At this time of year I often receive some kind of urgent prayer warning from a Christian friend, a student in class or a well-meaning congregant. Usually the request is to fervently pray against the satanic powers on this evil day, Halloween. While there is considerable mischief done and a great amount of media attention given on this day, is it any more evil (or holy) than any other day?
My colleague and friend Pam Johnston recently wrote an article debunking many of the common myths about Halloween (most of which are propagated by overly enthusiastic Christians). As a historian she reveals that much of the folklore around Halloween comes from ancient Celtic agricultural practices. Her conclusion: "the harvest festivals celebrated by some churches as an alternative to Halloween may be a more accurate reflection of the original Celtic agricultural festival." Her husband, and my good friend, Marshall Johnston, also wrote a piece on how the media sensationalizes and distorts anything connected to the supernatural, especially around Halloween.
I've said often and repeat again, churches have two basic options when dealing with culture: isolate themselves and battle the culture or engage it and use it for a connecting point with the culture. See my post from last October 31 for a commentary on the difference between my Christian neighbor who posts anti-Halloween signs and my church which ministers to it's neighborhood. Isolationism is not an option if we are seeking to be God's people on a mission for the kingdom.
There are countless ways that Jesus and his early followers engaged and used the cultural practices of their day.
- Baptism was practiced by Jews and Pagans alike and other rituals of purification go back to prehistoric times
- The Eucharist (communion) is a type of divine meal that is found in Jewish and secular literature long before it was used in the upper room
- The first Christians had no choice but to meet in the Jewish temple and synagogue
- The Apostle Paul was able to use the Athenian's worship of multiple gods, including the "unknown god," to introduce the one true God
- Christmas was borrowed from pagan celebrations honoring the gods of the winter solstice
Since its birth the church has always engaged the culture it has resided in, often giving new and reinterpreted meaning to the practices of the day. Halloween is just such an opportunity to continue the hard work of interpreting scripture and community while inhabiting an alien culture.