Can Christians celebrate Halloween?
Just recently, famous model Hailey Bieber received backlash from her Instagram fans when she asked for Halloween costume ideas. Bieber, who has been open about her Christian faith, was accused of being a “Fake Christian” for celebrating Halloween. Christians in the United States are split on whether or not Halloween is kosher. 54% according to a Lifeway study back in 2015 say it’s “all in good fun,” but slightly over a quarter of Evangelicals believe it should be completely avoided. Should we call someone’s Christianity into question because they trick-or-treat?
Let me put my cards on the table by sharing that our family has gone trick-or-treating for the last several years. The kids have a great time (my wife and I collect a hefty candy tax), and I’ve seen it as an opportunity to get to know and interact with our neighbors. I believe Christians should have liberty in this area to decide whether or not they want to participate in Halloween, and I think Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 can be a helpful guide for us.
There were some spooky things going on at the church in Corinth. One of them had to do with meat that had been offered to pagan deities, or idols. Apparently, this meat was being eaten by Christians who understood that the “gods” of those temples weren’t real. Their conscience wasn’t bothered by the food, because they understood that there is only one true God. Thus, when they went to the meat market if the meat sold there had come from one of these pagan rituals, they didn’t think twice about it. After all, “an idol has no real existence.” (1 Cor. 8:4)
Not everyone in Corinth felt the same way, though. Paul added, “not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (1 Cor:8:7) In other words, some believers couldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols because their conscience wouldn’t allow them to. Having been saved out of idolatry, they had a hard time separating the meat from the pagan ritual and therefore couldn’t eat the same food in good faith.
I wonder if there isn’t a line of analogy that we can draw here with the current question of Halloween. Is the candy we get from our neighbors unclean because it’s handed out by someone dressed as a goblin? Well, perhaps for you, it might be. If the “paganism” of Halloween keeps you from in good conscience dressing up, then it’s best you don’t! Paul said elsewhere, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23) However, our abstinence in this area doesn’t equal our righteousness. Paul continued in 1 Corinthians, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off is we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor. 8:8-9) A couple of things to consider here.
First, there is the reality of Christian liberty.
Christians have the freedom to do things that don’t transgress God’s law. In line with this, it’s not okay for believers to invent new laws that aren’t biblical, and then try to bind the consciences of others on the basis of their personal preferences. Note also that the liberty we have as followers of Jesus should never be a cause for self-righteousness, because Paul said we’re no better if we choose to exercise it or not.
Second, there is the reality of Christian charity.
Just because you have the liberty to do something, doesn’t mean you always should. If what you do causes your Christian brother or sister to stumble into sin, you need to change your behavior. Now there’s a really important distinction I want to make here that safeguards us from tyranny, and it’s the distinction between giving offense and taking offence. We give offense when we actually cause someone to stumble because of a particular decision. Consider the example of drinking alcohol. If you invite someone to your house for dinner who was enslaved to alcohol prior to faith in Christ, and you encourage them to have a beer with you at dinner, you very well may be giving offense. Due to their history with alcohol, even one beer could be sin for this person since they might not be able to receive it in good conscience. Christian charity purposes never to give offense to a brother or sister in Christ.
Taking offense is different. The religious legalists - the Pharisees - were offended by Jesus because he ate and drank with sinners (Lk. 7:34). Jesus was free to do so. They wanted to impose their rules on Jesus because they took offense at him, but Jesus didn’t change his ministry model to make the Pharisees happy. He knew that they were hypocrites who were only trying to bring him under their subjection. Christians don’t have the right to say, “You can’t participate in Halloween” just because they take offense – the Scriptures teach that ghouls and goblins are nothing, there’s only one God. At the same time, if in our liberty to trick-or-treat, we’re scandalizing our brothers and sisters in the church who have difficulty separating the candy and the costumes from the sin they engaged in outside of Christ, we should choose charity over liberty.
What do you practice both liberty and charity?
So to you who are quick to judge believers because they want to dress up and go trick-or-treating, ask yourself, “Am I being charitable, or just trying to impose my feelings on someone else because I personally don’t like Halloween?” You’re free to dislike it but be careful that you don’t try to impose your preference on everyone else and judge their Christianity on the basis of how faithful they are to your standard instead of God’s. These kinds of preferences won’t commend us to God, but they can keep us from our brothers.
And to the one who chooses to go trick-or-treating, consider, “Am I, in my liberty, hurting others within my church by demanding that they too should put on a costume when their conscience won’t allow them to?” If that’s the case, don’t flaunt your liberty – which may end up confusing, or even hurting a brother or sister in Christ. Instead choose charity. Paul said, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Cor. 10:24)