Halloween and Pseudo-Transformation.

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I have been thinking a lot about the whole Halloween debate. The difficulty with these types of debates is the Bible doesn’t address them so we pick sides and dig in. I know he did a lot of things that angered the “evil” Pharisees. It is easy to point to the Pharisees and say how they represent all the things we disagree with and our position is represented by Christ. But you know what, sometimes I find myself being a Pharisee. I find that I often seek my value in myself by rule keeping alone, actually one of the more scary realities is that it’s generally when I feel I am not a Pharisee that I am most in danger of being one.

A Pharisee to me is someone who has the outward appearance of the values that Jesus came to model with none of the inward convictions he lived out.

I think we need to take a hard look at what is meant when the Bible calls Jesus a friend of sinners.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted John Ortberg talks about Pseudo-Transformation. It is powerful. I think to some people Halloween has become a “boundary marker of salvation.” Here is a short excerpt from his book, powerful stuff.

The great danger that arises when we don’t experience authentic transformation is that we settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation. We know that as Christians we are called to “come out and be separate,” that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow. But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing ourselves from those who are not Christians. This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people: If we do not become changed from the inside-out – if we don’t morph- we will be tempted to look to external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith. If we cannot be transformed, we will settle for being informed or conformed.

Here is where the gospel meets our messy reality.

Is your life primary marked by Love and Joy or by what you do or do not do? When we understand that Jesus kept the law perfectly for us, something we could never do and is not doing, it changes us. We move from law-keeping to be righteous to a thankfulness that Jesus paid it all on our behalf. That gratitude pushes us to live a life of devotion and holiness not because we are better than everyone but because we are painfully aware of our deep need for daily grace. It’s the gospel that frees us not to be absorbed into what Paul calls “meaningless debates.” My advice as someone who has been a kids pastor for nearly two decades, a parent for over a decade, and a sinner saved by grace for four decades, is this go: trick-or-treating or stay home. Do what you feel that you should do for your family. If you feel, you should go then do that. If you feel you should stay home, do that. Neither is wrong, but both can be. How is that? By treating those who don’t participate as weird or thinking you are better because you don’t participate. Both show a failure to live in humility.

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4 thoughts on “Halloween and Pseudo-Transformation.

  1. thanks for posting this. It’s a huge debate around here… We had a church alternative at our old church (and previous churches) and never participated in trick or treating. Our light was always off and we left the house before dark every halloween. It was a great excuse to stay and a great church family event, we alway wanted it to be an outreach, but honestly it was more of a church family thing. It was a super fun event, nothing at all wrong with it. It was an effective and wholesome, fun halloween alternative. Then when we moved away from our comfort zone to start the church we had no alternative,…. We had just been getting to know our neighbors and this time they asked if we would be home and if so they would see us there, so we tried this brand new thing called trick or treat. 🙂 I even posted a picture to social media. That night we discovered an incredible thing. ALL of our neighbors were home, they were ALL outside and looking to meet and say hi to neighbors. They were throwing parties and guess what? Their intent wasn’t actually to celebrate the Devil! They had simply participated in a reason to dress up, and they had bought into the commercial holiday. We decided to keep our light on. Both spiritually and naturally. Our kids dressed in fun outfits and we talked openly about why we don’t try to scare our kids – It was the single best connecting and “light the night” moment we have had. WE got to know know our neighbors who all had smiles on their faces and welcomed our family into theirs. I do not know of another night all year long where our neighborhood puts out the welcome mat to each other like this. We had missed this opportunity in our last neighborhood. We still participate, but differently from the world, we can still be a light, we still know that it can be a “dark holiday”, but we are in the world, not of it. We had so many christian friends bash us for our decision, but when our neighbors come to us for prayer when a tough moment hits or ask us to help in emergencies… we remember where it all started. People who don’t know Jesus yet, sure appreciate it when they are not ridiculed for their lives. They speak and respond to the language of Love. There are always two sides to each decision, but this is our current one.

    • Elana thanks for your comment. It’s so easy for us to make our faith simple and clean. We do this and don’t do that and what starts as a well-meaning standard can become what we define our faith by and place our faith in. The gospel attacks our comforts that are found in anything but Christ alone. When I understand what Christ has done on my behalf I am compelled to live a life of holiness out of gratitude rather than creating a list of things to do that identify me as holy. This is so huge for us as parents to pass to our kids. We are Christians based on who we do or do not trust with our whole life rather than the things we do or do not do.

  2. Good article! To be honest, I’ve been surprised by this debate since my kids’ school forbid it. It’s always been about kids fun and candy for as long as I’ve lived. In fact, my Mom just sent me a picture of me when I was 4 in 1980 in a plastic Cookie Monster costume – even as I am taking out my 6 year old in a Darth Vader costume to trick or treat tonight. I have really grown to appreciate the opportunity to interact with neighbors on Halloween nights, too. It can be a great for outreach as evangelistic Christians in our own neighborhoods.

    • Eric, I totally agree. Halloween is a thing of Christian conscience. It’s not black or white as most people make it out to be. Our identity has to be found in the person and work of Christ and when that is true mile markers like Halloween participation find their proper place.