Halloween and the Biblically Informed Conscience
The article below was written by two young moms who are members of Saving Grace Bible Church. Confronted with a Fall Festival on Halloween, it is the story of their struggle to reconcile the traditions of their past with the truth of Scripture. Above all, it is a testament to the certainty of God's promise to renew our minds through the power of His Word.
Halloween can be a controversial subject. It isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and that can make it challenging for Christians as we wrestle with what to make of this holiday. Even so, we can apply useful principles from Scripture to help guide us as we examine our conscience in the light of God’s Word and prayerfully decide how to proceed.
I had strong convictions about Halloween, and believed I had a solid understanding of it from a Christian standpoint. That is, until my church decided to celebrate a Fall Festival on October 31st. I wrestled with this decision for weeks, digging into the Word, questioning my theology, my heart, and my conscience before God.
Halloween was not celebrated in Russia or Ukraine when we immigrated to the United States in 1990. My parents knew nothing about the holiday, and only formed their opinion from what they observed: ghosts, witches, spiders, and everything that condoned evil.
We children were not allowed to partake in candy, costumes, pumpkins, or anything that resembled Halloween. If a school day fell on Halloween, we stayed home. We would turn off all the lights and pretend we were not home if someone knocked. It’s interesting to reflect back on that, as I now realize that turning off the lights and pretending not to be home actually taught us how to lie and deceive at a young age. But that was not sin; opening the door and “partaking” in Halloween was.
We were raised with the understanding that Halloween was evil, and involvement in any form of this holiday was sinful. Being kids however, we did want candy. So while our parents were not watching, we covered ourselves with white sheets and went trick-or-treating to our neighbors. We got our candy, and we didn’t turn to witchcraft or into Satan worshipers as adults because of it.
The next day after Halloween, my mother would stock up on the Halloween candy being sold on clearance. If I ate candy with the ghoul wrappers on Halloween day, that was somehow “sacrificed” to Satan and I was partaking in evil. But eating the very same candy after Halloween was okay, because the evil day was over. If my siblings wanted to play dress up, it was okay on any day but October 31st, because dressing up on Halloween would mean we were involved in the dark holiday.
As we matured and became believers, we saw the contradictions in our parents’ views on Halloween, and so we researched the origins of the holiday and learned that Halloween originated with the Celts in Europe and Britain. These Iron Age people were polytheistic (belief in many gods), had many superstitions and rituals, and held celebrations and festivals to mark the seasons.
The festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and was celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st. It was believed by the Celts that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth on this day, and that these ghosts would damage their crops, cause trouble, and torment them. The Celts turned to Druids (pagan priests) for comfort and guidance. Some of the ceremonies performed by the Druids and Celts were crop and animal sacrifices to the Celtic gods where participants wore costumes to ward of bad spirits.
But it wasn’t the history of Halloween that made a big impression on me. I was more struck by a documentary about a Christian woman who was a former Wicca witch, and what she had to say about Halloween. She explained the evil that Satanists do on Halloween, and warned people to stay indoors to protect their families from poisoned candy, and having their children abducted and animals stolen for use in sacrificial rituals. What she did was create fear.
After reading Bible passages such as Deuteronomy 18:10-13, Ephesians 5:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, Romans 12:2, John 17:14-19 and 3 John 1:11 (even though some were clearly out of context and others did not pertain to Halloween) I came to the conclusion that my parents were right in not allowing us to partake in Halloween.
Incidentally, our family also used Halloween as an evaluation tool to decide what English-language church we would attend. We would skip over their doctrinal statement and question their position on Halloween instead. This was a simple way to see if they practiced what they preached, or so we thought. Looking back on it now, my understanding of Halloween at that time is best expressed by Tim Challies, who said that the greatest error “Christians believe about Halloween is that by refusing to participate in the day we are somehow taking a stand against Satan…that participation in the day is an endorsement of Satan and his evil holidays”.
Equipped with my “knowledge” and a handful of Bible verses, we no longer turned off our lights on Halloween and pretended like no one was home. Instead, we now boldly posted a Bible verse on our door to ward of trick-or-treaters. I can only imagine the puzzled look on the faces of little Harry Potters, monsters, and ballerinas at our door on that night.
Many who celebrate Halloween today have no knowledge of its religious origins or pagan roots. Halloween in our secular culture today has become an odd mixture of activities. For kids, it’s just a day to dress up in costumes, collect free candy, and have fun. For adolescents, it’s a day for pranks and haunted houses. For adults, Halloween is mostly a day to party and get intoxicated. For Satanists and modern witches, it’s a day of heightened activity for their demonic rituals.
Sometime later, I came across an article that challenged Christians to use Halloween to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. It made the point that Halloween is the only day of the year when people come to your door. We can sit inside with our lights off, seeking shelter and protection from the pagan world, or we can use this day to proclaim Christ.
John MacArthur makes another great observation: “Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner—now that is truly terrifying”. John continues by saying, “Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But ‘greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world’ 1 John 4:4. God has forever ‘disarmed principalities and powers’ through the cross of Christ and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]’ Colossians 2:15.”
Tim Challies was a further encouragement as he wrote, “Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on. It is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.”
So opening our door and handing out candy and gospel tracts became a norm for our family. This was the case for several years until last year, when our church decided that we as a church would celebrate Fall Festival on October 31st. My face probably turned ghost white hearing the news, and my mind started racing with questions. We are Christians, and the people in this church are the most God-fearing people I have ever met. It didn’t make sense! I thought that our church was biblically sound! Have I been wrong in becoming a member? How will God view this activity? What does the Bible really say about pagan holidays like Halloween? Will I be going against my conscience if I attend? Is my conscience wrongly accusing me that this is sin?
My conscience was burdened, and I wrestled with this topic for weeks and sought answers earnestly with prayer. My pastor, Marc Wragg, encouraged me to distinguish clearly between biblical commands and personal traditions by saying “obedience to His clear and direct commands is more important than following our personal traditions – even if we think our traditions make us more holy. Obeying God is more important than following man”. 1 John 3:20 states “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart”. I began evaluating what I believed against the Word of God.
While the world celebrates ghouls and engages in debauchery on October 31st, our Fall Festival is by no means practicing such evil or celebrating for worldly reasons. We have something far more significant to celebrate on October 31st: Reformation Day. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg church door. Luther believed the Word of God was the only authority for the Christian faith, not the traditions of men or the Church. Luther called the Church back to the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and not on the works-based practices of Catholicism. This was the official starting point of the Protestant Reformation.
Despite this, my questions continued. If our church was only celebrating Reformation Day, why call it Fall Festival? October 31st is still evil, so why celebrate anything on this day? Wouldn’t we be partaking in the evil?
Pastor Wragg challenged me by saying, “If Christians should stay away from Halloween because it is evil, and should not create a different holiday on Halloween for fear of practicing the same evil, then I would say that you must also make the same argument against Christmas and Easter”.
I started researching Christmas and Easter. I never have before. Based on what my parents and the Slavic church taught, I always assumed these holidays were thoroughly Christian. What I learned was shocking! Christmas was never about the birth of Christ. He wasn’t even born in December. December 25th was celebrated for thousands of years before the birth of the Messiah as the birthday of an ancient pagan god. It was the birthday of the pagan sun god, worshipped by millions throughout the Roman Empire! The sun god was considered the life and nourishment of the souls of men. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum. Celebrations on this day included gift-giving, partying, gambling, overeating and drunkenness.
Early puritans even banned the celebration of Christmas due to concerns that it was too pagan or unbiblical. Christmas trees and wreaths all have pagan roots as well. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts and evil spirits. The same Druids that celebrated Halloween also decorated their temples with evergreen branches as a symbol of everlasting life.
Easter egg coloring and giving gifts on Easter also traces back to pagan traditions. It goes back the tradition of the Egyptians in coloring eggs and rabbits to worship the god Tammuz and the goddess Ishtar. However, Easter eggs now are symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for many Christians, and for many others it’s just plain fun. Painting Easter eggs red is an Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Church tradition to represent the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross. Many Christians roll eggs as a symbolic re-enactment of the rolling away of the stone from Christ’s tomb. As for egg hunts, they have nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Pastor Wragg pointed out “The church adapted these pagan customs and “Christianized” them by changing the meaning of the custom and directing our attention to the truth”. Since this is obviously so, why do we not think twice when it comes to Christmas or Easter? The pagan roots of these holidays are no different than Halloween. So when I celebrate Christmas, decorate a tree, have wreaths hanging and gifts under my tree, or partake in any activity on Easter such as eating chocolate bunnies, coloring eggs, giving gift baskets and hunting for eggs, am I partaking in evil since the origin of these holidays are pagan?
If I think that dressing up in a costume, asking for candy, or attending a Fall Festival on Halloween is evil, then why would I not also make the same argument against Christmas and Easter? Was I partaking in evil all these years by celebrating Christmas? I had no idea of the origin. I was simply celebrating the birth of Christ and striving to love the LORD my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength (Mark 12:30-31). Then came a dreadful question…do I stop celebrating everything? I was not ready to stop the egg coloring, tree decorating and birthday parties (also has pagan origin), so I turned my attention to study sin.
The Bible says “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), and the Scriptures are my sole authority when it comes to deciding if something is sin. In His Word, God has revealed His moral will to us, which consists of commands that teach how believers should live and what they should believe. So what command would I be breaking if I decided to allow my child to wear a costume to the Fall Harvest? The Bible makes no mention of Christmas trees, wreaths, costumes or pumpkins, therefore how could I call them sins in and of themselves?
I found what Garry Friesen said in his book “Decision Making and the Will of God” helpful. “Sin is described as breaking God’s law (John 3:4). The reverse is also true: ‘where there is no law, there also is no violation’ (Romans 4:15). As a result, the only way a person can sin against God in a decision is to break one of God’s commands – that is, make a decision outside the moral will of God. Such an offense could involve a wrong purpose or attitude, as well as a wrong action. However, if a particular decision is not directly addressed by God’s commands, and our goals and attitudes are right, then we cannot sin making the decision”
After searching the Scriptures, I was convinced that the pagan origins of today’s holidays have no bearing on whether or not we should practice or celebrate something. Many of the holidays celebrated today had once been celebrated with sinful heart intentions. It is important to separate the sinful heart from the object. Though a sinful heart once used a wreath to celebrate their idol, I decorate with it to celebrate the Christmas season. Though a pagan heart had carved pumpkins to ward of spirits years ago, today I decorate with them to celebrate the fall season.
Another observation: why was I so quick to mark October 31st as an evil day? If I celebrate the Fall Festival, Fall Harvest, etc. in November or any other day except October 31st, it’s okay. But as soon as I partake or celebrate the Fall Festival or anything else on October 31st, suddenly it means I am partaking in the evil of Halloween. If Satanists and pagan witches practice on this day and have chosen October 31st, how has it somehow become Satan’s day? Jesse Johnson made a good point when he wrote, “dates are not sacred, and a particular day cannot reasonably be associated with either demonic practices or godly practices (Col 2:16; Romans 14:5). We are bound to days only insomuch as our conscience binds us, and we should strive to bring our consciences into conformity with the Scriptures.”
And the Scriptures were crystal clear on this matter: “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—“ (Col. 2:16 NAS) “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5 ESV). My pastor summed it up for me by saying, “Having a festival on the same day as a pagan festival makes us no more a pagan than having a church service on Sunday makes us a Mormon, Scientologist, Catholic, or any other religion which worships on the same day. We are honoring Christ just as we do on Christmas and Easter.”
I had to then question why I was so bothered by the activities overlapping with Halloween. Do pumpkins, costumes, and candy somehow link you to celebrating pagan Halloween? Is no one able to dress up, collect candy or have pumpkins as decorations because these activities are linked to Halloween? I was reminded again to look at the heart motive behind the object. One heart dresses in a costume to ward off evil spirits, another to get candy, and another just because it’s fun. I praise God that though “man looks at the outward appearance, the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7 NAS)
As Christians, our chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. Anything and everything a Christian says and does should be for Gods glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). So just like everything else in life as believers attempt to honor God, those same principals must be applied when partaking at a function on October 31st. The costume worn, the environment I am in and the activities done on October 31st should all be Christ-honoring. I would not be able to go to a Halloween party where there is drunkenness, sensual dancing, or a dress code mandating that I must wear a costume that is ghoulish.
As Pastor Wragg pointed out, “we teach a different message. We live a different life. Most importantly, we have a different reason for getting together. If Christ should return at the moment we are having our festival, what will He find? Christians fellowshipping, reaching out to a community, developing relationships with other churches and parents keeping their kids away from the ghoulish activities we find in our pagan surroundings”.
So If I would choose to celebrate Halloween, Fall Festival, Fall Harvest, Reformation Day or anything else on October 31st, what would my motive be? Would I be able to do it with a clear conscience before God? What would I be celebrating? Christ has defeated Satan and one day will crush him under our feet. That is what I am celebrating on October 31st (Romans 16:20)!
David Mathis reminds us that, “No demon lurks apart from His will. No spirit pounces apart from His plan. He is sovereign over even the movements of evil minds. Those who are in Christ have no need to fear the night. This is now our day. He has won it for us, and will not leave us to fend for ourselves in the devil’s domain. God ‘has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13). I plan again to attend the Fall Festival at our church being held on October 28th this year to align with our weekly kids program. I hope to fellowship with believers, meet people from our community, welcome the opportunity to share the gospel, and will be praising Christ for what He has accomplished by disarming the “rulers and authorities and [putting] them to open shame, by triumphing over them” at the cross (Colossians 2:15).
Sometimes it’s a lot easier to slap a “sin” label on something and move on. It’s definitely harder to sit down, wrestle, and evaluate why something is sinful. With Halloween for instance, we have taken a whole day (October 31st) and put it in a bubble and labeled it as sinful. Anything that even closely resembles Halloween or the activities around it have been put into that bubble.
I would like to challenge you to burst that Halloween bubble and work to discern specifically what is sinful, and what is not. I challenge you to use wisdom and discernment and evaluate scripturally where you conscience is informed and where it is uninformed by the Word of God.
As John Macarthur explained in his book “Vanishing Conscience”, “The conscience is not infallible. Nor is it a source of revelation about right and wrong. Its role is not to teach us moral and ethical ideas, but to hold us accountable to the highest standard of right and wrong we know. The conscience is informed by tradition as well as truth, so the standards it holds us to are not necessarily biblical ones (1 Cor. 8:6-9). The conscience can be needlessly condemning in areas where there is no biblical issue. In fact, it can try to hold us to the very thing the Lord is trying to release us from (Rom. 14:1, 20-23). The conscience, to operate fully and in accord with true holiness, must be informed by the Word of God. So even when guilt feelings don’t have a biblical basis, they are an important spiritual distress sign. If they’re only signaling a weak conscience, that should spur us to seek the spiritual growth that would bring our conscience more in harmony with God’s Word.”
I wish to be clear that in no way am I encouraging someone to go against their conscience. If you are not able to hand out tracts, wear a costume, carve a pumpkin, or attend a local Fall Harvest in good conscience before God, then please refrain (Romans 14:23). My wish was to share what I have been learning by digging into the Word of God as I navigate through the grey areas of life.
But my hope is that after reading this article, you’ll think carefully about your response the next time you witness someone engaging in an activity or function on October 31st (or any other holiday, for that matter). Instead of judging, I urge you to take every thought captive to obey Christ (1 Corinthians 10:5). Remember that we are commanded to love (1 John 3:13-22) and love believes all things, and hopes all things (1 Cor 13:4-7). Anything less than this is sin.