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What to make of Halloween

Each year about this time, Christians encounter a cultural conundrum.

The skeletons come out of the closet and start adorning the porch. R.I.P. shows up in the front yard. And black-and-orange become the unofficial colors of the season. It must be time for Halloween, that most ghoulish of holidays.

This can leave Christians feeling consternation. Should they celebrate? And if so, how? Some churches (and pastors) will simply answer the question for their flock and say, “No can do. Too dark. Too devilish. Too bad.” Still others will glibly go along with whatever culture serves up and say, “All things are permissible for me”—and go put on their ‘Scream’ mask.

So what’s a Christian to do? What should we make of Halloween?

"God’s people can hold the Evil One in contempt by giving him all the respect that a disgraced usurper deserves—perhaps by biting your thumb at him while you bite your peanut butter cups."

To start, I want to situate the conversation in the realm of Christian freedom.

To invoke a biblical analogy: in 1 Corinthians 8 St. Paul addressed whether Christians could eat meat sacrificed to idols, a common cultural practice of the day. Ultimately, the Apostle allows it (without necessarily encouraging it) on the basis of Christian freedom.  

Now, if Paul can permit the Corinthians to eat beef that’s been offered to idols—as in bona fide, temples-with-statues idols—then it’s hard for me to get too worked up about Butterfingers offered to children.

In this spirit of Christian freedom, I suggest that it is permissible for Christians to participate in Halloween if they so choose—although parents may try to think of an alternative for “trick or treat,” since the threat of toilet-papering your neighbor’s trees hardly seems fitting for Christians. But I digress.

For those who still have some reservations about whether or not to participate in Halloween—and I count myself among them—there are typically two issues that remain outstanding: one, its pagan origins; and two, its current dark and devilish associations. Let me speak briefly to these two concerns, and then point up an additional (or even alternative) way to celebrate October 31st.

1. Halloween may have started out pagan—and that’s okay.

First, so far as I can tell the question of Halloween’s pagan origins are generally not disputed (though see here for a minority report). The customs go back to the ancient Druids. Though the name is now connected with All Saints Day (or “All Hallows Day,” hence All Hallows Eve or “Halloween”), the Christian commonalities apparently stop there.

Even so, this is not necessarily a deal-breaker, any more than the pagan associations of Christmas or Easter profane those holy days. On the contrary, the Christian m.o. through the ages has been to co-opt the kingdom of darkness for the kingdom of Jesus, to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10.5). Halloween need not not be excepted.

2. Halloween celebrates the dread and dark—which Jesus has defeated.

Second, some are concerned that Halloween as it’s celebrated today is simply too ghoulish and even demonic. As a parent, I fault no one for abstaining from Halloween simply on these grounds. Our “culture of death” comes out in full force at Halloween.

And yet, even here the Gospel speaks light into darkness. For at the cross, Christ disarmed the demonic rulers and authorities and put them to open shame (Colossians 2.15). Jesus has triumphed, and those who are joined to His death and resurrection in Baptism, who are marked and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, need not fear.

Not only so, but they can mock the would-be powers of darkness. Those “powers” have no hold on the baptized, and so like the child snickering at the emperor’s new clothes, God’s people can hold the Evil One in contempt by giving him all the respect that a disgraced usurper deserves—perhaps by biting your thumb at him while you bite your peanut butter cups.

All this being said, you may still find Halloween unsatisfying.

Fair enough. In this case, I might remind you that October 31st is Reformation Day, after all. (You knew that!) And so, at my house we like to celebrate the day with a hymn sing, perhaps a Diet of Worms, a little “Pin the 95 theses on the door,” and—of course—candy.

Because, hey—what could be sweeter than Jesus’ victory over darkness?

Sunday's sermon

In the second installment of our mini-series on 2 Timothy, St. Paul encourages Timothy to "be strengthened by grace." We learned that what appears to be a weakness in God is in fact the place of His greatest strength.

Listen to Sunday's sermon

News & Notes

  • On Tuesday night we had a constructive public forum, inviting Trinity's neighbors to come and weigh in about our church bells and specifically the proposed change in times (from 7am-10 pm to 8am-9pm). There was a significant turnout from the community—I'd estimate around 60 folks. I'm proud of how members of our church have handled themselves throughout this situation. Thanks to everyone who brought treats to make our neighbors feel welcome, too (special shout out to Dana Care and her dynamite bundt cake).
  • Don't forget that we have a congregational voters meeting tonight at 7 p.m. The proposal about the bells is of course on the agenda, as well as other matters. Please plan to attend.
  • And speaking of meetings, I saw many of you at the Arcadia visioning meetings this past week. I was impressed by the process and it gave me some ideas for strategic planning with our church. If you attended those meetings, what were your thoughts—both about the process and the product? We are blessed with so many assets in our community. Sometimes you need something like those meetings to be reminded of it!

From the Church Year

Today the Church Year commemorates Ignatius of Antioch, martyr. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

"Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ's bodily presence in the Lord's Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church."

"I would rather die and come to Jesus Christ than be king over the entire earth. Him I seek who died for us; Him I love who rose again because of us."

- Ignatius of Antioch

Looking ahead to Sunday

19th Sunday after Pentecost 
  • Readings
    • Old Testament lesson—Genesis 32.22-30
    • Epistle lesson—2 Timothy 3.14-4.5
    • Gospel—Luke 18.1-8

+ Grace & Peace +

Pastor Tinetti

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