How Should Christians Handle Disagreement over Halloween?
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
- 2016 Oct 31
The following is an edited transcript of Russell Moore's podcast Signposts.
I had a question from a listener asking about Halloween, and she is particularly concerned not about Halloween itself and whether or not Christians ought to celebrate Halloween; there are all sorts of resources you can look at about that. Her question particularly is about disagreements that she has in her small group in her church. They have a small group, community group Bible study and some of the families trick-or-treat and their kids dress up and they do Halloween, some of the families don’t because they think that Halloween is a pagan holiday and they think it celebrates darkness and those sorts of things, and so they have a disagreement. She is just asking, what do we do when Christians disagree about something like Halloween?
I think it is a really good question because it comes at something that the scripture talks about really clearly in Romans 14 when Paul is talking about differing consciences on questions along these lines. You have a dispute that is going on in the church at Rome between people who would argue that a Christian ought only eat vegetables and people who would say the conscience is free to also eat meat. Now, think about this, there are kinds of multiple layers here: why would a Christian argue for a vegetarian only sort of meal? Well, on the one hand you could have Christians who would say that on the basis of the way that Christianity restores the original creation, and those Christians might say, “Well, human beings weren’t created to kill and to eat meat from animals and so let’s return to a time when we are eating only vegetables.” That’s not the only argument there. There is another argument that could say, especially when you are living in an ancient world where a lot of meat was being sacrificed to idols, that the way that a Christian could maintain his or her witness is not to be eating meat at all. Think about 1 Corinthians; a lot of 1 Corinthians is talking about that dispute about meat offered to idols and what do you do and how do you figure that out and how do you not wreck a weaker brother over the eating of meat?
So, that’s a real issue on the table in many different contexts. What Paul says about this is to say in Romans 14, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions; one person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls and he will be upheld for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than the other, while another esteems all days alike, each one to be fully convinced in his own mind, the one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord, the one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he abstains, he abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God, for none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord, so then, whether we live or whether we die we are the Lords, for to this end, Christ died and lived again that he might be the Lord of both the dead and of the living, why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or why do you despise your brother for we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ?”
Now, obviously what the apostle Paul is teaching there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not that there are not moral boundaries in terms of behavior that ought to divide churches. That’s not what he is arguing there because he goes on to consistently talk about those things that are out of step with the gospel–Galatians 2, he is dealing with sexual immorality; in 1 Corinthians he is dealing with divisions, he is dealing with all kinds of issues going on in churches where he would say, this person is right and this person is wrong—sometimes really, really strongly, he’d say this person is a false teacher. I mean, think of 2 Timothy 3, those people are to be dealt with and dealt with very decisively within the context of the church. So he’s not saying, “Well, we all disagree on everything and so let’s just live with one another.” What he is saying is there are some issues that the scripture does not speak to definitively, and so in those cases you have consciences that may operate in different ways, and he will argue elsewhere that if somebody is operating in a way contrary to his or hear conscience, that person is actually sinning, that person has a conscience that is leading that person in one direction and the person thinks that what he or she is doing is violating a command of God, that actually is an act of rebellion, even if what that person is doing is perfectly morally neutral.
So, we need to have consciences that are shaped and formed rightly but beyond that, we bear with one another on some things that are not clearly defined in scripture. So when we think about the issue of Halloween, I think that one of the things that we need to keep in mind is that Christians in the American context and in some other context where Halloween is celebrated, have different views on this, we need to learn to empathetically understand why the other person holds the view that that person holds. So, if you are one of those people who would say that you don’t ever want to celebrate Halloween, you don’t ever want your children celebrating Halloween, you do other things, then don’t view Christians who take their kids trick-or-treating as Satanists and occultists. Now, maybe you come across somebody who just doesn’t have any discernment and so who is really celebrating some things that are dark and occultic. I heard of a Christian family that went to a séance on Halloween; obviously, that is something forbidden by Scripture, that is somebody who is moving in a direction that is clearly forbidden by Scripture, but most of the people in your typical church who are trick-or-treating and celebrating Halloween, that’s not what they are doing.
My kids trick-or-treat, and what we are doing in that we don’t have bloody, gory celebrating of evil sorts of costumes, but we see this as making fun of the devil in one way. You are making fun of the darkness, ridiculing the darkness in order to say, “Principalities and powers and darkness of night and death, you don’t win, and we are able to join with our neighbors in kind of expressing the fact that you don’t win.” We have more reason than anybody to think that. So there are a lot of Christians who, if you don’t like Halloween, you don’t believe in Halloween, take the most charitable view. The same thing is true for Christians who do participate in Halloween and you are looking at families that don’t. One of the tendencies that we can have, is to see a family that doesn’t celebrate Halloween and think of that person as a legalist, that this person is legalistic and censorious and irrelevant. Again, you may have some people like that. There are some churches where you would have some people who not only don’t celebrate Halloween, but want to come after the people who do and make that an issue of church identity and church boundaries, church definition. If that’s the case, then you have to deal with that, but that’s rarely the case.
Most of the time what you have are people who would say “I think that Halloween has a lot of really dark origins.” True, it does, it has both light and dark, I mean you have All Saints’ Eve, All Hallows’ Eve, and you also have druidic origins and all sorts of unsavory things, that’s true. They have problems with that and they don’t see how a Christian could participate in something with those sorts of origins. They also look around and they see many things that happen around Halloween that they say are really decadent and so they look around at the way that sometimes Halloween celebrates gore and celebrates violence and celebrates wickedness and evil and sometimes even the demonic, and they say, oh, we just don’t see how a Christian could participate in that. Don’t label that person a legalist because that person’s conscience has a problem there. Also, don’t assume that these are people who aren’t concerned about mission and concerned about their neighbors.
Now, for me, and I was telling a group of people this the other day, Halloween is actually the one time of year when I am able to be with my neighbors in a meaningful sort of way. I live in a neighborhood where you have a lot of people who are running at a very past pace and so people are in and out of their homes, and I am running at a really fast pace. I live in two different cities essentially and then am traveling all over the place and so it is hard for me to really connect with my neighbors except for the ones that are just right around the house. Halloween time, the whole neighborhood goes outside, everybody is outside, you get to know people, you are able to build relationships and connections, and for me, that’s really helpful, and for a lot of Christians, that’s one of the ways that they are able to build relationships necessary in order to be a gospel witness. But don’t assume that that means that the people who do have a problem with Halloween by conscience are hiding in their homes with the lights out and not answering the door when they have neighborhood children; that’s not typically what’s going on with people, and so, let’s understand the importance of conscience here.
So if you have a problem with Halloween, I think the default for you ought to look at those Christians who do go trick-or-treating and say, “Okay, well, what they are intending to do is to enjoy an important cultural holiday, they are wanting to be involved with their neighbors and they are recognizing the way that the Scripture teaches that we live in a fallen world, and not in a schmaltzy sentimental all-light sort of world. That’s what they are intending to do.” And if you do celebrate Halloween and trick-or-treat, then look at those families, if you’ve got those families in your church that don’t and they object to it, and think, “Good for them, they have a conscience and this conscience is leading them to be counter cultural in this way, and so this is a holiday that they don’t celebrate and that they don’t observe—good for them.” If they were violating their conscience, then they would be doing something that would be wrong for them and that kind of conscientiousness may well serve the church in important ways later on when it comes to other issues where those are the people who say, “We’ve got to be the ones who don’t follow the crowd and who obey conscience.”
So receive that and bear with one another and love one another and be able to trick-or-treat for the glory of God, be able to abstain from trick-or-treating for the glory of God, and to be able to sit around the Bible together, be around the Lord’s table together, be serving each other today after that.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: October 31, 2016