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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 31, 1999
Halloween – An Historical & Biblical Perspective
This evening is Halloween. A festival that a generation ago was considered even by the Christian community to be pretty innocuous. As a child, I, like many of you, participated in all the activities commonly associated with this Fall celebration.
There was of course going around the neighborhood saying, “trick or treat,” at every house on the block with the major goal being to see who could get the most candy and who could get the best candy (a full size chocolate candy bar being the prize of prizes). We would dress up in some silly costume. As little kids we all rotated through the “panda bear” costume, but latter our family specialized in being hobo’s complete with charcoal on the face and holes in the pants and coat. My older brother went one year wearing my dad’s Army Air Corp uniform. Other kids were dressed as princesses, batman, superman, clowns, assorted zoo animals and of course the occasional skeleton or ghost which was a white sheet with some eye holes.
The public grammar school across the street from where we lived had its annual fall carnival just before Halloween complete with a costume contest and one of the favorite teachers dressed as a “witch” who gave out all sorts of little gifts. No one really thought much about it, except it was fun. Even the evangelical churches were involved. The largest Baptist church in the area, a strong Bible teaching church that would annual send its teens around the world on mission trips, would allow its facilities to be used as a haunted house. Inside were the usual assortment of macabre scenes with coffins, foggy graveyards, screeching owls, etc. and the horror film personalities of the time including Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Werewolf and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Forty years ago there was little thought given to Halloween except as an enjoyable cultural tradition. Twenty-five years ago some warnings were given, but they had to do with being careful of who you take treats from and checking them for possible sabotage with razor blades, needles or drugs. Fifteen years ago Halloween had become a subject of more serious discussion among parents because of a sinister element that was becoming more prominent. These days it is a subject that must be addressed strongly. Why? Because things have changed a lot in the last 30 years and Halloween is no longer a harmless cultural festival. It has gone back to its roots and the sinister element is prominent.
Do you have any doubts about what I am saying? Then just consider the nature of Halloween decorations now used. Ghoulish and gruesome lawn scenes are no longer rare, but quite popular. Note as well the amount of decoration that goes into the celebration of Halloween now. Consider the costumes children dress in now to go trick or treating? I dare say that there are few panda bears, clowns and princesses among the ghouls that haunt the streets these days. Consider the real danger that has arisen that has driven so many children away from the local neighborhood and into the malls for fear of what some wacky neighbor might put in a treat. Consider the gruesome movies on television this past week in honor of Halloween, and it is not just the grisly scenes that are of concern, but even more the glorification of the occultic that takes place in them. And consider that the real practice of religious rites based on ancient paganism has grown to the point where it is semi-respectable by society. There are real witches and warlocks in such groups as Wicca, the Church of Satan, etc. that celebrate Halloween as one of if not the “holiest” days of the year in their worship of Satan and the Satanic.
Halloween is not what it was 30 years ago. Now my purpose this morning is not to give you a list of things which you should and should not do in regards to the celebration of Halloween, for that, even if done for pure motives to protect you, would quickly degenerate into a legalism which both saps your spiritual strength and leaves you vulnerable to anything I have not specifically mentioned. Instead I want to help you think through a Biblical grid so that you can see for yourselves what is good and right before God. Then you will be able to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and do what is right before God.
I want to present this material to you in three sections. First, the historical background of Halloween. To understand what is happening today we need to know the origin of the event. Second, the Biblical principles we must think through when we consider our participation in Halloween or any cultural event. Third, some practical suggestions on how to respond in a positive way that is honoring to the Lord.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.
This will only be a brief sketch partly because of time limitations, partly because my emphasis this morning is not on Halloween itself, and partly because there is much that is not known about the origin of the various rituals associated with the festival. The reason for this lack of knowledge is because most of the practices come from the religion of the Celts who lived in Ireland, Britain, Scotland and France (Gaul). Their priestly cast, the Druids, did not write down their religious principles or practices, and passed them down orally. What little that is known is pieced together from various artifacts, early Roman visitors to the region, and from the Irish Druids where a small amount of information was written.
Among the celebrations of the Druids where the festival to their Sun god in May, and another to the god of the dead, Samhain, celebrated on the first day of their new year – our November 1. The most significant part of the celebration occurred on the night before the new year began – our October 31.
They believed that corresponding to this event the veil between the living and the dead was open and the spirits of those who had died the previous year were able to come back and walk among the living. Many of their rituals had to do with dealing with these dead souls and taking advantage of the opening in the veil between the living and the dead, and many of the practices today are related to those rituals. Trick or treat is related to both the food that was left out to appease these dead spirits and the practice of dressing in costume to fool any spirits that might have been looking for you. Generally, it was considered that the more hideous the costume the better chance of not being recognized by a spirit. Bonfires were built to keep both these spirits and witches (from ‘wicca’ meaning “wise ones” or “female magicians”) from coming near. Practices such as apple bobbing, “snap apple,” throwing apple peels over the shoulder and roasting nuts all were related to divinations to tell the future.
The most horrible practice during this festival were the sacrifices made by the Druids. The sacrifices were both for divination purposes and to ward off disease, defeats in battle, etc. These sacrifices were both animal and human. Most often the human killed would be a criminal, but captured enemies, volunteers and kidnap victims were also used. Four different methods of killing the individual could be used corresponding the purpose and to which one of the gods the individual was being sacrificed too. I need not describe these except to say that they were gruesome and the divination was based on how the person reacted as they died. Caesar wrote, “They believe that human life must be rendered for human life if the divinity of the immortal gods is to be appeased.” Cannibalism was also practiced apparently for medical and cultic purposes.
How did all this get transferred into “Halloween?” Rome conquered the Celts in the first and second centuries. While Rome suppressed some of the practice of the Druids the real effect was just some mixing of the two pagan religions and some of the Celtic gods being confused with Roman gods. After the Roman Catholic Church became the “official” religion of the empire, Pope Gregory III set aside a day in which those who had died for the Christian faith would be remembered. Part of the festivity would include a pageant where people would dress up as one of these departed “saints” and some as the devil. This day had been in May, but by the 9th century it was moved to Nov. 1 and called “All Saints’ Day” to remember the church saints that had died. November 2 was called “All Souls’ Day” and it honored the souls of the dead, especially those who had died the previous year. Another name for All Saints Day was “All Hallows Day” and the night prior then would be “All Hallows Eve” which then became shortened to “Halloween.”
This was another case in which the church tried to change a pagan custom by substituting a quasi-Christian celebration for it. The end result was not Christian, but a pagan hybrid as seen in the fact that as late as the 17th century it was said in France that, “the greater part of the priests are witches.” Many of these hybrid rituals came to America with the various immigrant groups. The practices of Halloween specifically coming from Scottish and Irish immigrants whose culture had the strongest influence by the ancient Druid customs.
The celebration of Halloween in the U.S. has changed over the last century. Throughout the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s it had been much more of a serious affair by those celebrated it. There was also much mischief associated with it. Some of the mischief was relatively harmless, i.e. putting a carriage on top of a house. Some of it was not such as breaking windows, setting fires, etc. As Halloween became more commercialized during the 1950’s & 60’s, the celebration quieted down into harvest parties and children in cute costumes collecting candy. In the last 20 years we have seen its real nature becoming manifest again, especially with the occultic overtones that now surround it. It is no longer fun and games, but a serious affair.
Obviously the Scriptures say nothing about Halloween specifically since it came into being after the Scriptures were written. However, the Scriptures have much to say about the nature of this festival.
Turn first to Deut. 18:9-14. Here we find a warning to the second generation that is about to enter the land that they should not get involved with the religious practices of the people that they are going to conquer. 9 “When you are come into the land which Jehovah your God gives you, you shall not learn to do according to the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you he that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, that uses divination, that uses auguries, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, 11 or a charmer, or one that inquires of a spirit of Python, or a soothsayer, or one that consults the dead. 12 For every one that does these things is an abomination to Jehovah, and because of these abominations Jehovah your God does dispossess them from before you. 13 you shall be perfect with Jehovah your God. 14 For these nations, which you shall dispossess, hearkened unto those that use auguries, and that use divination; but as for you, Jehovah your God has not suffered you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18 DBY)
Why such a strong warning about occultic practices? Two reasons. First, it was the reason these nations were going to be destroyed. Second, these things are real – divination, witchcraft, omen interpretation, sorcery, casting spells, being a medium or spiritist – and God wants to protect His people from it. I know these things are often depicted as fun and games, but they are not. Ouija, Dungeons & Dragons, many of the fantasy video games, seances and many more all invoke demonic activity. It is safer for your children to play with real guns than with such demonic stuff. What is scary is that all these things are practiced in this country as part of Halloween celebrations.
The first principle then is that God warns against any thing associated with the occultic because it is dangerous. In the New Testament the warning is repeated in Galatians 5:19,20 where sorcery is listed among the deeds of the flesh. If you are thinking in joining in some Halloween activity, take warning of the nature of what you participate in. If it is occultic in any manner, you are in danger.
The second principle we need to recognize is that true Christianity involves a change of character in the individual. Peer pressure exists, but the true Christian resists it because they have a different purpose of life than pagan friends. (And if your friends are not under the lordship of Jesus Christ, then they are heathen and need to be saved and follow Christ. You are not to be following them).
In 2 Cor. 5:17 the Apostle Paul states it plainly that “if any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” There will be a change in that person’s life. People can claim anything they want, but that does not make it true. In Matthew 7 there are false prophets who claimed to know the Lord and did all sorts of things in His name, but as Jesus said in verse 20, “you will know them by their fruit” and in 7:23 Jesus judged them on the fruit of their lives which was iniquity saying, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
In several places in the New Testament we find that turning away from occultic practices was evidence of the change of heart and character that had occurred in people that were saved. Acts 26:17,18 records the Apostle Paul’s commission to go to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” That is exactly what happened. In Acts 19:18,19 we find that when salvation came to the Ephesians, they responded by “coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Those books were worth a lot of money, but when salvation came, there was a change of character and what had been the center of their lives was now seen as dangerous to all and so the books were burned. Similar language is used of both the Corinthian and the Galatians believers who turned from their bondage to the occultic and demonic to the Lord God.
You see, it would be against a Christian’s very character to be involved in the demonic. A Christian is to have a character as described in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. A Christian is to be poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker. A person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit, and all Christians are to be controlled by Him, will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit which Galatians 5:22,23 describes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If you are lacking in them you need to have a serious talk with God and confess your sin asking for His forgiveness and empowerment to live for Him.
That is a lot easier said than done. How does a person develop these qualities? Through increasing obedience to the Holy Spirit in one’s life. That is accomplished by presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God, which is the only reasonable thing to do in response to His great mercy to you (Rom 12:1). Then you resist the pressures of the world to mold you into its image by being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2). Apart from Christ we were of the world and in love with it and all that was in it. Our desires were to gain for our physical comfort and pleasure, surround ourselves with the world’s treasures and place ourselves in positions of power and prestige where our ego would be satisfied (1 John 2:15,16). But in Christ, our love for the world diminishes, and our love for Him increases.
In practice, the more time you spend in the Scriptures and in communion with God the more you even think differently. You no longer see things from the self-centered perspective of mankind, but from the eternal
perspective of God. Paul even tells us in Phil. 4:8 the type of things we should think about. Those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, of good report, praise-worthy. Those are the things we are to let our minds dwell on.
Tell me now how anything in Halloween fits with that? Do ghoulish and macabre movies with various hideous monsters fit? Do those that present occultic power as a positive force? What about dressing up as one of these monsters or occultic characters? What about the occultic games played at Halloween parties or the attempts at divination? Are any of these things God honoring?
The Scriptures tell of God’s warning against occultic practice and show that a true Christian has a changed character that is incompatible with occultic practice. How then should the Christian respond to Halloween and many other cultural celebrations?
First, ask yourself what the Scriptures say directly about the issue. In this case anything involving the demonic is directly against the Scriptures and sinful. There are many things out that are promoted as games, but they are not games, they are demonic. Things such as seances (calling up the dead); any sort of divination practice; fortune telling games such as ouija, palmistry, tarot cards, etc.; occultic fantasy games such as dungeons and dragons and a host of similar computer games; spell casting; witchcraft; and satanic worship rituals are all absolutely incompatible with being a Christian.
Second, ask yourself if the activity is compatible with Christian morality? Does your participation conform you to the world or to Christ’s image? If it is against God’s commandments then it is sinful and contradictory to Christianity. Destructive mischief is clearly sinful for it steals from another person the use of their property which is either damaged or destroyed. Even practical jokes must be carefully considered for Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 7:12 of treating people how you would like them to treat you must be followed.
Third, does the activity promote holiness or evil? God’s command to us is to be “holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). This may not affect a neutral activity such as a child in a teddy bear costume asking a neighbor for candy, but it does eliminate many things which glorify evil such as most “horror” movies, haunted houses, and the imitation of evil characters.
Fourth, does it allow you to think on the things Paul mentioned in Phil. 4:8, that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, of excellence, worthy of praise? That would eliminate most other “horror” films, visiting haunted houses, and imitating any other questionable characters.
Fifth, maybe a good way to some up all the above. Would Jesus do it? If He would not, then there is good reason for you to refrain too.
Sixth, how can I use this cultural practice to promote the gospel. While there is much that is evil in the celebration of Halloween, there is one aspect that could be beneficial if taken advantage of properly. That is the fact that neighbor whom would rarely open the door to you on other occasions will do so on Halloween. Let me suggest two ways you may be able to use that to spread the message of the gospel. I am sure you may think of others.
First, if you are going to dress up in a costume, whether for a party or going trick or treating, dress up as a Bible character worth imitating such as Moses, David, a prophet or Apostle. Girls could be Miriam, Esther, Mary, Priscilla, etc. Then use your character to tell other people about the Lord. You can open your talk by explaining to people that Halloween has an origin in “All Saint’s Day” and this is the saint you are remembering and this is his or her message. A “Moses” could talk about his intimate relationship with God and how fantastic it is that people now can have the same kind of relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A “David” could talk to other about the Lord being His shepherd. A “John the Baptist” could repeat His message of “repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” You could do that as an individual or in a coordinated effort and hand out tracts to those you talk to. Imagine Moses, John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul going door to door sharing the gospel and giving out tracts instead of saying trick or treat ?
A second suggestion is to not run away and hide from trick or treaters, but be sure to have gospel tracts to place in their bags along with the candy. We have quite an assortment of tracts in the back. Please take all you can use.
This evening we are having Charlie Graff as our guest preacher and certainly I would like you to come out to hear him. However, if you can use tonight in getting the gospel out to your neighbors, that is a higher priority.
There is not much good in the cultural practice of Halloween, but a Christian who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit will know how to glorify the Lord both by what he or she refrains from doing as well as what they do. There is to be a distinction between the lifestyle and behavior or a Christians and a non-Christian, but we are also to use every opportunity to spread the gospel. I pray you will today, tonight and at every holiday.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “Halloween”is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the dangers & opportunities in Halloween.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What changes in the celebration of Halloween have you noticed in your lifetime? What was your view of Halloween before hearing this sermon? What is the origin of Halloween? What were some of the things the Druids did & why? How did the Roman Catholic Church change the festival? How did these practices come to America? What principle do we find in Deut. 18:9-14 that can be applied to Halloween? What should the character of a Christian be like? What aspects of celebrating Halloween would match that character? What aspects would be contrary? What should a Christian think about? Examine your Halloween practices by the following: Is there anything demonic in it? What Biblical moral principles apply? Do your Halloween activities promote holiness? Do they cause you to think about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy? Would Jesus do what you are doing? What ways can you use Halloween to spread the Gospel?
Sermon Notes – 10/31/1999 a.m.
“Halloween: An Historical & Biblical Perspective”
Halloween in the United States
Historical Background of Halloween
1) Warnings against the demonic –
2) Living as a new creation in Christ
2 Cor. 5:17
Practical Suggestions on Halloween activities
1) What Biblical principles apply to the activity?
2) Is the activity compatible with Biblical morality?
3) Does the activity promote holiness or evil?
4) Does the activity match Phil. 4:8?
5) Would Jesus do that activity?
Using Halloween to Spread the Gospel
1) Reverse Trick or Treat
2) Gospel literature
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