Shooting At Halloween Pumpkins
Phew, phew, phew … (re-load, click-click, aim, fire) … phew-phew, phew-phew-phew.
Ah, the savory sight of that big orange vegetable bursting into gooey pulp, splattering all over walls or porch floors or front yards — all, of course, in my seven-year-old mind.
Yes, hello. My name is Stephen. (“Hiiii, Stephen.”) I’m not only a speculative reader and writer, out of that closet, but I’m a former child homeschool dweeb. (Now I am an adult homeschool dweeb.) Mind you, my issues were not limited to homeschooling practice, though I do believe homeschooled folks may statistically be more prone to this: taking a legitimate Christian dislike of Halloween, and stretching it into fearful, silly, or even magical and superstitious extremes.
Is this the part where I blast my parents for not letting me go get sugary handouts at the front doors of strangers? Nah. The fact is that today I care little for Halloween. And a lot of it is plain evil. Yes, redemptive horror is an optional genre for Christians to explore, especially because it’s in the Bible. But the horror-and-evil-for-its-own-sake stuff is not Biblical. And rampant sexualization of almost everything Halloween-ish makes it worse.
But those are others’ sins. Here I’ll describe my own sins, and, without lapsing into equally silly self-hated, or legalism against legalism, mock them openly.
And this is yet another issue that neatly bridges our real-life and fiction enjoyments.
From my memory, my parents wished simply to avoid and ignore Halloween. That was all. Just turn off the porch lights after dusk on Oct. 31st and act like it’s any other night.
But could I let it go that easily? Oh no. Visions of invisible devils drifting about the area, cackling with Satanic glee and getting mystic spiritual steroids from middle-school kids dressed up as ghosts or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were my own brain candy.
In the living room, I would press between curtains and window glass, staring into the front yard, like a white kid in a jungle hoping to catch a glimpse of these natives and their pagan practices. Will they come to the door anyway? Yeah, let them come anyway! Then a parent could answer, or I myself. I am Sorry. We Do Not Celebrate Halloween. Then the worldly kids would leave, dejected. I would cackle. Ha ha haaa! Foiled again, Satan! Your Army of Darkness™ isn’t welcome here. Score one more for righteousness.
But this fun was not delayed until All Hallow’s Eve itself. While on errands, sitting in the backseat of the car, especially after dark when I couldn’t do what all homeschool kids do in the backseats of cars — read — I had the pumpkins. And plastic skeletons. Also the black-cat and witch and ghost props. Bonus points if they were lit up. Awww, yeahhh. I would load my imaginary six-shooter. Aim. Fire. Fire again. Rapid-fire. Phew phew phew!
Yes, before first-person shooter video games were even invented — and even if they had been, I wouldn’t have heard of them — I was playing my own version of Doom.
The secret enemy
Don’t be absurd. You were just a little kid. Indeed, and a little sinner, who’s still tempted to do the same kinds of sins — just as many Christians are. Even now I’m tempted to do my own little first-person shooter game at Christians who treat Halloween that way! In response to those who base their lives on Fighting Against X, it’s tempting to base one’s life on fighting them, and again miss the point of any true conflict: the happy end.
Could I reboot my own childhood in my own brain, self-righteously lecturing my own parents or pastors or Christian leaders about how they Should Have Done It? Sure. But it’s still an imaginary universe. Moreover, I still don’t recall hearing much teaching in support of rejecting Halloween or its evils. Even if I my parents did say more, would I really have listened? Heck no. This was too much fun. I could treat other people like bad guys. I can outsource blame from my own sinful heart and pin it on them! Or rather, on demons. Demons, after all, are the worst bad guys. They’re secretly behind, maybe not every bush (I tire of that cliché, just a bit), but every wickedly grinning pumpkin.
But come to think of it, Scripture seems to emphasize a very different villain than we may have been trained to demonize, or would prefer demonizing.
In the Old Testament, we hardly hear about the Devil. Instead, God gives His Law so that sinful people will grasp the seriousness of their own sin, not just the Devil’s power. Only in the New Testament is Satan more active. Jesus casts out demons, creatures whom we had before only read about more vaguely, which tormented King Saul or destroyed evil armies, and somehow on God’s behalf. Christ also tells his disciples to cast out demons, which they do, and which Christians, presumably, might still do.
In Acts, though, we read only brief mentions of Christians casting out demons; the Apostle Paul’s case is the most specific (Acts 16: 16-18). But what’s very strange there is that he seems not to have followed some Christian “deliverance ministry”-style routines on the subject. Paul put up with the demon-influenced girl’s ranting “for many days,” until finally commanding the demon, in Jesus’ Name, to get the Hell out of there.
Did he plead the blood? Take dominion? No. He was “greatly annoyed” (v. 18). And you can just imagine: Here the apostles were trying to go to pray (v. 16), and also preach the Gospel, and some demonized gadfly is tagging along. That Devil. He can be so irritating.
An honorable Adversary?
At the risk of minimizing the threat of the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), this is how the rest of the New Testament treats Satan: He’s a nuisance. “Resist him,” but know his attacks are not unique to you (1 Peter 5:9). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James tosses into his advice (James 4:7). Your primary target is your own sin-shrapnel.
How does that fit with many Christians’ views of demonic villains? Not very well. Even those who profess to believe Scripture’s sufficiency are tempted to fill in the apparent “gaps” of the Bible’s instruction about territorial spirits, exorcism methods, pleading the blood to drive out demons, and whatnot. We seem to have a spiritual military-industrial complex mainly against Satan. Scripture never encourages that. It’s instead distracted by odd obsessions with declaring war and fighting against personal sins.
I’m perplexed by what seems a mistrust of God to give us, in His Word, all that we need to know about what Satan and his real-life Army of Darkness are up to.
I’m also perplexed that Christians evidently believe the Devil is so stupid as to make his worst works so obviously revealed by wicked-looking decorations or covens routinely sacrificing goats in the woods. At some point, it seems, Satan gave up the whole “angel of light” routine (2 Cor. 11:14)? Instead demons are honest foes, standing proud in their redcoats (with optional pitchfork and forked-tail accessories), firing at Christians?
Perhaps most perplexing is when Christians, with the best of intentions, not only add to Scripture, but ignore or reject what is already there. Most recently I saw this yet again, in response to this solid column about Halloween. I don’t favor much of that site’s stuff, but when one commentator says this, I’m automatically on the article author’s side:
Are you kidding me? “Abstain from all appearance of evil” 1 Thes. 5:22, “neither be partaker of other men’s sins” 1 Tim. 5:22, etc.etc.
So get off the internet; all computers have the “appearance of evil” to me! Yes, I could say that, using this “principle,” but this verse nearly ties Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not …”) for the most-abused verse of Scripture. “Appearance of evil,” in the KJV, means actual evil has appeared. Other translations clarify this by saying “every form/kind of evil.” To ignore that and try to shut down someone’s appearance-only “sin” is to twist this verse and ignore other Scriptures, such the “meat sacrificed to idols” passage (1 Cor. 8-10).
But hey, why let that get in the way of historic superstitions and fear-based “warfare”?
All I can say now is that if I were the Devil — and unlike Christianized humanism would suggest, humans are closely related to him! — my central strategy would not be a full-frontal assault with Wiccanism and pagan practices. Rather, I’d send out that squadron as a bluff (with the added bonus of firming up the more-overt pagan political base). But the real gains would come from Christians’ response to the bluff: fear, mistrust of the Bible, neglect that Christ has already and openly mocked dark forces, and failure to fight the subtler sins of our own hearts while instead chasing after external-only enemies.
‘The Gospel trick’ — and treat
So that’s what not to do. A bunch of anti-anti-antis, all over again, to which I’m prone. (By the way, after his seasonal diversion, I’ll be returning to that series next week.)
What, then, do Christians who know of their sin-struggles and the Devil, do about him?
I could double this essay with suggestions. But Desiring God, specifically writer David Mathis, has already done this with Biblical brilliance. This more than deserves a quote here, followed by links, web-hits, and printouts and copies made, to deploy in real spiritual warfare — the kind that knows Jesus Christ has already beat the Devil and saved us from his fake kingdom on Earth, and that we’re just cleaning up the debris.
What if we didn’t think of ourselves as “in the world, but not of it,” but rather, as Jesus says in John 17, “not of the world, but sent into it”?
And what if that led us to move beyond our squabbles about whether or not we’re free to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, and the main issue became whether our enjoyment of Jesus and his victory over Satan and the powers of darkness might incline us to think less about our private enjoyments and more about how we might love others? What if we took Halloween captive—along with “every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5)—as an opportunity for gospel advance and bringing true joy to the unbelieving?
What if we didn’t merely go with the societal flow and unwittingly float with the cultural tide into and out of yet another Halloween? What if we didn’t observe the day with the same naïveté as our unbelieving neighbors and coworkers?
And what if we didn’t overreact to such nonchalance by simply withdrawing? What if Halloween wasn’t a night when Christians retreated in disapproval, but an occasion for storming the gates of hell?
The Gospel Trick
What if we ran Halloween through the grid of the gospel and pondered whether there might be a third path beyond naïveté and retreat? What if we took the perspective that all of life, Halloween included, is an opportunity for gospel advance? What if we saw Halloween not as a retreat but as a kind of gospel trick—an occasion to extend Christ’s cause on precisely the night when Satan may feel his strongest?
What if we took to the offensive on Halloween? Isn’t this how our God loves to show himself mighty? [Boldface emphasis added.] Just when the devil has a good head of steam, God, like a skilled ninja, uses the adversary’s body weight against him. It’s Satan’s own inertia that drives the stake into his heart. Just like the cross. It’s a kind of divine “trick”: Precisely when the demonic community thinks for sure they have Jesus cornered, he delivers the deathblow. Wasn’t it a Halloween-like gathering of darkness and demonic festival at Golgotha, the place of the Skull, when the God-man “disarmed the powers and authorities [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” at the cross (Colossians 2:15)?
Interesting thoughts, Stephen.
We stopped celebrating Hallowe’en the year all the really scary stuff showed up in our local grocery store at a 6 year old’s eye level.
When asked why I won’t let her celebrate Hallowe’en, I now tell my younger child, “Because it’s not my holiday and I don’t have to participate.” (and neither do you)
I do believe God is bigger than Hallowe’en. In years past people close to us have handed out the candy with tracts. It’s a way of dealing with it. Of course, in the locale where they did this, it was considered an innocent, fun children’s holiday and kept to that standard. But while there’s places where this is the case, the other kind of celebration has rapidly become more the norm, fueled by nasty ads from participating stores.
I have no objection to kids–or adults–playing dress-up. Why should I? I have made this clear to my child too. I don’t even mind her participation in “Harvest Festivals” at local area churches around this time. I even like pumpkins, although maybe not so much the truly ugly jack-o-lanterns.
But I do object to the scary, nasty, cat-sacrificing side of Hall0we’en (this happens yearly in parts of Colorado Springs) and the sexualized partying associated with it that you mentioned. And I don’t want us to have anything to do with that, even on an “innocent” level.
I’m not calling on anyone else to follow me there besides my own kids. But you’d be surprised at how many people don’t celebrate Hallowe’en any more. The numbers are growing.
Halloween was never a big deal when I was growing up. We’d throw something from the closet that looked vaguely costume-like, get some candy from the neighbors, and then go home.
A few years we did hand out candy+tracts but my parents were busy and usually didn’t remember to order the tracts in time. We never trick-or-treated ourselves, except to visit a few elderly friends and relatives who insisted on ‘seeing the kids in their costumes’. (We kids were very aware of Halloween and viewed it as another excuse to dress up. XD)
I never was allowed to go with friends to Harvest Parties and such: my parents apparently thought that anything even attempting to replace Halloween was a bad thing. I’m not sure why; I was young, and by the time I hit teenagehood, I really didn’t care anymore and Halloween passed like any other night.
My towns, growing up, never had a ton of trouble. Just a few pranksters who would steal pumpkins and throw them in the highway for the semis to hit. 😛 (After that happened one year, we took them in at night until Halloween was over)
I’ve got good memories, though, of jack’o’lanterns, and baked pumpkin seeds, and dressing up and being allowed to leave the house like that. xD
More on topic, I’m wondering if it’s easier to blame demonic influence for the world’s problems than to admit that sin is part of human nature*.
That, and most people really don’t want to be viewed as the mob with pitchforks and torches chasing kids dressed up as animals, supernatural beings, and film characters. It’s a ton simpler just to go demon hunting.
Which is not to discount the reality of the supernatural in the world: I’m just finding it interesting that to my perception, on some subjects ‘demonic’ (etc) is thrown around a ton, and on other subjects, you’d never hear a word of it and natural explanations are substituted. (I know at least one interesting story from a reliable source on demons that you’d never hear in most conservative circles.)
* (side, rambly, note) Human nature is one of my favorite philosophical subjects. I don’t agree with either the people who say ‘humans are evil’ or the people who say ‘humans can solve anything’. I believe that humans are created in the image of God and then fallen – the good things that fallen humans do are reflective of the image of God that they were created in (which is why we generally expect other people to treat us fairly, be nice, etc). Rather than believe that everyone is evil, I believe that everyone is fallen from grace. So when I look at somebody, I don’t see whatever evil they’ve done as defining them: I see what they could do, what they were created for if they’d only just see that they need God to complete them. Or I try to. It makes life more fun if I’m not looking for baddies all the time. Because if I did, I’d have to admit how much of a baddie I am despite being forgiven, and all that.
Oh, yes, I decided when I grew up that I could dress up any day I liked. XD In public, no less. XD
**waits patiently for her Stargate Atlantis jacket to come**
**desperately wants to find a longcoat that looks either like Jack’s or any of the Doctors’**
All I need is a white winter jacket and two big belts to dress up as River Song. I already have the hair for it!
Oh, that is awesome, Galadriel. 😀 If you get a costume together, are you going to post pictures someplace?
(Every once in a while I wish for big curly hair…I sincerely doubt that no amount of curling or dye will ever make my straight brown hair look like River’s. As awesome as that would be. XD)
Yes I would. On my blog, if nowhere else…but this is getting offtopic.
Aw, Stephen, you left out the most radical point in that whole article…Christians should hand out the Good Candy.
I always knew on some deep, intuitive level that SweetTarts and Fun Size anything were Satan’s work.
Ah, but you know what the truly most evil candy is? Snickers that come in “‘Fun’ Size.”
I could have also mentioned the paranoia-furthered phenomenon of believing that pervs sticking razor blades into candy is a routine problem at Halloween. Some kind of analogy there, methinks. Yes, pervs are real, and parents should supervise and protect their children; however, the problem simply isn’t as pervasive as hyperbole-driven media sources might imply.
Yes! And they should give the biggest tips to tired waitresses. I find it so discouraging when Christians believe that to be good stewards means they should be tight-fisted. How backwards is that!
As Christians, if we’re going to throw out Halloween, we need to throw out Christmas, too. Christmas is the celebration of the solstice, and I think there’s a passage in Jeremiah that mocks pagans who bring a tree into their homes and decorate it. We also need to throw out Easter, which is the celebration of Ishtar, the fertility goddess.
So we can circle the wagons and throw out this obviously eeeevil holiday. But we need to throw out all the rest of them, too. Really, the only holidays worth celebrating are the Jewish ones, as handed down by God Himself, if we want to really get picky.
But if we celebrate the Jewish holidays aren’t we in danger of identifying ourselves with legalism? I’d say the best thing to do is scrap it all. No birthday parties, holidays or music. Oh wait, Jehovah Witnesses are already there, maybe we should just join them. I’ll have to think about it while I share my pumpkin pie with the neighbors on Halloween. 😀
Kessie and Sarah, intriguingly, the Galatian Christians — who had been deceived into adding to the Gospel, as if particular Jewish cultural practices were still binding and unfulfilled — felt compelled to celebrate certain holidays and seasons. Now, it seems, most Christians commit the exact same error, though in negative-image: they add to the Gospel with a compulsion to avoid such things. As if sin comes from a Thing or an Event, and not the human heart.
Apart from the Apostle Paul’s Biblical encouragement not to pass wrongful judgment on those who eat/don’t eat, celebrate/don’t celebrate (especially in 1 Cor. 8-10), he offers this chagrin about the wandering, “bewitched” (Galatians 3:1; pun intended!) Galatians:
Much of this would be good to explore, either around next Halloween, or even apart from that — perhaps as it relates to Christmas and its myths and traditions. (I seem to recall, for example, convincing scholarship that said pagans actually stole from initial Christian celebrations, not vice-versa!) I am picturing a column titled Bewitched!, based of course on Paul’s frantic and “perplexed” (4:20) reaction to the Galatians. …
In my view: could be. But that’s an equal risk with the practice of not celebrating any holiday, or celebrating them all. I’m better than you or “more Christian” because I make this personal choice based on what I’ll call my “convictions.” Regardless, legalism arises in one’s heart motives, not a Thing, not whether we accept or reject it.
I have, though, been seeing some more-overt, hidden-brazenly-in-plain-sight legalism arise from what some call the “Hebrew roots” idea — leading to folks who feel they absolutely must type “G-d” instead of “God,” or call Jesus “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus,” and/or feel compelled not only to imitate the spirit of the Galatian notions that got Paul so exasperated, but the actual practices that the Galatians were falling into.
Nothing new under the sun! The Devil loves “his” world, so he constantly recycles.
Good article, funny narrative of your childhood play, good thoughts about Halloween. Now may I nitpick?
I read the Mathis article for about 3 paragraphs, and then the format of endless questions made me gag, and I had to quit. It was too much! And it was too much like a certain book-which-will-not-be-named by that-author-that-shall-not-be-named which began it’s heresy by asking question after question after question.
As a reader, I ask you writers to please refrain from writing anything thing that is more than three paragraphs of questions!
Esther: that did annoy me a bit, at first, especially because of the similarity to the habits of He Who Must Not Be Named (or if you prefer, He To Whom the Pied Piper Abominably Wickedly and Not-Very-Nicedly Saith, “Farewell”).
Yet I think his strategy was a strategy common to good blogs — not necessarily books or essays — to get people talking, to sneak past watchful dragons with a series of just-asking-questions. And unlike other writers who use that strategy to sneak in heresy, it is also useful for sneaking Biblical truth past the synthetic shields of readers’ traditions and fears. I daresay more than a few Christian novelists knowingly use this.
Ok, but as a reader (who is probably in the minority), you need to realize that if you decide to use this device, when I reach about the 20th “what if”, I’m going to gag and start skipping until I find a paragraph without a question mark in it. So I hope I don’t miss the point you were trying to make…
The celebration of Halloween is a Christian’s best friend. That wasn’t the dominant thinking when I grew up, however.
Churches were warned against celebrating the wrong sorts of things during Halloween, and so we were insulated at the eeeevils of the world. Some churches would have their own parties. Otherwise, we just stayed home with the porch light off, afraid or aloof or both.
Folks, it’s hard to make a difference in your community if nobody knows you, if you never get out and see them face-to-face.
I’m a pragmatist. We have neighbors we rarely see in person. Halloween is a perfect time to rectify that. It’s a socially-acceptable reason to walk door-to-door and greet people in person in an atmosphere that’s playful and accepting. It’s a costume contest and meet-and-greet rolled into one!
When my kids were younger, Linda and I grappled with how to treat Halloween, and it finally occurred to me I shouldn’t get mired in the baggage of my youth. Instead, I prayed about it, then I thought about it, and then I did something about it.
We created innocuous handmade thank you cards (Happy Halloween from the Cooks) on my computer, printed them out, and the kids colored them and signed their names in crayon.
And then we did something revolutionary: we went out and actually met our neighbors.
The encounter invariably went something like this:
Child knocks on door / rings bell.
Child receives candy.
Child extends Thank You card.
Host looks warily at card.
Host reads card.
Child gets more candy.
We increased our haul by 75% by handing out the Thank You cards. Moreover, people talked about them all year, and when we ran into them at the local grocery store or hardware store, they’d ask what we were going to do next year. Furthermore, the goodwill created overlapped into many unexpected opportunities to dialogue throughout the rest of the year.
I did /not/ use the cards to proselytize. Creating goodwill with my neighbors created organic opportunities for that during the rest of the year. Simply creating a happy, handmade Thank You card was enough.
So, yeah – Halloween. I’m a fan. We miss this opportunity to have fun with our kids and network with our local communities at our own detriment. My kids are past the age where we go out. I’m a little sad about that. But now I’ve got a grandson, and in a few short years, he’ll be of age to start going out with mom and dad (and hopefully grandma and grandpa).
I’m already thinking about the next design.
Like this thought. Wish I’d read it instead of the sensationalist charismatic propaganda out there 20 years ago.
God is Sovereign. At least I know better now.
I just wanted to say I like the idea of thank-you cards.
What a great idea! This made me laugh.
Nice post. You lot might also be interested in this one, in which the author (over the protestations of his Fundamentalist Pinky Toe) makes the case that Jesus, the Friend of Sinners, would certainly give out the best Halloween candy in the neighborhood– and thus leaving the lights off for the trick-or-treaters just might be a sin.
Bother broken links. Just fixed that one for you, Eric. (The site had turned your quotes in the link tag into “smart” or curly quotes, thereby throwing off the code.)
Hmm, methinks there’s an HTML issue.
Methinks there’s also a “Eric is waiting too long before checking the comments” issue. Thanks for the fix.
Hint: If you try to type <a href=” … and such in this box, which is a TinyMCE editor, it won’t detect the code. Click on the link button above (fourth from the right), or to do manual code-editing, click the little HTML button (second from the right).
This tech support has been brought to you by the letters C, S, and S.
Stephen, you’ve made many excellent points, but I want to take issue with you on what I consider to be a key point because you use it to undergird your argument:
In reality, I believe Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.
In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.
On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:
I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship — and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people — were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.
Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:
Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.
The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.
I think it’s a mistake to minimize Satan and say Scripture, at any point treats him as if he were a nuisance. Lions are not a nuisance. You don’t gird on armor to confront a nuisance. You don’t stand firm against a nuisance. You don’t resist a nuisance.
But here’s the thing. Apart from underestimating the enemy, I think you’re right about every thing else. Satan is not a vampire mask or the child wearing it. Satan is not the carved pumpkin. Yes, many of the things connected with Halloween derived from pagan practices that directly connected to Satan, but today those connections have largely been lost. Granted, there are active Satan worshipers who relish Halloween, but that doesn’t mean they own the day.
In addition, our sin is our sin — and only our sin will lead us to follow Satan’s influence, rather than God’s.
Still, we have the flesh, the world, and Satan to deal with. And I don’t think it’s wise to minimize any of these.
Happy … Monday, Becky!
Some of my main responses are below, but I thought I’d condense them here, especially to say that along with you, I don’t want to do any minimizing of the very real threat from the Devil.
As Lewis said — drawing from Scriptural principle, and experience — humans have two equal and opposite reactions about “the devils.” One is to ignore them or minimize their threat; the second is to get fascinating with them.
In this column, I hoped to address the second possibility. The risk there is that this could certainly give the impression that I lean toward the first reaction.
That’s why I hope to write a column/series about Devil in the novel details. How do Satan and his forces appear in Christian fiction? How should they appear? Can we artistic-license the Devil beyond Biblical bounds? What are those bounds anyway?
Like you, I’ve seen plenty of well-meaning Christians who get far too fascinating, or fearful, about the Devil. They do act as if he’s behind every creepy mask or holiday element. And I see in that not just harmless fun, but even more genius of the underestimated Devil. He is active in Halloween, I am sure, but perhaps in ways we do not expect — as I wrote above, I’m guessing he would send out the scary troops partly to encourage the Satanic faithful (which do exist), but mainly to make his enemies, Christians, forget the victory of Christ and the subtle ways Satan tempts us.
Absolutely. I do hope I didn’t imply otherwise. My hope was to contrast the Devil’s relatively few mentions, though, compared with how often the Old Testament emphasizes the Law about our own heart-sins. For us, as for the Old-Covenant Jews:
… Which led them, as it can do to people today, to worship of idols — either good things hijacked for bad motives, or actual religious symptoms spawned by demons.
As for the “nuisance,” I think it might have helped if I clarified there (it seems to have indeed come across as minimization). Compared with our own heart battles, the Devil or demons are a secondary threat — but still a threat. Like henchmen with knives and ninja skills. But ninjas don’t attack by light, making it obvious what they’re up to. Neither do demons. But God, as in the quote above, is the top “ninja,” who uses the Devil’s “body weight” against him! It’s the same power He says, in the New Testament, to grab hold of to use to resist the Devil — to make the Adversary flee. But our chief recourse is to fight sin, so Satan can’t use it against us.
Mmhmm. And I think it illustrates how devishly clever the Devil is, to slowly pass along the notions that all these “obvious” things are where he is most active, instead of exploiting our fears, additions to Scripture, and adjunct beliefs to begin to convince Christians that somehow we need more than Christ’s victory, and the sufficient Scripture that tells us enough of what he’s up to, to use against him.
As the AmericanVision article Stephen linked to points out, Halloween has no basis in a pagan past. It’s supposed to originally be the day of a Druidic holiday, but most of what we think we know about Druidism was invented in the nineteenth century. The fact is that Halloween began as the Christian holiday All Hallow’s Eve, or All Holy’s Eve, which proclaimed the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness. Thus, people dressed their children up as ghouls and ghosts to mock Satan and celebrate Christ’s victory (which is followed by All Saint’s Day, when the saints and the Church are elevated to reign with Christ over the world). Halloween is a Christian holiday that has been captured by the pagans, and it is high time we take it back.
Halloween was one of the days in the Church’s historical liturgical calender for the year, and is of the same piece with Ascension Day, Easter, Christmas, Feast of the Holy Innocents and the rest.
Great article, Stephen.
Adam, evidently there is some sort of alternate history floating around, and I don’t know which is accurate. In our paper yesterday, in an article entitled “Our ongoing fascination with the holiday of death,” the writer, Dale Salwrak, Professor of English at Citrus College, Glendora, CA, says
He goes on to give a similar explanation for the existence of jack ‘o lanterns.
I personally don’t think it matters so much from where the holiday originated but what it means to people in our culture today.
I think of it a lot like people saying when I grew up that Gosh was a bad word because it originated as a stand-in for God’s name. The thinking was, if we aren’t to take God’s name in vain, then we ought not use a stand-in word either.
That logic eluded me because I never prayed, “Dear Gosh.” For me, Gosh was no more a stand-in for God’s name than Dummy would have been for Daddy.
So the more important question, I think, is, What does Halloween signify in America today?
The most accurate answer is, Different things to different people. I wrote several posts on this subject last year: “What About Halloween?“, “The Black And White Of Halloween,” and “The Halloween Dilemma.” There’s one here at Spec Faith, too, but I haven’t dug back into the archives yet to find it.
I never really did the Halloween thing. My brain associates the 31st with Reformation Day, in which all little private Christian school children dress up as various Bible people, play games, remember the history of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, and have parties instead of class.
The Fall Festival stuff didn’t kick off till I was in high school, I think – but we went to that. And there’s lots of kids in our new neighborhood, and they’re rather polite as they accept candy from us. 0=) Dad bought this year’s candy last night. Hehe.
Because the Word is clear on this, I believe that we should indeed avoid even the appearance of evil. This construction shows that our rejection of evil must be so complete, by the grace of God in Christ, that we even reject innocent behavior that might be misjudged or misconstrued.
I don’t condemn those who celebrate the day, or try to find a way to minister to the unbelieving through it. But I do feel that they must lack discernment. How can we celebrate a holiday that originated in darkness and is celebrated as important by Satanists?
As Becky noted, the Adversary is a lion. So, we should be afraid of him, an angelic majesty who roams abroad, seeking someone whom he may devour. Our enemy isn’t only or chiefly our own sin. For after all, the Lord dealt with sin just as decisively as he dealt with the demonic world at the Cross. As I’ve heard others say, the war was won but the battles are still raging. Paul states that our battle isn’t with flesh and blood—not even our own flesh and blood, it must mean—but with the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places: principalities and powers. I say, don’t think you can mess with the Adversary, or imagine you can forget him, or think you can command him, etc. And, for pity’s sake, don’t celebrate with him. Instead pray, asking our Lord to destroy his schemes.
Christ ate with prostitutes, murders, and lawyers. I’m concerned that this sort of narrow interpretation damages our ability to work out the Great Commission, not help accomplish it.
I prayed every year before creating the seasonal Thank You cards and going into the culture in our community. Every year, I experienced God’s blessing. Make of that what you will.
I dunno. For better or worse, Satan and his minions don’t scare me. He make me angry. Very, very angry.
Hey Maria, thanks for your thoughts. Naturally I have a few in return, and I’ll go point-by-point, mostly, in an effort to keep track and focus on specifics!
First, though I heartily agree that it is vital to remember that Satan is real, and a real threat. This is especially true for those who may forget that the Devil’s threat it real. That, however, simply wasn’t the emphasis of this particular column. It was written not in response to Biblically spiritual-warfare-minded Christians, but superstitions that do take this notion too far, and forget Scripture. Now I’m wondering if soon I should write something called Devil in the story details, to explore how Christians use Satan/demons in stories, and how he/they are described in Scripture. We don’t want to downplay or exaggerate their threats. But I suggest: let’s proactively apply God’s Word first.
Can you confirm that with Scripture, though? Above I showed what I found out some time ago: that this wording is a misuse of the KJV. It means avoid actual evil, not just something that could look like it’s evil.
Otherwise, our avoiding sin becomes about surface externals, not heart motives.
Otherwise, our avoiding sin becomes mainly to please people, not to please God.
Otherwise, we are vulnerable to anyone’s claim that what we’re doing appears to be sinful. Stop preaching in public. You give the “appearance of evil.” Don’t use the internet; it “appears” to be evil. Even: Don’t believe the “appearance of evil”-means-avoiding-even-non-sinful-things notion; that “appears” to be legalistic and evil!
There is no end to the misuse and legalism that can result, and has resulted.
But the main point is that this particular Scripture text simply doesn’t prove that.
I’d like to see that construction. Building inspector here. 😀 (Taps clipboard …)
A few thoughts …
First, the origin of the holiday, as Becky said above, is up for debate.
Second, we shouldn’t live in fear about how others have misused a Thing.
Third, if some pagan somewhere says “this Thing is mine,” why should Christians believe him? Pagans don’t always tell the truth. If we assume otherwise, isn’t that compromise?
Fourth, I would be very wary of someone who assumes a believer lacks discernment, when Scripture itself doesn’t specifically condemn the Thing. Perhaps such a person lacks a particular kind of discernment, but not all discernment is Biblically based.
Fifth, how does a Thing’s origin harm us anyway? What does Scripture say? There are many ways that Christians who mean to avoid evil end up practicing a kind of mysticism themselves — acting as if evil inhabits Things or Areas, rather than our own heart. This ultimately results in exaggerating the Devil’s power beyond what Scripture tells us.
Absolutely. Nothing I wrote contradicts that. But it does question whether we should act as if the Devil mainly roams by daylight, a noble foe, making it obvious what he is up to. It also questions whether we have attributed to Satan powers he does not have.
He did indeed, and thank Him for that!
My question, though, wasn’t whether the Devil, or sin, are defeated or not. Both are defeated foes, and both are still active. Instead my question is: to which defeated foe does the Bible give the most attention? The Devil? Or our own dead/dying sin shrapnel? When the New Testament in particular mentions Satan, it’s an aside.
Don’t deprive yourself of marital pleasure, or Satan may use that (1 Cor. 7).
Or don’t get arrogant, elders (also applying to all Christians) and be sure to have good reputations, lest Satan use that as a chance to condemn or trap you (1 Tim. 3:6-7)
Scripture’s emphasis is on defeating sin first, lest the Devil hijack it — not vice-versa.
I’ll copy the passage down so we can have a look at it.
I note that this is the Apostle Paul’s final word to this church, after spending all of his book reviewing the Gospel’s wonder, and recommending sin-fighting techniques to Christians in all areas: church, family, jobs. His reminder that we’re not fighting “flesh and blood” isn’t about how the real battle isn’t against our own flesh and blood, but against Satan — it’s clearly a reference to the fact that Christians ultimately aren’t fighting nonbelievers, but the evil demons who are behind their systematized sin.
If Paul meant that our primary villain is Satan, not ourselves, he would not have spent so much time before this, and in other books, talking about waging war against our own sin-shrapnel! Example: one famous passage about that, Romans 7, does not even mention the Devil! It doesn’t need to. Paul will talk about the Devil later. Right now he’s talking about the most important battle: against sin, defeated but still in need of defeat.
Final thoughts … thanks to Christ alone, I can get to the point at all of not wanting to mess with him. Lord willing, too, I haven’t forgotten his threats. And along with you and John MacArthur, I see little point in bossing the Devil! (MacArthur likes to ask, partway sarcastically, How would you even know the Devil is able to hear you bossing him?)
However, I question whether we can claim, Biblically, when or how the Devil is celebrating anything. If I’m carving a silly face into a pumpkin, or giving out candy, or even dressing up, does that count as “celebrating”? If so, how do we know?
All I do know is that Scripture warns only against practicing actual evil, or even “good” things apart from God, and does not support guilt-by-association-or-“appearance.”
Hope this has been helpful, and encouraging, and I’m definitely open to continuing!
Amen times ten to that!
Stephen, thank you for your careful answer! You’re a trooper. Please forgive me, Johne, if I was unkind! In this kind of discussion, I go polemical–so praise the Lord that I don’t have the kind of blog whose express purpose is expressing opinions!
The discussion is important, but in order to invest further in it I’d have to reread and reread and study a lot. I just can’t manage that.
I wish you well! Eat some candy, hopefully not Fun Size–what a misnomer! Talk to you again,
What, Maria? You aren’t just going to take my thoughts at face value? You’d instead do your own building inspection, compare them with Scripture, Berean-style, and dig for that truth yourself, for God’s glory and your good? 😀
Seriously, you rock. Or perhaps you hymn! I hope you stick around for a long, long time, with or without extra research in this area just yet. (Still on my long-term to-do list to research, by the way, perhaps delayed until the New Earth: amillennialism, and infant baptism.)
I also happen to know that today’s column should feature a more-expansive look at the Devil in the Bible: what he can do, can’t do, and Halloween. Very glad for that balance!
And someday I hope to get to my own overview of the Devil in God’s Story, and ours’.
God bless to you and yours. (I prefer chocolate-cookie-dough ice cream over candy …)
Thanks for your generous spirit! This was encouraging.
Yes, chocolate cookie dough icecream!
That’s what I’ve understood too, Becky. This is based on seeing that the KJV’s phrase “appearance of evil” means what your pastor said — wherever real evil appears, or arrives on the scene, or shows up — rather than reading “appearance” as meaning an impression or a guise. And because there is Biblical support elsewhere for being careful about and loving to “weaker brothers,” this has led to confusion about this passage. Sadly, it can allow “weaker brothers” to become professional at it and set the standards that all Christians feel they must follow.
Stephen and Maria, I had a pastor explain this as evil making an appearance, as opposed to something not evil looking like evil. So it could be more accurately translated, avoid evil when it shows up.
I see, really.
What was taught to us was that this meant we should avoid the appearance of sinning. For example, instead of inviting a male visitor into your home, when your husband’s away, speak to that visitor on the porch or at the open door. Or, if you’re single, don’t go to a conference with a man if you’re going to have to be away overnight. These become scandals, offenses–a bad witness, or even a stumblingblock to other sisters and brothers.
No matter how good this is in principle, it isn’t what Paul was saying. Thank you!
Actually, Stephen, absolutely nowhere in Scripture does it say to fear anyone but God himself. I’m pretty sure James says “Submit yourselves to God, therefore; resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Please do me a favor and show me chapter and verse where it says to be afraid of Satan. Be on guard, resist, be alert – but not “be afraid.” God tends to spend a good deal of time saying “Don’t be scared, kid.”
Great point, sister. Should have worded that more carefully. “Being watchful” or even “beware” is different from “be afraid, be very afraid.” Who benefits more from Christians who fear — as opposed to guarding against — Satan? God, or the ol’ Devil himself?
[…] E. Stephen Burnett: Great point, sister. Should have worded that more carefully…. 3:41 pm, October 31, 2011 […]
Just for you, Stephen. 0=)
Quiz time. Which of these 3 celebrations started as Christian holidays?
Surprise, surprise: Only Halloween had a Christian origin. The other 2 were purely pagan. If we are going to be against pagan things … we should choose one of the other ones.
I’m just kidding. I love Christmas, Easter, and yes, (I’m sure I’m cursed) Haloween
[…] response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. For those who missed […]