Tonight I went Trick or Treating for the first time in my life… and I’m thinking about doing it again…
You would think that a good Calvinist and Reformed Baptist would be writing about the 500th anniversary of the reformation today, and not Halloween – but it is precisely because of reformation theology that I can write this post, where as a few years ago I never would have dreamt of it.
We never went ‘Trick or Treating’ when I was a kid, it just wasn’t something our family did. “Well, we’re Christians, and Christians don’t really ‘do’ Halloween.” I grew up accepting this, and believing it – I didn’t fully understand it, but I trusted my parents, and the teaching of my church’s tradition. I love that my mum and dad were careful about what they exposed me and my brother to, and that they trusted their own church leaders. But now that I’m a pastor and a parent myself ‘because my mum said so’ is no longer a good enough answer! I needed to work through it myself. And part of that process was talking to my mum about how they came to the decision they did when I was a child.
It was two years ago, that my then five year old son first confronted me with the question “can we go trick or treating dad?” I give the answer – “no, let’s stay in and give sweets and gospels to the kids who come to our door.” A good thing to do.
He seemed satisfied with my avoidant answer. But I wasn’t.
Over the next months I spent time reading up on why Christians are anti-Halloween, what is the origin of Halloween, what is the origin of trick or treating, and most importantly – what does the bible have to say about any of this. I came to the conclusion that Halloween, by that given name, arose from the church (though not the bible). Did the church perhaps hijack the timing of a pagan season or practice? Probably. But did it take on those pagan practices? No. What I discovered was that far from celebrating evil, Halloween was about mocking it! Something the Christian could freely do in the light of passages like:
But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17
If I am saved, and therefore in union with Christ and his Spirit becomes my Spirit…is there room for any other spirit? Is there any spiritual danger for the person who is one spirit with Jesus! No!
And so Jesus says:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. – John 10:28-29
There is no spiritual danger for the one who is in Christ and therefore held in the Fathers hand…Halloween is not something for the Christian to fear!
But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you always should.
The next year the question came again from my son “what if we went trick or treating- then I gave out sweets and gospels?” By this point I was convinced that there was no danger, or prohibition against dressing up and eating sweets… but my kids probably shouldn’t do it, because I’m a pastor…what would some of the congregation think if they found out the pastors kids had gone trick or treating…
It was a stupid reason not to do it.
This year I’ve stopped caring. I’ve run out of good reasons not to do it. So we bought some pumpkin buckets, I dressed the kids up, and we walked around the neighbours houses giddily declaring ‘trick or treat’ as each door opened. It was great fun. There were lots of other parents and children doing the same. We chatted on the street and bonded over a shared experience.
It was a positive experience! There was nothing evil or sinister experienced tonight. In fact there was so much good! We gave out 30+ gospel tracts, and invites to our church’s Christmas services. Rachael had conversations with the neighbour kids on the doorstep over their costumes, and what sweet they were going to pick – and me and the kids spent time bobbing for apples in a neighbours house!
As the kids bobbed about in the sink basin, I was able to talk to my neighbour about his latest home brew. We shared experiences of our baby teething, and their grandchild teething, I asked how things were in their lives…I was able to naturally share an interest in being a part of their lives. I was able to work on building a relationship.
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t met them where they were – celebrating Halloween.
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. – John 17:18
We are called to a worldly Christianity… we are not to shy away from the world, but go into it.
I know many churches will have ‘light parties’ on Halloween, but what is that teaching our children? I don’t want to knock them, churches are genuinely wanting to do good, but we’re retreating to ‘walled Christianity’. It means we’re not at home the one night our non-Christian neighbours are knocking at our doors! And yet we expect them to come to our light party, or come to church the following Sunday…? But never meet them where they are?
And from what I see, what my kids did tonight was no different to what might happen at a ‘light party’ – they dressed up, saw friends, ate sweets and then finished the night with a bible story… but they also then prayed for the people they had seen that night.
Here’s the thing: you and your family need to follow your conscience. My conscience is captured by mission and I see Halloween as a tool to that end. You might have a different view – a number of people have already assured me they do! But, the way I see it, Christians don’t need to be scared about how to handle Halloween. Like all things in this world, it’s about learning to separate the wheat from the chaff.
You don’t have to abandon your Christian faith or confess allegiance to pagan deities in order to participate in Halloween.
For sure, make sure you’re careful about what costumes you choose for your kids. Ask yourself, ‘does this symbolise or support an ideology that’s incompatible with my faith?’ If something seems to honour fear or celebrate something Satanic, parting with it is probably a good idea.
But it’s simply not true that you are participating in deeds of darkness when you dress up like Rapunzel and get sweeties from neighbours. You can be a good and fun neighbour without joining the Church of Satan.
Soli Deo Gloria.