and outside our church who do and who don’t participate in Halloween activities. We should all be able to get along fine without calling each other “legalists” or “compromisers”.
Disagreements between Christians on issues like Halloween arise partly due to the fact that Scripture does not speak explicitly about these things. Obviously this is because these issues did not arise when Paul, Peter, John, etc. were writing their letters and their books. But this does not mean that we can just do what we “feel” is right. The words of God in the Bible are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting” and it is a “lamp for [our] feet, a light on [our] path”. Therefore, this has to mean that we can always use the Bible to find principles to see whether a certain activity is encouraged or not.
Now I’m going to briefly present both sides of this issue and then we’ll talk about how Paul handled disputes such as these.
Why Christians should not celebrate Halloween
Christians should not celebrate Halloween because of its connection with the pagan holiday of Samhain. The themes and practices of Halloween allegedly come from this festival. God clearly opposes pagan practices like witchcraft, sorcery, fortune-telling (Deut. 18:9-13). Scripture also says that we are in a war against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Furthermore, Paul teaches Christians not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).
Because of its pagan origin, it is said that Halloween is a celebration of witchcraft, ghosts, demons, death and ultimately, Satan. This is often shown by how Halloween has a lot of dark imagery concerning death and the occult. A participation with any aspect of Halloween, harmless the intention may be, is a participation in a celebration of these things that are opposed to God. Christians should not celebrate the practices of their greatest enemy, Satan. Therefore, Christians should not celebrate Halloween.
Why Christians can celebrate Halloween
It is not true that the modern celebration of Halloween is the successor to the pagan holiday of Samhain. After all, the holiday we are celebrating is called “Halloween” for “All Hallows Eve” or the eve of All Saints ("Hallows") Day on November 1, and not Samhain. It is true that modern celebrations of Halloween include a celebration of ghosts, demons, and death in general. But a Christian is not compelled to celebrate Halloween in the same way non-Christians celebrate Halloween. This is just like how a Christian doesn’t have to celebrate the New Year, or their 21st birthday or even Easter and Christmas in the same way their non-Christian friends celebrate them (drinking, partying, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, etc.). Non-Christians’ abuse of a holiday should not limit the freedom of Christians to celebrate the holiday appropriately.
Furthermore, there is nothing inherently evil about days, because evil lies in people hearts (Matt. 15:9). A person can have a pure heart (intentions that are not evil) in celebrating a holiday by dressing up as a ketchup bottle. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a celebration of witchcraft or the undead.
What do we make of this
The key text when it comes to disputes between people’s consciences is Romans 14. Here Paul speaks of two questions in his time:
- Are Christians allowed to eat meat or eat only vegetables?
- Are some days more holy than others?
Note that both of these questions are not about Halloween but we can apply Paul’s principles from his teachings here. So here’s what Paul says (Romans 14:2-6,10):
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. […]
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
In the first case Paul says that God is the master of all Christians, not other people. In the second case, Paul says that both persons do what they do “to the Lord”. Therefore Paul is addressing people who are "true" Christians and who live their lives for the glory of God. Then comes Paul’s principle in verses 13-23:
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
The point in these passages is that with regards to certain issues (Halloween being one of them) Christians should take into account what their conscience tells them ("each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind"). Note that this “conscience principle” does not apply to everything – no Christian can claim to be greedy, commit adultery, or hate a neighbor “in good conscience” because Scripture has clear teachings on these and many other issues.
Paul also actually says that whichever side is right doesn’t matter nearly as much as “acting in love” to one another (Rom. 14:15,19-21). And acting in love means not doing what you think is “OK” in front of your brother who doesn’t think the same way as you. This is because you would cause your brother to stumble over what they think is a sin (1 Cor. 8:12-13).
A relevant example in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10 is on whether Christians should eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul says that since there is no other god but God, all food sacrificed to idols are permissible to be eaten. However, one should not do it in front of a brother who doesn’t think the same way. This is because he may consider the eating of food sacrificed to idols as a participation in idol worship (1 Cor. 8:7). In general Christians should avoid actions that may seem to endorse evil things that are opposed to God (2 Cor. 6:14-18, Rom. 12:2, 1 John 2:15).
So with regards to Halloween (and other similar issues): if all things are done for the glory of God, and with a clear conscience, without causing any fellow Christian to stumble, and without looking like one is endorsing evil, I believe that Christians have the free choice to participate or not to participate.
Lastly, there are pastors who prefer that Christians use trick-or-treating as an opportunity to develop relationships with neighbors and friends rather than to be isolated from them. This may be a way to form close relationships that can be an avenue for the gospel. Halloween is also the only day in the year when you meet a great number of people at the door, providing an opportunity for handing out gospel tracts along with the candy given. Numerous churches also use the holiday to hold trunk-or-treats at a church parking lot where evangelism can happen. So perhaps this is an opportunity for Christians to redeem this holiday rather than to completely surrender it to the world.