Halloween: Redeem or Retreat?

LS014997Should Christians participate in Halloween festivities?  Should Christians seek to redeem Halloween?  If yes, how should they go about it?  If no, what should Christians do when little trick-or-treaters come all festooned to their door?  These are questions I’ve wrestled with every Halloween.  Like our forty-fourth president said on a different matter, my views on these questions are “evolving.”  Should Christians seek to redeem Halloween or retreat from it?  Here are four observations about Halloween and four actions my family will take this year.

Four Observations

1. It is true, Halloween has a dark and diabolical history.  Albert Mohler has written about this.  This is the main reason most Christians struggle with how to approach Halloween.  We must also come to terms with the reality that while Halloween is still very much about ghouls and gore it is also significantly about green.  According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend $75.03 on decorations, costumes, and candy for Halloween.  Total spending on Halloween will approach $7 billion (that’s right billion) this year, second only to Christmas for retailers.  This holiday represents consumerism as much as it does evil.  This observation reminds us that every holiday is touched by the prince and power of the air and tainted by depravity to some extent.

2. Halloween is a celebration of that which is evil and ugly.  A friend of mine, Greg Stiekes, introduced me to this consideration some years ago.  He wrote,

Nevertheless, as believers in Christ, we must be wise in our approach to this holiday, for no matter how innocent our celebration there is still one part of Halloween that remains: the spooky, ugly, eerie, horrible, vile, scary, fearsome, grotesque, and ghostly.  Remember, a holiday is a celebration.  And when we celebrate those kinds of qualities, we are very close to celebrating that which is bad, and what is bad is very close to what is evil.  Halloween has always been connected to the monstrous, dark spiritual, demonic, and mysterious.

By contrast, Paul said this to the believers in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).  As believers, we are to celebrate the noble and good.

This consideration makes me want to approach Halloween discerningly so that my family doesn’t move from redeeming the holiday to being immersed in the trappings that militate against biblical virtues.

3. Christians should be willing to wrestle with the “in not of” principle as it relates to Halloween (cf. John 17:13-16; Romans 12:2).  We are in the world but not of it.  So to what extent can we use Halloween as a redemptive opportunity without being swept away by the eerie and evil torrent of the holiday?

4. Christians should be guided by their conscience.  Whether Christians should redeem or retreat on Halloween is a matter of “opinion” (Romans 14:1, ESV, NASB; “doubtful disputations” KJV; “doubtful things” NKJV; “doubtful issues” HCSB; “disputable matters” NIV).  As a Christian, I have two Biblical responsibilities on how I approach Halloween according to Romans 14.  First, I must be persuaded in my own mind about whether or not to observe this holiday (Romans 14:5).  Second, I must not condemn a fellow Christian who comes to a different conclusion than I do (Romans 14:10, 13; cf. Colossians 2:16).  So do not feel obligated to participate in or make an effort to redeem Halloween if your conscience forbids you to do this.  On the other hand, do not judge another believer whose conscience permits him or her to participate in or redeem Halloween to some extent.

Four Actions

As for me and my house…

1. We plan to leave the lights on.  In the past, we have turned the lights off and not responded to the summons of the doorbell when trick-or-treaters came to our door.  We did this with good intentions but this approach was awkward.  We will leave the lights on this Halloween.

2. We plan to distribute treats and tracts. One good article I came across, “12 Simple Ways to Be on Mission this Halloween,” suggested not to give out tracts because kids want candy not tracts.  The author makes a good point—sort of.   Why settle for an either/or approach—either candy or tracts?  We will take a both/and approach—both candy and tracts.  We will distribute EvanTell’s “CrossTalk” tract along with candy.

3. We plan to be hospitable.  As I write this the forecast shows rain with a high of 47 degrees on Halloween.  It appears that it will be a cool and damp night.  Offering hot apple cider is a possibility.  We are still relatively new in our neighborhood so we don’t want to miss the opportunity to meet and greet neighbors who will come to our door.

4. We plan to involve our children.  The kids will help prepare and pass out the treats and tracts and may dress up in some of their superhero or soldier outfits.

It’s a very simple approach for us but different from what we’ve done in years past.  I know this is an issue that can generate more heat than light.  Nevertheless, I would enjoy hearing about what others do on Halloween.  What have you done on Halloween?  What do you plan to do this year?

Reclaiming Committed Local Church Membership

Here is a good word from Thom Rainer out of his recent book, I Am a Church Member. He admonishes those who view church membership from a consumerist standpoint while exhorting a return to a committed local church membership.

Based on our research of 557 churches from 2004 to 2010, nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards.
Another way of looking at it is generationally. About two-thirds of the Builder generation, those born before 1946, are Christians. But only 15 percent of the Millennials are Christians. The Millennials are the largest generation in America’s history with almost eighty million members. They were born between 1980 and 2000. And we have all but lost that generation.
We can blame it on the secular culture. And we often do.
We can blame it on the godless politics of our nation. We do that as well.
We can even blame it on the churches, the hypocritical members, and the uncaring pastors. Lots of Christians are doing that.
But I am proposing that we who are church members need to look in the mirror. I am suggesting that congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
We join churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us.
We don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.
God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks.
He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.
Many churches are weak because we have members who have turned the meaning of membership upside down. It’s time to get it right. It’s time to become a church member as God intended. It’s time to give instead of being entitled.
(Thom S. Rainer, I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference [Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Publishing Group, 2013], 5-6)

Anti-Consumerism and Pro-Body of Christ

People should know what we’re against.  But people should also know what we are for.  This is true in any sphere.  It is certainly true in the body of Christ.  We are immersed in a consumerist culture.  This means that we have absorbed consumerism into our being, just like a sponge absorbs water.  Make no mistake, we are children of our consumeristic times.

As a pastor, I see just how much a consumer mindset has infiltrated believers when they are 1) looking for a church and 2) serving in a church.  When people are looking for a church, they “shop” around to see which church will serve them best  When these same people join a church it impacts their service because they remain committed to getting rather than giving–or giving nominally rather than sacrificially.  I liken church membership to a bank account.  A person typically makes deposits and withdrawals.  A balanced church member does both.  A church member who only withdraws (benefits from ministry) just drains resources–it’s an unsustainable pattern.  A church member who only deposits (participates in ministry) burns himself out.  As church members, we need to do both.  I appreciate the congregation of Bible Baptist Church (BBC), the church at which I serve.  There are a good number of people involved in the work of the ministry.  This post is not a backdoor critique of the congregation I shepherd.  On the contrary, it’s a joy to do the work of the ministry with many of the saints at BBC.  At the same time, every American Christian has marinated long enough in a consumer oriented culture that we cannot escape its influence.

This brings me back to where I began.  The Apostle Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ reveals that a consumer mentality (a focus on me and what I can get)  is the polar opposite of a ministry mindset (a focus on others and what I can give).  The two cannot peacefully coexist.  So believer, do you want to be counter-cultural?  According to the Apostle Paul, if we are going to be anti-consumerism as believers we must be pro-body of Christ.

I’ll close with a citation that prompted this post.  Paul Tripp communicated the importance of the body of Christ when he wrote,

Many of us would be relieved if God had placed our sanctification in the hands of trained and paid professionals, but that simply is not the biblical model.  God’s plan is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to full maturity in Christ.  The leaders of his church have been gifted, positioned, and appointed to train and mobilize the people of God for this ‘every person, everyday’ ministry lifestyle.

The paradigm is simple: when God calls you to himself, he also calls you to be a servant, and instrument in his redeeming hands.  All of his children are called into ministry, and each of them needs the daily intervention this ministry provides.  If you followed the Lord for a thousand years, you would still need the ministry of the body of Christ as much as the day you first believed.  This need will remain until our sanctification is complete in Glory (Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, ix).