A friend of mine used to sound me out when he was trying to make up his mind about something. He’d ask my opinion, then add, “And don’t do the professor thing. I don’t want both sides of the issue. I want to know what you really think.” But that is what I really think, I protested, and gave him both sides of why he should look at both sides.
It’s a wonder he ever asked me any more questions.
So here’s the answer you might expect to the question of whether Christians should participate in Halloween: it depends on what you mean by “participate.” If you and a friend have been waiting for an excuse to wear matched Snoopy and Woodstock costumes to the office, hey, knock yourself out. (My personal favorite: a young couple who attended a costume party dressed as a washer and dryer. Talk about your good clean fun.)
If the question is whether it’s permissible for Christians to participate in Halloween activities, then apart from obvious no-nos like bashing in mailboxes or TP’ing the neighbors front yard, the answer is yes. Neither carving a pumpkin nor trick-or-treating are matters of salvation.
But should Christians participate? Well, ask yourself honestly: why would you want to?
I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, so Halloween wasn’t a controversial issue for us. When my wife and I had kids of our own, though, we decided against participating, as a matter of Christian principle. Our kids are grown now, but we still put a sign up on our front door, politely opting out and wishing people a safe evening.
We’re following the advice of Paul, who for the sake of the gospel, sometimes set aside his freedom and rights. He once had to address the arrogance of Christians who were joining in pagan idol feasts:
Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. (1 Cor 10:23-24, CEB)
A believer is free to eat meat previously sacrificed to idols (vss. 25-27). But what if a fellow believer objects? Don’t stand on your rights, Paul says; consider what’s best for the other person’s conscience (vss. 28-29), so they won’t stumble in their faith (vs. 32). Flee idolatry (vs. 14) and do everything for the glory of God (vs. 31).
Halloween isn’t just about kids in cute costumes. Whatever its actual origin, the cultural celebration we have now is not intended to honor God — indeed, just the opposite. Have you been to a Halloween specialty store? They glory in evil, darkness, and death; costumes encourage adults to dress up like extras from an zero-budget zombie movie. In one state, people called 911 over a neighbor’s over-the-top decorations, which included a realistic-looking dead body being crushed and bloodied by his garage door.
Christians are free to participate — but why? Not everything is beneficial. Not everything is done for the glory of God. And some things pull in the opposite direction.
Afraid the kids will feel left out? Talk to them: help them understand what you believe and why. Look for alternatives sponsored by a local church, or come up with new family traditions of your own. Kids won’t mind missing out if they have stories to tell about their own special and fun family rituals. So be creative. Today is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, after all, so why not dress up as your favorite Reformer? (“My parents — they’re so weird.”)
But whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.
(Revised from 2016)