In just a few short days most neighborhoods in America will ring with the sounds of little voices and crunching leaves as children march their way through the yards of their friends and neighbors, hoping to return victorious with the candy spoils of their great trick-or-treating adventure. Yet, for many, this playful form of begging is inseparable from its association with a holiday of more seemingly sinister origins. Whether your response to Halloween be total participation, or utter disdain, if you are a follower of Jesus you have to answer the broader question of how should we as Christ-followers respond to, and engage with our culture? Generally, followers of Jesus tend to fall into a couple categories.
Response 1: Reject
If you grew up in Christian circles, or have been around the church for much time, you’ve probably heard the ‘in but not of’ slogan. On the side of this drum is engraved the words of Jesus from John 17:14-15-
“I have given them Your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.”
The logic of cultural rejection is that holidays and cultural traditions, especially those with overtly pagan origins, are to be rejected by Christians so as to not run the risk of being tainted by the influence of the world. Therefore, to participate in a holiday like Halloween, even in the smallest ways, would be to compromise God’s call to holiness in our lives and actively work against Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17.
Though not all cultural expressions are rejected in this camp, they are closely inspected and put under extreme scrutiny. Any hint or manifestation of worldliness serves as a strike against such cultural expression. Those who live in the reject camp tend to look at fellow Christians who participate in Halloween festivities as undiscerning as they seemingly trivialize demons, hell, and Satan. The stark reality of eternal damnation, Satan’s ravenous desire for death and destruction, and an acute awareness of spiritual darkness causes those in the reject camp to want to run from anything that would seem to celebrate such realities.
Response 2: Accept
The other end of the spectrum, far away from the reject camp lies a place of seemingly total freedom; the accept camp. Here is where the entertainment, celebrations, and cultural norms are embraced with relatively open arms. Movies and television shows are ingested with ease, music is often enjoyed for its form with little question of its content, and holidays like halloween are embraced and celebrated like any other holiday. For some in this camp, few questions are asked. Others, however, may wave the flag of Colossians 2:20-23-
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
A law of liberty is usually applied for those within the accept camp. Because of Jesus, we are now able to enjoy things that would have once been restricted under the law. Often, the accept camp view the reject camp as being unnecessarily conservative at best, and legalistic Pharisees at worst. Though not every form of cultural expression is unquestioningly embraced, the default of the accept camp is just that, acceptance.
One might conclude that a person has to choose between one of two camps. Yet, we see from the life of Jesus that a third response exists in the midst of these two camps.
Response 3: Redeem
Planted in the middle of ‘reject’ and ‘accept’ lives the redeem camp. Here, the positive expressions of culture are embraced and used to expand the influence of the kingdom of God in the lives of people. Similarly, the seemingly negative expressions of culture are sifted and assessed for any redeeming values that might make them useful for the expansion of the influence of the Kingdom. To be sure, there are culturally accepted practices, norms, and expressions that would prove to be inherently negative and in that sense, irredeemable. Pornography would be one example of a cultural reality that proves to have no inherently redeeming qualities, and thus, absolutely must be rejected by the discerning Christ follower.
Yet, one does not have to think long and hard about how a holiday like Halloween might be redeemed for Kingdom purposes. The one time of year when your neighbors go out of their way to knock on your door should incite within us a desire to seize the opportunity to build relationships and gain influence with those who live right around us. What a shame it would be to have tremendous passion for reaching the nations, and make little effort to reach our neighbors.
Regardless of the origins of Halloween, we must not equate origin with current expression. It is highly unlikely that the children walking through your yard and knocking on your door are looking to celebrate anything other than the joy of imagination and the greatness of candy. As Christ followers, would we be known as those with the best candy and the brightest porches as we begin conversations with our neighbors and their children.
Would we not unnecessarily reject, or mindlessly accept those things that could be redeemed for the sake of building relationships and having Gospel influence in our own communities. At the end of the day you need to decide how you and your family land. Indecision is not an option. We often have leanings and inclinations that, if not checked and evaluated, can swing to the dramatic end of the spectrum.
As for our family and connection group, our light will be on and our door will be open as we seek to redeem Halloween. The children who visit our home will been greeted with great candy, and the adults will be offered a cup of homemade chili. We don’t expect people to accept Christ in our driveway, but our hope is that we would expand and deepen our relationships with the people in our neighborhood.
So this Halloween, flip the porch light on, buy the biggest and best candy, give a cup of chili to the parents, engage in conversations with your neighbors, and embody the words of 2 Corinthians 5:18-20-
Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”