A [Troubling?] Defense of Halloween

by Reed DePace

Have you seen this article at Reformation 21, the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals?

Halloween: A Distinctly Christian Holiday

I find this very troubling. The historical review seems more or less consistent with what I’ve studied. Even more, given this brother’s background, I’m willing to bend in his direction with facts I might find in question. As well, some of his cultural-historical assessment seems insightful and to that degree helpful. Halloween as celebrated in America does have some “Christian” influences. (I think he at least over-states this, considering Christianity more as a source, maybe the main one, rather than just an influence.)

What bothers me though is the cavalier tone of the whole piece. His writing treats the concerns of Christians about Halloween as silly. They are to be dismissed with a chuckle that says to the person who asked the question that they’re being ridiculous. More, it is as if he thinks he is being kind in limiting himself to saying that. Maybe sometimes this is true for some Christians and some of their concerns, but this article effectively sweeps out all opposition to Halloween as nothing more than the uninformed blather of Neanderthal Christians. Example: placing “neo-pagans” and “neo-puritans” in the same context effectively equalizes both terms. Both become pejoratives for those to be dismissed as effectively un-Christian!

A second glaring concern is the author’s historical rooting of All Saints Day. His review of its origins in the remembrance of martyrs appears sound (as well as I know my history). Yet he then skips over the dominant historical context of All Saints Day in the American celebration of Halloween – its Roman Catholic historical context! Indeed, I would argue that Halloween is more a creation of Madison Avenue (marketing to sell things) and the infiltration of Roman Catholic cultural tradition into weakened American Protestantism in the first half of the 20th Century. Pagan roots to Halloween may very well be blurred or even non-existent (as the author all but asserts). Yet he effectively skips over the DOMINANT influence of America’s Halloween history. This can be seen even at the end of his article where asks three leading application questions. The expected answers to these questions force the reader to AFFIRM the celebration of Halloween or mark oneself as someone who dismisses the martyrs of the Church. Thanks for judging the fullness of my faith on the basis of a dubious secular holy-day.

Christian_Martyrs_Last_Prayer

Christian Martyrs Under the Roman Empire

The “Christian” culture in which Halloween grew is at best a weak period in the history of the Church, not one of her stronger ones. The American secular celebration of Halloween grew out of a context in which the very fundamental truths of our faith, even the nature of the Bible as the thrice-I (inspired-inerrant-infallible) word of God, were being jettisoned by the majority of the TRUE Church. Halloween does NOT have a good historical background, even if we limit it to about the last 100 years. The false-gospel rooted context of the Roman Catholic Church is the dominant “Christian” influence in Halloween.

Add to this the obviously increasing pagan dominance in the celebration of this “holiday” and any suggestion of a true Christian influence is being swept away. The modern family, who decorates their front yard with gruesome displays first seen in an evil Hollywood slasher movie, most certainly is not afraid of death. But that is not because they fear God and rest only on Jesus. They’ve just adapted the power of the position of post-modernism. “Who are you to say I’m wrong! [There are no absolutes!] I’ll hang a decapitated body from my tree if I want to!!! Quick honey, go thaw out some more pig’s blood. The stuff on this neck is drying out!” What, exactly, does that have to do with celebrating the lives of martyers?

Image Result from a search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costumes

Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costumes

Imagine that Halloween were about the celebration of virtuous romance between men and women. Do we really want to encourage our members to dress up God’s precious little ones, their children, as a “prince” or “princess” and go door-to-door in a community where some parents will dress their kids up as prince-and-prince, princess-and-princess, and prince-who-thinks-he-is-a-princess? Do we really want to try to steer around the house with porn movies playing in the living room behind the big bay window, just behind the tree decorated with light up sex toys and the blow up sex doll sitting next to the stuffed animal? Sorry for the graphic inferences, but that is a fair characterization of what Halloween in America, in its UnChristian celebration of the reign of death, is increasingly becoming. We all know it. We just don’t want to address it.

 Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costume

Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costume

Aside from these considerations, I am a bit startled at the close connection he suggests between what is supposedly a secular celebration with the worship of God. He mentions “liturgy” at one point. This reminds us that when talking about Halloween we’re not dealing with a merely secular celebration that happens to have Christian influences. We’re dealing with matters of worship. Indeed a large part of his argument to support children dressing up, getting boodles of candy, only to give dentists job security, rests of the biblical validity of the worship celebration of All Saints Day. I’ll let my puritan loose and express aghast shock at even the inference that All Saints Day has any place in the worship of the Church. My aghast sucking in of a deep breath before I blast “HOW DARE YOU!!!!???” is not opposition to remembering the martyred saints. It is opposition to introducing into worship ANYTHING that adds to God’s word, even by a set of good inferential arguments. The gospel that frees us so we don’t have to be afraid of things in the dark is darkened by such additions. That’s a lot worse than denying a child the joy of dressing up and eating candy as if sugar highs were part of the “blessed life.”

Throughout the article I think the author expresses a cavalier-ness that is most disturbing. I recognize he is seeking to use this tone to challenge what he sees as Neanderthal thinking. Indeed, I admit that Scripture in some places uses such apparently intemperate language to challenge the worst of thinking. But does the secular tradition of Halloween, with its dubious “Christian” sources, does this calls for the use of a cavalier tone? To do so with such sweeping observations, in my opinion, ends up affirming what should not be affirmed, all in the name of Christian liberty!

I get the desire for dressing up. I still have a big chest full of dress ups my kids used when younger, and we still pull these out when visited by families with young kids. I even own my own Elvis mask, thank you very much. But consider what Halloween is becoming; the celebration of the most gruesome forms of death, displayed by dead bodies hanging from trees. Do we really think that has anything valid to do with, even by mere conjecture, the only dead Body hanging from a tree Christians should be celebrating? I acknowledge this author’s desire to rid Christians of the legalistic thinking often attached to the discussion of Halloween. I fear he has inadvertently called holy that which is anything but. His argument is most certainly not one of adiaphora (things indifferent). I don’t expect my voice is all that important, so I don’t expect a response. Yet, sometimes the child must speak when the Father, his Older Brother, and the Best Friend are slighted.

foxe-s-book-of-martyrs-c1780-hand-col-.-burnings-at-smithfield-canterbury-[2]-27499-p

Christian martyrs under the Roman Catholic Church

Let me conclude with some hopeful expressions of peace. Given that this is a public article on a major reformed website, it is biblically moral for me to respond to it on another less well-known but public reformed website. At the same time, given that some of my disagreements are worded somewhat strongly, it would be right for me to also try to communicate these concerns directly with Reformation 21. I did try, for almost a half hour. There was no place to posts comments in response to the article. Further, the only place I could find a “contact us” link was at the bottom of the page, located in the mess of the “site map” stuff. The link did not work. I even tried the “How to Support” link; did not work. I got the same result from other links. It was only after realizing that I could not talk directly with those responsible for this article that I chose to post here. I don’t think I am following a hard and fast rule required of all. I’m observing my efforts however to highlight the degree to which I find this brother’s article disturbing the peace of the Church. It is harmful as written. I am hopeful he means better. I pray the Spirit lead him and the editorial staff at Reformation 21 to think through and consider a re-write.

by Reed DePace

14 Comments

  1. October 31, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    I’m glad someone else was bothered by this.

    While I am anti-Halloween for myriads of reasons, the posts at Ref 21 were odd and had a weird cheer-leading aspect to them that was unsettling.

    Today I was told I was “anti-missional” for not actively celebrating the day with my kids.

  2. Reed Here said,

    November 1, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Benjamin, bleh. Hear you brother.

    I admit to being discouraged by the evidence around that people actually do love the world more than they do Jesus. No, not saying participation in Halloween is automatically a sign of that. But the length some will go to celebrate it? Other’s to defend it?

    Let’s just say I’d love to see the same energy poured out in worship and witness.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 1, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    There’s no acknowledgement that Halloween is actually a Roman Catholic festival, and not a Protestant one, either. Halloween was connected to purgatory and praying (and paying!) for the dead. This is one important reason why Luther wrote the 95 theses on the day he did. It was not an accident.

  4. Reed Here said,

    November 1, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Good observation Lane. Luther was intentional on the day choice?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Yes. Halloween was about praying and paying for the souls in purgatory. Sales of indulgences were quite high on October 31. Writing his 95 theses on that day was a powerful symbolic attack on indulgences.

  6. Alexander said,

    November 2, 2015 at 11:52 am

    I just can’t for the life of me understand why grown men would want to defend dressing up in costumes- let alone ghouls and ghosts and witches and monsters from horror films. There is a spiritual warfare going on at all times and such things as Halloween are not neutral in this warfare.

    I wonder if the guys who wrote these articles imagine that John Knox or Samuel Rutherford- or the Apostles!- would have indulged in such dangerous nonsense.

    With the articles supporting Evangelicals and [Roman] Catholics Together recently and now these articles, I wonder about Ref21. Who would have thought losing Carl Trueman would make it less Reformed?!

  7. John Drake said,

    November 2, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Articles supporting ECT? Is that really true? Seems unlikely. Do you have links?

  8. Reed Here said,

    November 2, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Um Alexander,

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/03/ect-and-ref21.php

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/03/the-alliances-unwavering-oppos.php

    Not sure the ECT Ref 21 ding rings true.

  9. Pete Rambo said,

    November 3, 2015 at 7:17 am

    Reed,

    Thank you for addressing this. It is flagrant justified paganism….

    I can’t help but wonder, when will we address the many other ‘christianized’ pagan elements in other holiday observances with the same vigor?

    Are we serious enough about reformation?

    I encourage and challenge you to dig deeper.

    Blessings.

  10. Alexander said,

    November 3, 2015 at 11:14 am

    John,

    As part of Ref21’s marking of the recent anniversary of ECT they commissioned a number of articles to assess its legacy. The first (I believe) article was a defence of it! Of course it was quickly taken off the site as a result of the hostile reception and the planned series of articles was effectively abandoned.

    Reed,

    The two articles you link to are, essentially, attempts at damage limitation. How on earth the first article could ever have been commissioned, let alone published on the website of an organisation claiming to uphold and promote confessional Protestantism, is beyond me. It was a scandal!

  11. Reed Here said,

    November 3, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Alexander, understand. I’m willing to cut ’em some slack given the explanation for the reason for the post, not support, but conversation. That’s appropriate. It appears that they failed to make that clear, an apology made clear in one of the follow ups. There is nothing wrong with talking with an opponent, provided all is clear about where the lines are drawn.

    Having said this, I admit to being willing to cut Ref 21 the same slack on the article I reference here. In fact, I was hoping that there would be enough flack that they’d offer some sort of clarification. That they haven’t, and that one follow up article referencing this article actually defends and builds on the offense of this article, leaves me sadden.

    So, with respect to your opinion, I’d rather stay focused on the article in question in this post. I’d rather not extend this critique into a more generalized critique of Ref 21. Thanks for understanding. I hope and pray with you that your concern does not see the full bloom.

  12. James Horgan said,

    November 6, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Well, 109 children coming to my door got a sweet and Christian book. It’s one of my daughter’s favourite nights of the year as we spread the good news of Christ.

  13. Roy Kerns said,

    November 6, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Right on, James. Similarly, whenever a JW or Mormon shows up at my door, I invite ’em in, offer a cup of cold water, thank them for their concern for my spiritual well-being, and ask them to tell me how one can know they have peace with God. Before long we get to that “conversation” to which Reed referred.

  14. Mark B said,

    November 16, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    Good response Reed. We (as a family) have generally just told the kids that Halloween is something we don’t do, but this year one of my wife’s friends from the symphony invited us to a Reformation Day celebration. She had copies of the 95 thesis for placemats on every table (awesome idea, most people have never actually read them), the food was authentic German, but the twist was it was a costume party, come as a 15th century citizen of Wittenberg, so the kids could have fun dressing up (the costumes were pirated from a renaissance fair) Thought I’d pass on someone’s good idea.


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