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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 31, 2010
A Christian Response to Halloween
Halloween in the United States
This evening is Halloween. A festival that had by the mid-Twentieth century been Americanized to the point that it was considered to be innocuous even by the Christian community. As a child, I participated in all the fun activities commonly associated with this Autumn celebration. There was of course going house to house around the neighborhood saying, “trick or treat,” with the dual goal of getting the most and the best candy with a full size chocolate bar being the prize of prizes, though we also liked the houses that served cup-cakes and apple cider. As a little kid my brothers and I all rotated through the “panda bear” costume, but later our family specialized in being hobo’s complete with charcoal on the face and holes in the pants and coat. My older brother went one year wearing my dad’s Army Air Corp uniform. Other kids were dressed as princesses, batman, superman, clowns, assorted zoo animals, and of course, the occasional skeleton or ghost – which was a white sheet with some eye holes.
The public grammar school across the street from where we lived had its annual fall carnival just before Halloween complete with a costume contest, and one of the favorite teachers dressed as a “witch” who gave out all sorts of little gifts. No one really thought much about it, except it was fun. Even the evangelical churches were involved. The largest Baptist church in the area, a strong Bible teaching church that would annually send its teens around the world on mission trips, would allow its facilities to be used as a haunted house. Inside were the usual assortment of macabre scenes with coffins, foggy graveyards, screeching owls, etc. The horror film personalities of the time including Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Werewolf and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Forty-five years ago there was little thought given to Halloween except as an enjoyable cultural tradition. Forty years ago some warnings were given, but they had to do with being careful of whom you take treats from and checking them for possible sabotage with razor blades, needles or drugs. Twenty-five years ago Halloween was the subject of serious discussion among parents because of a sinister element that was becoming more prominent. These days it is a subject that must be addressed strongly. Why? Because things have changed a lot over the years and Halloween is not the harmless cultural festival it was at one time. It has gone back to its roots, and the sinister element is prominent.
Do you have any doubts about what I am saying? Then consider the following. The National Retail Federation reports that about $5 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on Halloween items, with almost $2 billion of that on candy alone. The average 18-24 year old has been spending about $80 on Halloween activities. More than two-thirds of the U.S. population participate in it. It is second only to Christmas in home displays and in the length of time preparations are made for it. The decorations and lawn scenes are more ghoulish and gruesome than just cardboard skeletons and jack-o-lanterns. By the way, some 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were grown last year with very few of them becoming pumpkin pie.
Halloween is the only holiday that prompts widespread wearing of very distinctive clothing. Costumes for children, adults, and yes, pets too, are the largest single Halloween expense, and there are very few panda bears, clowns and princesses among the ghouls that haunt the streets these days. Fear has driven many children away from the local neighborhood and into the malls to avoid what some wacky neighbor might put in a treat – and homemade treats will now be thrown out. However, the greatest actual danger statistically for children is being hit by a car while trick-or-treating.
Consider the gruesome movies and television shows that are shown in honor of Halloween. It is not just the grisly scenes that are of concern, but even more so the glorification of the occultic that takes place in them. While the occult is just macabre fantasy for some, there are an increasing number of Americans for which the occult is the real practice of religious rites based in ancient paganism. Groups as Wicca and the Church of Satan celebrate Halloween as one of their “holy” days in their occult worship of nature, Satan and the demonic. Halloween is not what it was 30 years ago.
Now my purpose this morning is not to give you a list of things which you should or should not do in regards to the celebration of Halloween, for even done out of pure motives to protect you, it would quickly degenerate into a legalism which would sap both your spiritual strength and leave you vulnerable to anything I have not specifically mentioned. Instead, I want to help you think through a Biblical grid so that you can see for yourselves what is good and right before God. Then you will be able to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and do what is right before God on your own.
I will do this with three major points. First, an understanding of the origin of Halloween will explain why it has such a sinister element to it. Second, you need to understand the Biblical principles by which we are to evaluate our participation in any cultural event. Third, I will make some practical suggestions on how to respond to Halloween in ways that can honor our Lord.
The Historical Background of Halloween.
Halloween observances find their origin in the pagan practices of the religion of the Celts who lived in Ireland, Britain, Scotland and France (Gaul). Their priestly cast, the Druids, did not write down their religious principles or practices, but passed them down orally. Because of that, what little that is known is pieced together from various artifacts, early Roman visitors to the region, and from the Irish Druids where a small amount of information was written.
Among the celebrations of the Druids was the festival to their Sun god in May, and another to the god of the dead, Samhain, celebrated on the first day of their new year – our November 1. This was the end of the harvest and the beginning of the cold & dark of Winter. The most significant part of the celebration occurred on the night before the new year began – our October 31.
The Druids believed that corresponding to this event the veil between the living and the dead was thin or open and the spirits of those who had died the previous year were able to come back and walk among the living. Many of their rituals had to do with dealing with these dead souls and taking advantage of the opening in the veil between the living and the dead. Many of the practices today are related to those rituals. Trick or treat is related to the food that was left out to appease these dead spirits and the practice of dressing in costume was to fool any spirits that might have been looking for you. Generally, it was considered that the more hideous the costume the better chance of not being recognized by a spirit. Bonfires were built to keep both these spirits and witches (from ‘wicca’ meaning “wise ones” or “female magicians”) from coming near. Practices such as apple bobbing, “snap apple,” throwing apple peels over the shoulder and roasting nuts all were related to divinations to tell the future.
The most horrible practice during this festival were the sacrifices made by the Druids. The sacrifices were both for divination purposes and to ward off disease, defeats in battle, etc. These sacrifices were both animal and human. Most often the human killed would be a criminal, but captured enemies, volunteers and kidnap victims were also used. Four different methods of killing the individual could be used corresponding to the purpose and to which one of the gods the individual was being sacrificed. I need not describe these except to say that they were gruesome and the divination was based on how the person reacted as they died. Caesar said, “They believe that human life must be rendered for human life if the divinity of the immortal gods is to be appeased.” Cannibalism was also practiced apparently for medical and cultic purposes.
How did all this get transferred into “Halloween?” Rome conquered the Celts in the first and second centuries. While Rome suppressed some of the practice of the Druids, such as human sacrifices, the real effect was just some mixing of the two pagan religions with some of the Celtic gods becoming confused with Roman gods. The Roman Catholic Church became the “official” religion of the empire under Constantine in the 4th Century. On May 13, 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon at Rome to “Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs.” This replaced “Feralia,” the pagan festival of the dead that had been previously practiced. Part of the festivity in remembering those who had died for the Christian faith included a pageant where people would dress up as one of these departed “saints” and some as the devil. Pope Gregory III (d. 741) shifted this to November 1 as day to commemorate “All Saints” that had died. Pope Gregory IV in 835 established the “Feast of All Saints” to be universally observed on November 1. November 2 was called “All Souls’ Day,” and it honored the souls of the dead, especially those who had died the previous year. Another name for All Saints Day was “All Hallows Day” and the night prior then would be “All Hallows Eve” which is shortened to “Halloween.”
This was another case in which the church tried to change a pagan custom by substituting a quasi-Christian celebration for it. The end result was not Christian, but a pagan hybrid as seen in the fact that as late as the 17th century it was said in France that, “the greater part of the priests are witches.” Many of these hybrid rituals came to America with the various immigrant groups. The practices of Halloween specifically coming from Scottish and Irish immigrants whose culture had the strongest influence by the ancient Druid customs.
The celebration of Halloween in the U.S. has changed over the last century. Throughout the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s it had been much more of a serious affair by those celebrated it. There was also much mischief associated with it. Some of the mischief was relatively harmless, i.e., putting a carriage on top of a house. Some of it was not so harmless, such as breaking windows, setting fires, etc. As Halloween became more commercialized during the 1950’s & 60’s, the celebration quieted down into harvest parties and children in cute costumes collecting candy. In the last 30 years we have seen its real nature becoming strongly manifested again, especially with the occultic overtones that now surround it. It is no longer fun and games, but a serious affair for many.
Obviously the Scriptures say nothing about Halloween specifically since it came into being after the Scriptures were written. However, the Scriptures have much to say about the nature of this festival.
The First Principle is found in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. The second generation was about to enter the promised land and God warned them that they should not get involved with the religious practices of the people that they are going to conquer. 9 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 “For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you. 13 “You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you [to do] so.
Why such a strong warning about occultic practices? Two reasons. First, it was the reason these nations were going to be destroyed. Second, these things are real – divination, witchcraft, omen interpretation, sorcery, casting spells, being a medium or spiritist – and God wants to protect His people from it. I know these things are often depicted as fun and games, but they are not. Ouija, fantasy games, seances and many more things all invoke demonic activity. It is safer for your children to play with real guns than with such demonic stuff. What is scary is that all these things are practiced in this country as part of Halloween celebrations.
The first principle then is that God warns against any thing associated with the occultic because it is dangerous. In the New Testament the warning is repeated in Galatians 5:19-20 where sorcery is listed among the deeds of the flesh. If you are thinking in joining in some Halloween activity, take warning of the nature of what you participate in. If it is occultic in any manner, you are in danger.
The Second Principle is that true Christianity results in a change of character in the individual. Peer pressure exists, but the true Christian resists it because we have a different purpose of life. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Apostle Paul states plainly that “if any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” A person who becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Christian, will have their lives changed. In several places in the New Testament we find that turning away from occultic practices was evidence of this change of heart and character that had occurred in people that were saved. Acts 26:17-18 records the Apostle Paul’s commission to go to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” That is exactly what happened. In Acts 19:18-19 we find that when salvation came to the Ephesians, they responded by “coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Those books were worth a lot of money, but when salvation came, there was a change of character, and what had been the center of their lives was now seen as dangerous to all, and so the books were burned. Similar language is used of both the Corinthian and the Galatian believers who turned to the Lord God from their previous bondage to the occultic and demonic.
It would be against a Christian’s very character to be involved in the demonic. A Christian is to have a character as described in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. A Christian is to be poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker. A person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit, and all Christians are to be controlled by Him, will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit which Galatians 5:22-23 describes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If you are lacking in them, you need to have a serious talk with God and confess your sins asking for His forgiveness and empowerment to live for Him.
That is a lot easier said than done. How does a person develop these qualities? Through increasing obedience to the Holy Spirit in one’s life. That is accomplished by presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God, which is the only reasonable thing to do in response to His great mercy to you (Romans 12:1). Then you resist the pressures of the world to mold you into its image by being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). Apart from Christ we were of the world and in love with it and all that was in it. Our desires were to gain for our physical comfort and pleasure, surrounding ourselves with the world’s treasures and place ourselves in positions of power and prestige where our ego would be satisfied (1 John 2:15,16). But in Christ, our love for the world diminishes, and our love for Him increases.
In practice, the more time you spend in the Scriptures and in communion with God, the more you will even think differently. You no longer see things from the self-centered perspective of mankind, but from the eternal perspective of God. Paul even tells us in Philippians 4:8 the type of things we should think about. Those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, of good report, praise-worthy. Those are the things we are to let our minds dwell on. Halloween celebrations must be compared to these virtues, and a large portion of the practices do not fit, and some are the exact opposite. God warns against occultic practice and a true Christian has a changed character that is incompatible with not only occultic practice, but anything contrary to godliness. How then should the Christian respond to Halloween and many other cultural celebrations?
Practical Suggestions on Halloween Activities
There are several diverse options. Let me talk about them in three categories. 1) Non-participation 2) Alternative celebration 3) Godly involvement.
1) Non-participation is perhaps one of the easiest things to do. You can just ignore the Holiday. Just because everyone else is doing something is a very poor reason to participate. There are also those that have a conviction that anything associated with Halloween would be evil, so they cannot participate or it would be a sin against the conscience (Romans 14:23). You can easily skip being bothered by trick-or-treaters by going out somewhere that evening.
One note of caution here is that you must not become judgmental of those that do participate in the holiday in some way. The principle of Romans 14 is clear that neither the one participating nor the one not participating is to judge the other. Both will stand before the Lord individually and both are to be loving toward the other.
2) Alternative Celebrations is another option. Some people and even churches hold various types of parties. It could be a Fall Harvest Party in which a meal is shared and the Lord is praised for His provision for the year. This would be a way of ignoring Halloween while giving an alternative activity to reduce the temptation.
It could be a costume party in which the types of costumes allowed and the activities of the evening are restricted so that there is not even the appearance of evil much less glorifying of it. Churches sometimes us this as an evangelistic outreach by inviting friends that would not otherwise come to church. This is alternative way of participating in the holiday while avoiding its evil side.
A third alternative is to focus on an historical event that is much more important to us as followers of Jesus Christ. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The church door was the place to post public notices, and Luther posted what he thought would generate an academic discussion on errors in theology and practice that had crept into the Roman Catholic Church – especially in regard to the sale of indulgences which was essentially buying forgiveness of sin from the church. Instead, the Ninety-Five Theses was translated into German and published spreading it throughout Europe resulting in Luther’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church three years later. The Lutheran Church in Germany was formed soon after as were other churches in other countries. That event 493 years ago sparked the Protestant Reformation and so is commemorated in many churches with Reformation Day services and celebrations. The recovery of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone by God’s grace alone through justification by faith alone is certainly worth celebrating.
3) Godly involvement is a third option, but to do so does require you to think through several issues.
First, ask yourself what the Scriptures say directly about the issue. In this case, anything involving the demonic, occultic or paganism is directly against the Scriptures and sinful. There are many things that are promoted as just games, but they are not innocent – they are demonic. Things such as seances; any sort of divination practice including fortune telling, ouija, palmistry, tarot cards, etc.; occultic fantasy games such as dungeons and dragons and a host of similar computer games; spell casting; witchcraft; and satanic worship rituals are all absolutely incompatible with being a Christian.
Second, ask yourself if the activity is compatible with Biblical morality? Does your participation conform you to the world or to Christ’s image? If it is against God’s commandments, then it is sinful and contradictory to Christianity. For example, destructive mischief is clearly sinful for it steals from another person the use of their property which is either damaged or destroyed. Even practical jokes must be carefully considered in light of Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 7:12 that you are to treat people in the manner you would like to be treated.
Third, does the activity promote holiness or evil? God’s command to us is to be “holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). This may not affect a neutral activity such as a child in a teddy bear costume asking a neighbor for candy, but it does eliminate those things that either imitate or glorify evil. Be very careful what kinds of costumes you wear and the entertainment in which you will participate. If that “horror” movie glorifies evil, and many of them now do, then it is not something for you to watch.
Fourth, does it match the command in Philippians 4:8, to think on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, of excellence, worthy of praise? This would eliminate many more entertainment choices and activities that may not directly glorify evil, but neither do they have any redeeming value.
Fifth, perhaps a simple way to some up all the above. Would Jesus do it? If He would not, then there is good reason for you to refrain from it.
Sixth, how can I use this cultural practice to promote the gospel? While there is much that is evil in the celebration of Halloween, there is one aspect that could be beneficial if taken advantage of properly. That is the fact that neighbors whom would rarely open the door to you on any other occasions will do so on Halloween. Let me suggest a few ways you may be able to use that to spread the message of the gospel. I am sure you may think of others.
First, if you are going to dress up in a costume, whether for a party or going trick-or-treating, dress up as a Bible character worth imitating such as Moses, David, a prophet, Apostle or a great Christian from the past. Girls could be Miriam, Esther, Mary, Priscilla, etc. Then use your character to tell other people about the Lord. You can open your talk by explaining to people that Halloween has an origin in “All Saints Day” and this is the saint you are remembering and this is his or her message. A “Moses” could talk about the Ten Commandments and walking with God. A “David” could talk about the Lord being His shepherd. A “John the Baptist” could repeat His message of “repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” A “Paul” could talk about his conversion, traveling to spread the gospel or how the people at Lystra were scared when he walked back into town after being supposedly stoned to death. A “Martin Luther” could explain why he posted his Nine-five Theses and the importance of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
Another suggestion is to not run away and hide from trick or treaters, but instead be sure to have gospel tracts to place in their bags along with the candy. We have quite an assortment of tracts in the back. Please take all you can use.
You could reverse Trick or Treat. Go door to door and give out treats and tracts to your neighbors instead of getting things from them. You could do that as an individual or in a coordinated effort. Imagine Moses, Miriam, John the Baptist, Mary, Priscilla and the Apostle Paul going door to door sharing the gospel and giving out tracts instead of saying trick or treat ?
There is not much good in the cultural practice of Halloween, but a Christian who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit will know how to glorify the Lord both by what he or she refrains from doing as well as what they do. The Christian can respond to Halloween by not participating in it at all, involvement in an alternative celebration, or finding a godly way to participate, or some combination of these. Regardless of what you personally decide to do in response to Halloween, you need to remember that there is to be a distinction between the lifestyle and behavior of a Christian and a non-Christian. You also need to remember to make use of every opportunity to glorify God and spread the gospel, so if you do participate in a Halloween activity or some alternative, try to find a way to do that. I pray you will do that not just today, tonight, and on holidays, but every day.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “Halloween”is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the dangers & opportunities in Halloween.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What changes in the celebration of Halloween have you noticed in your lifetime? What was your view of Halloween before hearing this sermon? What is the origin of Halloween? What were some of the things the Druids did & why? How did the Roman Catholic Church change this festival? How did these practices come to America? What principle do we find in Deut. 18:9-14 that can be applied to Halloween? What should the character of a Christian be like? What aspects of celebrating Halloween would match that character? What aspects would be contrary? What should a Christian think about? What would be some alternatives to celebrating Halloween? What is “Reformation Day” and why should that be important to the Christian? Examine your Halloween practices by the following: Is there anything demonic in it? What Biblical moral principles apply? Do your Halloween activities promote holiness? Do they cause you to think about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy? Would Jesus do what you are doing? What ways can you use Halloween to spread the Gospel?
Sermon Notes – 10/24/2010
A Christian Response to Halloween – Selected Scriptures
Halloween in the United States
Halloween used to be a ________ Autumn festival – in which kids got a lot of sweets
Forty years ago there were increasing warnings of ____________ in spiked candy
Twenty-five years ago there were serious discussions about its ______________ elements
$5 billion is spent annually. Second only to Christmas for home displays.
_________keeps many kids from neighborhood trick-or-treat – and homemade treats are not acceptable
Occultic practices in entertainment continues to increase – but those practices are __________.
Historical Background of Halloween
Its origin traces to the Celts and the practices of the ___________ priestly class
Samhain, the god of the dead, was celebrated on the night of _____________ and the day of November 1
The Druids believed the veil between the living and the dead was thin then and the ________could return
Trick or treat is related to leaving food out to __________ the dead and costumes worn to fool them
Druid practice also included gruesome animal and human _______________
Rome conquered the Celts and ____________ their practices in with their own.
The Roman Catholic Church ___________the pagan practice with remembering the saints – November 1
All Saints Day = All Hallows Day. The night before, All Hallows Eve = _____________
The result was a _________ of paganism and Christian ritual
Halloween practices came to the U.S. with immigrants, especially those with __________ history.
Through the early 1900’s, Halloween was a more ___________ affair – including “Mischief night”
Halloween was ___________________ in the 1950’s-1960’s. It is has been returning to its roots
Biblical Principles in Responding to Cultural Holidays
The First Principle – warnings about _____________ practices – Deuteronomy 18:9-14
The occultic is presented as fun, games and entertaining, but it is still _____________ and dangerous
The Second Principle – true Christianity results in a ___________ of character in the individual
Christian character is developed through ___________to God, being a living sacrifice, resisting the world
___________________ – All activities must be compared to the virtues listed that we are to think on.
Practical Suggestions on Halloween Activities
1) Non-participation. You could _______the holiday. Those with convictions against cannot participate
2) Alternative Celebrations is another option – Fall ________festival, Biblical character ________party
______________ Day – Martin Luther’s posting the Ninety-five Theses on October 31, 1517
3) Godly involvement – Issues that must be considered include:
- What do the _____________ say directly about the issue?
- Is the activity ____________with Biblical morality? Are you being conformed to the world or Christ?
- Does the activity promote _____________ or evil?
- Does it cause you to think about the _____________ listed in Philippians 4:8?
- Would _________ do that activity?
- How can I use this cultural practice to promote the gospel?
- Dress as a Biblical character or godly Christian historic figure as a springboard to ______________
- Hand out __________ with the candy to trick-or-treaters
- __________ Trick or Treat – Give gifts / tracts to your neighbors.
A Christian’s lifestyle is to be different from non-Christians, but use every opportunity to spread the ______
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