Trick or Treat!
On Friday night I took my kids trick or treating for the first time.
They’re not three and four years old. My boys are eight and ten and my eldest daughter is twenty. She had never been trick or treating before. My youngest daughter, Samantha, preserved the family’s salvation by staying home and passing out gospel tracts with the candy that we gave to 100 plus kids. Amazingly I did not awaken Saturday morning with an unnatural desire to sacrifice an animal, dance in front of a fire or worship satan. Whew. That was a close one.
This year I began to ask myself early in October, Why haven’t I taken my kids trick or treating? After all, I went trick or treating as a kid. The answer goes back to dispensational fundamentalism.
When our daughters were just pre-schoolers, we made the decision to keep the girls at home, buy them a bunch of candy, and pass out gospel tracts to the kids who came to the door. As a pastor, I was vocal about it. I encouraged our congregations to do the same thing. Halloween is evil. I knew because I read the Jack T. Chick tracts and comic books. I knew because Dr. Rebecca Brown (who has since been thoroughly discredited as a fraud) warned about opening your soul to satanic influence with the briefest of exposures to Halloween. I knew because Mike Warnke, a Christian comedian who said he had been a Satanic high priest (and was also later exposed as a fraud), warned us all in the 80’s about trick or treating.
So, as a loving father and as a caring pastor I was duty bound to warn people about the evils of trick or treating. Love not the world. [There is an amazing irony here. While I was warning my family and church about the evils of Halloween I was addicted to pornography. I wasn’t even saved. I sure am glad I purged myself of trick or treating. Yes, that’s how legalism works.]
There’s no doubt that we are commanded to stay away from the occult. Ouija boards, seances, tarot cards, necromancy, astrology are all condemned in the Word of God. That much is obvious. Dressing your kids up and taking them out to the neighbors’ for free candy? That isn’t satan worship. That’s free candy and dress up. Unless of course, you dress your kid like Freddy Krueger or Jason from the Friday the 13th series.
But what about the jack-o-lanterns the Druids invented to scare off the demons? And the human sacrifices? And how trick or treating was invented by bands of Druids who would roam the countryside and kidnap children from castles in the middle of the night as they knocked on castle doors? And the satanists urinating in the candy corn as part of a satanic ritual?
First of all, that’s Jack Chick (among others), who’s been known to have some credibility issues when it comes to his sources. It sells a lot of sensational comic books but this isn’t real research. Second, none of that has anything to do with kids dressing up in costumes and getting free candy. None of it. As a parent I let my fear of the devil’s ability to steal our souls keep my kids from participating in a pretty fun and harmless event.
The Theology of Trick or Treating
There’s been a bit of a discussion lately between a couple of men I respect. Kirk Cameron on one hand is challenging us all to lighten up a bit about the origins of Christmas and our Christmas traditions. In the process he’s challenged us as believers to have the best Halloween parties in town. After all, Jesus is Lord of the calendar and He conquered death. Much of the devil with a pitchfork and tail imagery is nothing more than mockery of a defeated foe. Use the day to mock satan. Get the gospel out there in the process.
On the other hand, Mike Gendron warns us that Halloween is a Roman Catholic holiday where pagan practices were the M.O. He cites a Catholic Encyclopedia as his proof for these practices. Now, I know Mike fairly well; he has spoken at evangelism conferences I have organized and at the church I am planting here in Syracuse. I sell his books in my book store. He is a man of God and great integrity. He has provided resources for the Church to proclaim the gospel to a deceived group of people: those who hold to the Vatican’s teaching on salvation. I do not doubt for a moment that what he says is true about the superstition surrounding the Catholic observance. I AGREE with him that such observances are pagan and often are part and parcel of the Roman Catholic expression of their belief in areas around the world. That superstition has nothing to do with trick or treating. Neither does Catholicism.
I’m not sure which encyclopedia Mike is referencing, but there are two major encyclopedias produced by the Catholics in the 20th century. I have both of them: the older edition is for sale in my store. The newer edition I have as a reference in my personal library. The newer edition, which is far and away much more scholarly, does not get into the pagan practices of Roman Catholics on All Saints Day. It does however painstakingly attempt to trace the origins of the observance. There is some evidence that there was a special holiday set aside to remember the martyrs of Edessa on May 13th. The earliest reference to this observance is in a hymn from 359A.D. It appears to have switched to November 1st sometime around 799A.D. The purpose of the holiday was to honor the martyrs, but evolved later to become an observance of almost any church member who had died (New Catholic Encyclopedia NY: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Vol. I. 318-19). None of this is crystal clear historically speaking. The language of probability saturates the discussion of All Saints Day and Halloween.
When I research Halloween in perhaps the most scholarly encyclopedia ever published, the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica (also for sale in my store: shameless plug) the origin of the celebration of Halloween itself is extremely muddy. Any proof that occult practices on the holiday preceded religious observances is conjectural at best. At the very least, it is unclear. However, the conjecture gets repeated (as is often the case in articles in encyclopedias, almost to the point of brazen plagiarism especially in theological encyclopedias). So much for the pagan roots of Halloween preceding even a Catholic observance.
So what are we doing? We choose to believe the conjecture because those who are marketing Halloween focus on the evil side of it. We’re keeping away from every appearance of evil. Right?
Wellll, sort of.
Clouds Without Rain
Those who are criticizing Kirk Cameron over his idea of retaking Halloween are a bit disingenuous. If you really believe that trick or treating is supporting witchcraft, what are you doing giving out candy on that night at all? Handing out a gospel tract with the candy doesn’t change the supposed origins of the holiday! By passing out the tract with the candy aren’t you doing the same thing you condemn Kirk for? Aren’t you trying to reclaim the holiday for Jesus Christ? Yes, you are and I applaud you for it. So what is the harm in taking your kids out to get some free candy?
And by the way, those who criticize Kirk for finding meaning in the Christmas traditions that could be made to point to Jesus need to likewise go the whole way. If you think that the observation of the Lord’s birth on December 25th is a Roman Catholic attempt to hijack the winter solstice, then pray tell, how do you justify observing it at all? Is this criticism out of Worldview Weekend going to result in a mass exodus of evangelical Christians from the department stores this holiday season? Are Christmas trees in Christian homes going to be relics of a bygone era? Are Reformed dispensational pastors who have concerns over Kirk’s direction with Saving Christmas going to cancel their Christmas services? Are Christians going to tell their employers, Ah, skip it. December 25th is pagan. I’ll be at work tomorrow? Scrooges everywhere sure hope so.
While I highly doubt it, I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt. I look forward to the Reformed dispensational exodus from any observance of Christmas. Watch for it on a podcast near you. Just don’t hold your breath.
Speaking of Halloween, this is a witch hunt. A witch hunt that’s being orchestrated simply because Kirk left behind Left Behind’s eschatology and now embraces postmillennialism. This is the same old stuff you hear at dispensational prophecy conferences about the evils of those who don’t believe in the same future for national Israel. The difference being that this time, they are accusing Kirk of preaching a false gospel.
Ironically their concerns for Kirk may have their own origins in a false gospel.
You cannot divorce dispensationalism from its easy believism roots. Dispensationalism held to easy believism from its academic beginnings which is why MacArthur had to write a book (The Gospel According to Jesus) to combat it as a dispensationalist. Extra-Biblical rules were instituted by dispensational local churches to protect the products of the sinner’s prayer. The gospel message they responded to was man centered and didn’t call for nor did it expect true repentance. They had to get goats to act like sheep. If Christianity could be defined as people who don’t listen to rock music, wear suits and dresses to church, wear their hair in a certain style and skip Halloween all you had to do was make those unwritten rules the expectation and you might be able to conserve some evangelistic fruit.
Of course, it doesn’t work. Unbelievers who have responded to a false gospel will not be preserved by extra-Biblical rules. They abandon the faith’not because they took their kids trick or treating’but because they were never regenerated. The doctrines of the Reformation fear nothing from trick or treating. Remember, the prince of darkness grim? We tremble NOT at him? The doctrines of dispensational fundamentalism’i.e. easy believism’do. They ought to tremble because their gospel could not save a flea.
Just Stop It
For some reason, those who are in the Reformed dispensational camp have not allowed their theology to inform their consciences. Some habits die hard. They have rejected the easy believism without rejecting its manmade rules. At this point you have an option. You can continue to hold on to the rule making or you could just stop it. There is no solid evidence that trick or treating is a soul damning activity. If you choose to remain the weaker brother in the face of a lot of evidence that your conscience is poorly informed and continue to insist that every Christian bow his knee to your conscience, you are a spiritual tyrant who would probably spiritually abuse your followers if you were in the position to do it. So stop it.
There are alternatives. You could rejoice that Christ has conquered death and that satan is a defeated foe who happens to be on a leash that God Himself holds. You could take your kids out to meet the neighbors. You could enjoy the excitement of seeing your kids run up to a house that has its porch light on and see them run back to you chattering about how much candy your smiling neighbor gave them. You could smile with your kids. You could remember being a kid. You could give your neighbors a tract. You could praise God that your kids are having innocent fun. And you could use Halloween to explain to your kids the defeat of satan and the triumph of the gospel. THAT’S discernment. That’s freedom. That is also the way the Lordship of Christ works in a family.