As a church history professor, October 31st is one of my favorite holidays. That’s because it is Reformation Day; and this year will mark 498 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.
Watch Jamie Jackson’s interview with Dr. Nathan Busenitz concerning how Christians should think about Halloween.
To be honest, I would much rather talk about Reformation Day than Halloween. But most of American society does not share my passion for church history. For them, October 31st is all about Halloween traditions and festivities.
Due to its pervasive nature in American culture, Christians often wonder how they should respond to this October holiday. Is it permissible for believers to participate in certain activities related to Halloween, or should they try to avoid it completely?
In answering such questions, I believe there are two primary considerations Christians ought to keep in mind.
1. First, believers should avoid any activity that is prohibited by Scripture. Consequently, they ought to abstain from anything that smacks of immorality, debauchery, or Satanic worship.
Though some Halloween traditions have pagan roots, American culture has largely turned Halloween into a secular (i.e. non-religious) holiday. Even so, Christians ought to apply biblical discernment carefully as they consider to what extent they will participate in any Halloween-related activities.
In our unbelieving society, there are those who use Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate sexual sin, drunkenness, grotesque depravity, and even demonic activity. Because Scripture clearly forbids those things, Christians should have nothing to do with anything that promotes or induces such behavior.
As believers, we are called to flee from the sinful deeds of darkness, not revel in them. So any type of Halloween costume, activity, or party that celebrates those things should be totally avoided. Many Scripture passages could be cited to make this point. Ephesians 5:8–12 is one such place:
For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.
The Scriptural mandate is unmistakable: Stay far away from anything that is idolatrous or immoral (cf. Rom. 13:12–14; Gal. 5:19–21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 1:9; 4:3–8; 1 Pet. 4:3–6; etc.).
It should also be noted that, as believers, we do not share our culture’s morbid fascination with fear and death, because in Christ we have been set free from bondage to such things (Heb. 2:15). Consequently, Christians should not join with our unbelieving society in celebrating violent, ghoulish, or macabre themes. Moreover, our culture’s preoccupation with the “spooky” and the “scary” desensitizes their hearts and diverts their attention away from that which is truly terrifying: namely, the judgment of God that awaits all who die apart from Christ (Heb. 9:27; 10:31).
On the other hand, not every tradition associated with Halloween in American culture is inherently evil. For example, there is nothing in Scripture that forbids children from dressing up in innocent costumes and gathering candy from well-meaning neighbors. So how should Christians think about those kinds of things?
That brings me to a second point:
2. When it comes to those things not specifically prohibited in Scripture, Christians ought to apply biblical principles in order to make wise, God-honoring decisions.
A great place to find these principles is in passages like Romans 14–15 and 1 Corinthians 8–10, where the apostle Paul gives instruction to those who were wondering if it was acceptable for believers to eat food offered to idols. These principles are often discussed under the category of Christian liberty.
Though the situation is not a direct parallel, the principles Paul articulates in these passages provide a helpful paradigm for applying biblical wisdom to these kinds of situations.
The foremost of these principles might be stated in the form of three questions:
A) Will participating in this activity dishonor Christ? In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul wrote, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The implications of that statement are universal and all-encompassing. Stated negatively, Christians should not participate in anything that would bring dishonor or reproach on the name of Christ.
Stated positively, believers should only do that which can be done for God’s glory. We should not merely attempt to avoid His disapproval, but should actively seek to please Him in all we do (2 Cor. 5:9). Consequently, as we think about how to approach Halloween or any other holiday, we ought to be looking for opportunities to serve Him and advance the truth of His gospel.
B) Will participating in this activity violate my conscience? In these same chapters, Paul makes it clear that it is a sin to violate one’s conscience (cf. Rom. 14:22–23; 1 Cor. 8:7). So, if an activity—even one that some believers might find acceptable—violates a person’s conscience, that person should avoid it.
C) Will participating in this activity tempt fellow believers to sin? Paul emphasizes that believers need to be careful, in practicing their Christian liberty, not to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble (1 Cor. 8:12–13). In other words, we need to be aware of the fact that other Christians might have more sensitive consciences than we do. Accordingly, we should avoid putting them in situations where—by following our example—they might fall into sin by violating their conscience.
A friend of mine who works in the Spanish ministry at our church recently helped me think about the implications of this principle within a multi-ethnic environment. For non-Hispanic Americans, it can be easy to think about Halloween only through the lens of secular American culture. But for many believers from Latin American backgrounds, October 31st is closely associated with the Day of the Dead and its clearly unbiblical practices. As a result, these believers might find the celebration of Halloween to be a stumbling block, even if other Americans would not.
By simply being aware of those kinds of cultural issues, especially in multicultural church contexts, Christians can demonstrate biblical sensitivity and love to fellow believers from ethnic backgrounds that are different than their own.
It is also important to note, of course, that many churches offer excellent alternatives to Halloween—from Reformation Day celebrations to Harvest Festivals to things like AWANA’s Fairmont Fair. In other words, choosing not to celebrate Halloween does not require turning out the lights and sitting quietly in the back room of the house hoping no one rings the doorbell.
Nonetheless, in answer to the question—“Is it permissible for Christians to participate in any Halloween-related activities?” —the bottom line is this: By avoiding that which is sinful and by applying biblical wisdom to that which is not (using biblical principles like the three delineated above), believers can approach the Halloween season in a way that is both faithful to God’s Word and filled with wholesome fun for them and their families.
For a longer and more detailed article addressing this same issue, I gladly recommend Grace to You’s treatment which can be read by clicking here.