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Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.
The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?
Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. According to David J. Skal, “Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations.”
Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that “Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business.”
Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has written Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal’s approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween on the rise of horror movies and the nation’s fascination with violence.
The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer’s end. As Rogers explains, “Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead.” Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.
As Rogers comments: “In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.
How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra of Christianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. “More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween’s unsavory beginnings preceded Christ’s birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods. It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.”
Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, “Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions.”
The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.
As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, “The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return.”
This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. “Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween’s,” comments Skal. “Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween’s ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film’s language of shadow and light.”
But television’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood’s “Halloween” series and the rise of violent “slasher” films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.
This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America’s public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.
In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society’s fascination with moral darkness.
For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.
These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”
Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of “All Hallow’s Eve” is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.
Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.
The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity.
The morning prayer determines the day.
Squandered time of which we are ashamed, temptations to which we succumb, weaknesses and lack of discipline in our thoughts and in our conversation with other men, all have their origin most often in the neglect of morning prayer.
Order and distribution of your time becomes more firm where they originate in prayer.
Temptations which accompany the working day will be conquered on the basis of the morning breakthrough to God.
Decision demanded by work become easier and simpler where they are made not in fear of men but only in the sigh of God.
“Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men” (Colossians 3:23). Even mechanical work is done in a more patient way if it arises from the recognition of God and his command.
The powers to work take…
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Over A Billion Served
Quantity does not mean quality. This is just as true for ministry, as it is for anything else. It is safe to say that the Gospel become one of the most watered down doctrines and messages in all Christianity, becoming more about numbers gained, than lives saved. Many in the Christian community have taken this precious, heart changing, life altering doctrine and turned it into spiritual fast food. Just as fast food restaurants like McDonalds take food, which once possessed some form of nutritional value, and turned it into mass produced, empty sustenance, Christian’s have done the same with the Gospel. Similar to McDonald’s or any fast food chain, the modern day interpretation of the Gospel, may provide quick and easy nourishment in the moment, but long term is not a source of significant fulfillment. A high cost for cheap food.
What does it Cost to…
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Awoke with a sense of urgency. It’s three a’clock in the morning. My sense is that we are indeed in a new time with new possibilities. There has been a shift in the heavenlies. Rosh Hashanah ushered in this. It is as though a new door has been opened in heaven. Or as though heaven is open in a new way.
I was recently attending the 24-7 Prayer Euro gathering in Madrid. It was truly an amazing, highly prophetic and very powerful event.
As I was in worship in my first session there, I clearly sensed that Jesus was sitting on a throne in the center of the stage, fully enrobed in royal garments with a crown on his head. There was a red carpet rolled out before him, and my sense was that the access was free to his throne. Anyone could come before him. As we were all…
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You have armed me with strength for the battle.” (Psalms 18:39 NLT)
German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer courageously took a very unpopular stand against Jewish persecution by the Nazis, which was being supported by the state church. By bravely breaking away, he created a new group called the “Confessing Church” and led an ‘illegal’ seminary. Because of his passionate resistance, he was eventually arrested and executed on April 9, 1945, merely five months before the war ended.
The only way Bonhoeffer could’ve faced his circumstances was by what the psalmist describes: “You have armed me with strength for the battle.” God gives each of us the measure of courage and faith that we need to plow ahead, regardless of our obstacles. While we focus so heavily on our chances for failure, we also forget that we have just as great a chance to succeed when it’s what God desires!
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, or the Cost of Discipleship, deserves to be read, primarily for the first section on grace and discipleship. Bonhoeffer challenged my thinking in regards to radically pursuing Christ. The second section of the book proved to be encouraging, though I am not sure that I quite agree how Bonhoeffer uses the text of the Beatitudes. His conclusions are great, I’m just not sure if I would get there the same way. The final section, the Church, proved to be a bit more difficult to read. This section seemed ethereal, because he uses language that is not concrete in describing the nature of the church. I believe that this section reveals that Bonhoeffer’s Christology is not quite evangelical. However, because I had difficulty interpreting all that he was communicating in this section, I hesitate making that claim based on the last section of this book.
I encourage reading…
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For years, those in favor of same-sex marriage have argued that all Americans should be free to live as they choose. And yet in countless cases, the government has coerced those who simply wish to be free to live in accordance with their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
Ministers face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.
Just this weekend, a case has arisen in Idaho, where city officials have told ordained ministers they have to celebrate same-sex weddings or face fines and jail time.
The Idaho case involves Donald and Evelyn Knapp, both ordained ministers, who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. Officials from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told the couple that because the city has a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the couple would have to officiate at same-sex weddings in their own chapel.
The non-discrimination statute applies to all “public accommodations,” and the city views the chapel as a public accommodation.
On Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married by the Knapps, and the Knapps politely declined. The Knapps now face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.
A week of honoring their faith and declining to perform the ceremony could cost the couple three and a half years in jail and $7,000 in fines.
The Knapps have been married to each other for 47 years and are both ordained ministers of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. They are “evangelical Christians who hold to historic Christian beliefs” that “God created two distinct genders in His image” and “that God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman.”
The Cost of Discipleship (audio)
This book is quite simply one of the most profound and important books of the twentieth century. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived his witness, and was both a thoughtful and engaging writer. He focuses on the most treasured part of Christ’s teaching—the Sermon on the Mount with its call to discipleship—and on the grace of God and the sacrifice which that demands. Viewed against the background of Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer’s book is striking enough. At the same time, it shares with many great Christian classics a quality of timelessness, so that it has spoken, and continues to speak powerfully, to the varied concerns of the contemporary world.
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