Trick or Treat!  What About Christians and Halloween?

Trick or Treat!  What About Christians and Halloween?

It’s literally impossible to avoid Halloween these days. In a few days, everyone from Donald Trump to Maxine Waters will be knocking on our doors looking for candy. There will be parties and movies and fright nights in the woods, and haunted houses. The celebration seems to have expanded from a single day to an entire month.

According to the National Retail Federation, almost 70% of Americans will be celebrating Halloween this year. It is second only to Christmas as a commercial holiday. A quarter of all of the candy sold this year will be sold this season. And adults across the country will be eating that same candy for months.  Americans will spend over 8 billion dollars during this Halloween season. That’s billion with a B!

The origin

Where did Halloween come from? It seems that the celebration actually began with the Christian church. As early as the 4th century, according to church historian John Chrysostom, the church celebrated a festival in honor of martyred saints. It was called All Saints Day and originally held in May. The day before All Saints Day was called All Hallows(Holy) Day and eventually morphed into All Hallow E’en and eventually Halloween. Pope Gregory 4 shifted the original All Saints Day to November 1 to combat the popularity of the pagan Samhain Festival, and the rest is history.

The issue

So now the issue is, should Christians celebrate a pagan festival, or at least a festival with pagan origins?  It’s a good question. Halloween is circled on the calendar of the occult community. During the Halloween season:

  • There will be countless attempts to contact the dead.
  • More spells will be cast than at any other time of the year.
  • Animal shelters will refuse to offer black cats for adoption for fear they will be used in a bloody sacrifice.

It is the pagan high and holy day. Nothing else comes close. How should a Christian handle Halloween? Here are some thoughts.

What about Christmas and Easter? Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and there were no eggs and bunnies at Calvary. Both of these celebrations have pagan origins, but Christians have chosen to infuse them with spiritual meaning. Of course, Halloween is worse.  But if you’re going to use pagan origins as your argument against Halloween, at least be consistent.

And don’t stop with Halloween and Christmas and Easter. If you’re having problems with pagan origins, you’ll have problems with the names of weekdays and months, church steeples, clergy robes, wedding bands, and even flowers at funerals. And don’t forget about those pagan symbols on our currency, or money. Just saying.

We might not agree – What does the Bible say about celebrating Halloween? Nothing specifically, but a lot in principle. Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:9-13 are among a number of passages that warn Christians about the danger of flirting with the occult. Many Christians quickly respond that they are not celebrating the Kingdom of darkness, and that they are not impacted or impressed by the history. Halloween seems to fall under the banner of disputable matters, Romans 14. Matters that good Christians can disagree on.

Here’s a good example

It reminds me of Paul’s response to a disputable matter in I Corinthians 8.  Jewish Christians were upset because Gentile Christians were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. (Sounds kind of Halloweenish to me.) It was causing such a stir in the church that Paul’s eventual advice to the members was to stop it.  It wasn’t worth the trouble.

But Paul described the Jewish Christians as immature. “Weak’ is the word he used. The idol, he reminded them, was nothing but a piece of stone. No matter what the original idol worshippers intended, that idol is “nothing”, he says.  He makes the point that if your conscience is bothered because of the origin and history of the meat, then it’s wrong for you to eat it. But if another Christian has none of those issues with the meat, he’s free to eat it. Seems like good counsel for Christians who don’t see eye to eye on Halloween.

Don’t celebrate like a pagan.  If you choose to celebrate on Halloween, be careful how you do it. As I said earlier, Halloween is a high and “holy” day for the occult community. Each year around this time I receive a number of articles from former witches and warlocks who caution Christians not to be naïve about the spiritual and physical dangers of Halloween.

The Devil is real and so are his followers. Christians partying as demons and vampires are out of place any time of the year. Christians celebrating inappropriately or to excess are wrong any time of the year. Christians entertaining themselves with occult books, and motion pictures, and television series are playing with fire any time of the year. It is absolutely wrong to celebrate Halloween as a pagan tribute to the kingdom of darkness.

Take the day back! Halloween actually has its roots in the church. It began with good intentions, but the Devil absolutely defiled it. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather, Expose Them.” One of the most powerful reasons for Christians to celebrate on Halloween is to expose the tricks of the Devil.

Halloween, with all of its baggage, is a great teachable moment. It’s an opportunity to expose the Devil and his devices. So instead of screaming at the dark this Halloween, turn on the light. How?

  • Sponsor a Harvest Festival. Have a Halloween replacement celebration at your home or local church. Make sure that there are plenty of “treats” that will make the kids forget what they might be getting at a stranger’s door. Some churches encourage the kids to come to these events as Bible characters and they have contests for the best custom. Be creative. Get the kids involved in the planning.
  • Have a brief but inspiring message.  Teach the kids that there is literally a Great Controversy raging between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Teach the kids that life with Christ is a life of power over darkness. I John 4:4. Bring in an age-appropriate speaker who can connect with the kids or go to the Christian bookstore and choose from a number of powerful videos and resources for just that purpose.
  • Create a space for creative Christian fun.  This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t brain surgery. Many Christian kids are already disappointed that they are missing one on the most enjoyable days on their school calendar. They already feel a bit awkward explaining why they don’t celebrate Halloween like their classmates. That’s understandable. But it seems inexcusable for a local church to make a challenging holiday even worse by not scheduling some good clean Christian fun.

Halloween will always be a hot topic with Christians. It’s one of those issues that will never be settled, but it’s too important an issue not to discuss. I think the answer is this. Don’t celebrate Halloween, but celebrate on Halloween. But that’s me.  What do you think?

How to Criticize the Church

How to Criticize the Church

Some weeks it’s easier to be a Christian than an Adventist. This was one of those weeks for me. It began with Annual Council delegates forgetting that Halloween is still a week away and deciding to dress like extras from Little House on the Prairie…or Django. To many of us, they were a reminder of a patriarchal, racist chapter in our nation’s history. Can you say tone deaf?

Next the President of the General Conference went after music, worship, and social justice in the same message – just hours after the costume party. It gave rise to criticism that he was attempting to Make Adventism White…I mean, Great Again. I understand his call for moderation, and in context it makes sense. But what are the words I’m looking for? Oh, yeah. Tone deaf.

And then there was the “Unity” document. An attempt to rein in parts of the church that have been deemed, “out of compliance.” (Hint: That’s about 80% of you.) Again, it makes sense in principle. This is a 20-million-member denomination with more off shoot groups than we can name. But the unmistakeable backdrop is women’s ordination. And in my opinion, it’s another attempt to legislate a matter of conscience, context, and Union control.

So, what’s a frustrated Adventist professor to do? Well, I think its time to criticize. What? Yes, criticize. Is that appropriate? I think so. Ever heard of a prophet named Jeremiah? What about Ellen White and her Testimonies to the Churches and letters to leaders? What about Jesus and his letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3?

Is church criticism appropriate? I would argue that it’s not only appropriate but essential. It all depends on how it’s done. Let me give some suggestions on how to appropriately criticize the church.

Criticize biblically

There are some church issues that don’t need to be made public. As a matter of principle, we should attempt to resolve issues as quickly, quietly, and as close to the source of the problem as possible. Matthew 18 provides concrete counsel for most church conflicts. But that counsel is best applied to personal conflict. Not a perfect model for criticism of institutions.

Criticize accurately

One of the absolute requirements for going after an institution or an individual, is getting your facts straight. Don’t accept what you hear or what you read at face value. The internet is fast becoming a fact free zone. Ted Wilson is not a Jesuit. The church logo wasn’t designed by a warlock. Get your facts straight before you criticize the church.

Criticize constructively

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:15, that speaking the truth in love is a recipe for Christian growth and maturity. It’s also important for those who criticize the church. Check your motivation. Watch your attitude. Be conscious of how your criticism impacts and influences others. You can’t use the Devil’s tools to build the Lord’s house.

Criticize courageously

If you don’t have the courage to speak truth to power, step aside and support those who do. Our church structures are presidential to a fault. It’s great for efficiency, but it comes at the cost of collaboration and diversity. The warning against “kingly power” is more than cliché counsel. We have a real problem. We have literally enabled leaders to hurt themselves and us. For all the talk of free exchange, many of our leaders are surrounded by other leaders who won’t speak up because it’s contrary to their own self interests. I get it. But it’s not working. And it runs counter to the sensibilities of the generation that will be leading us next.

Criticize consistently

Finally, if you’re going to criticize, start with that person in the mirror. Don’t require something of me that you don’t value yourself. No one is perfect but have some integrity. Be consistent. And let me leave you with perhaps the greatest test of your integrity. How do you respond to a friend that’s incorrect or out of order? Not an enemy but a friend. Are you prepared to correct them?

So, there they are. Some simple suggestions from a professor who has been in a few battles. What do you think? Is it ok to criticize the church? Any observations or suggestions?

5 Reasons People Skip Church

5 Reasons People are Skipping Church

Something is going on. I’m not a believer in the secret rapture, but a lot of church members are missing! The problem isn’t confined to a particular region or religion. People just don’t seem to be coming to church like they used to.

An important Gallup Poll in 2016 said that 55% of Americans are members of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. That’s down from 70% in 1999. And if they took that survey today, it would certainly be worse. Of course, there’s a difference between church membership and church attendance, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I noticed in that same Gallup Poll that even though church attendance and membership are down, 89% of Americans still say they believe in God. Interesting. People seem to be saying, “I believe in God, I just don’t believe in the church.”

I did my own unscientific survey around Oakwood’s campus and the reasons people give for skipping church vary:

  • The services start too soon.
  • I’m just tired.
  • The services are boring.
  • I can go to church online
  • I don’t want to get dressed up.

No surprises here. But as I review the data and study the surveys- especially the Barna Group national poll in 2014- there are a number of reasons that seem to keep coming up. Let’s look at 5 of the reasons people consistently give for skipping church.

The Church is irrelevant.

Always an issue. It can seem like the church is stuck on 8 track issues in an I Phone age. Social justice, income inequality, global warming, and police misconduct are dominating the airways and we seem to be stuck on cheese and drums.

To be fair, the church offers eternal principles that address all of these issues. The church shouldn’t be a slave to contemporary trends. But if people don’t get the sense that church matters or makes a difference in their everyday lives, they will vote with their feet.

The hypocrisy of members and moral failings of leaders

It’s true that the church is a hospital for sinners, but to the outside world the church just looks sick! Every headline of another pastor or priest who stumbles is more fuel on the fire. Every member who sings on Saturday and stumbles on Sunday is more fuel on the fire. People aren’t looking for perfection as much as they are looking for authenticity.

One of the positive developments in the Adventist church has been a strong emphasis on grace. It has continued now for several years. Great. But for some it has come at the expense of holiness or godly living. The two are not mutually exclusive. God is the source of both. And frankly, outsiders can’t see grace, they see how grace lives.

God is missing in the church

This is an age where people are looking for something real. Something they can experience. Something they can feel. Nothing wrong with that.  Can it go to extremes? It can, and it has. But if the church would consult the Bible instead of opinion on legitimate worship practices and the power of the Holy Spirit, there would be no problem here. People would experience authentic emotion and real change.

I feel lonely in church

This one really leaves a mark. How can an institution that talks so much about the value of fellowship, seem to provide so little of it? And cliché’s like,” To have friends, one must be friendly” may be helpful in the world but they don’t make sense in the church.  

Technology has connected us in ways that we never could have imagined, but we are probably more personally disconnected today than at any time in history. The church must provide fellowship on more than a superficial level. It can’t force relationships, but it can provide the space and opportunities.

The church dismisses legitimate doubt

Many churches and church leaders are totally uncomfortable with doubt. They can’t tell the difference between an honest question and an attack. And frankly, both of them are valuable, because they reveal the heart. I would argue that if Christians don’t struggle with legitimate doubt from time to time, they probably have a superficial faith. We should welcome the conversation.

Those are 5 reasons people are skipping church. What do you think? Do you ever skip church? If so, why?