Thursday, October 18, 2007

And I will Strike Down upon thee with Great Vengeance and Furious Anger...

Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween,
Part 2: The Lordship of Christ & Colossians 2

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
- Colossians 2:8-23 (NIV)

The first and most important fact established in Colossians 2:8-23 (indeed, in the entire epistle) is the Absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is fully divine though incarnate in human flesh, is the Lord of All There Is; there is nothing over which he does not reign supreme. This fundamental truth is one of the foundations of Christianity; many would say it is the foundation. Certainly, Christians can agree on the central reality of Jesus' Lordship.

Second, the passage teaches us that Jesus has already triumphed over the "powers and authorities" of evil, having "disarmed" them by the power of the Cross. In other words, the evil, demonic powers of the world - call them sin, Satan, Beelzebub, Death, demons, disease, hate, war, country music, etc. - are defeated enemies who simply have not yet admitted defeat, and are trying to take out as many of us as possible before they are completely stripped of power. But, ultimately, these evil powers are subservient to the first theological point established here...the Lordship of Christ. They have no power over Jesus.

Third, we learn in this passage that Christians have been "given fullness in Christ", have put off "the sinful nature" by being circumcized into the Body of Christ through baptism and faith. Having experienced the New Birth, we are now alive in Christ and forgiven, no longer bound by "the written code with its regulations". Essentially, this means that the evil powers and authorities of this world are not our lords. They have no power over Jesus; they have no power, therefore, over those who are one with Christ.

Presumably, these three theological points are aspects of Biblical faith with which most Christians find agreement.

But the writer of Colossians, whom I believe may well have been St. Paul (despite the doubts of many scholars), "fills in the blanks" beautifully with some tasty little details, which can affect how we note Halloween.

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ...And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross...Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day."
St. Paul writes that we are not to heed human tradition which flies in the face of the theological truths already established about our Faith...namely the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the defeat of the evil powers of the world, and our participation in Jesus' victory.

Why, then, are Christians reluctant to celebrate Halloween, some calling it "the Devil's Day"? Let me be as perfectly clear as I can be: the Devil has no day. Jesus is Lord of every day of the year, including October 31. To claim that evil has some kind of extra power on that one night is nothing short of apostasy, for it denies the absolute Lordship of Jesus. Definitionally, for the Christian, Halloween is no more or less sacred or holy than Christmas, Easter, or Super Bowl Sunday; Jesus presides over every day of the year. Evil has no authority over Jesus, nor over his saints.

The apostle goes on to write that, on the Cross, Jesus so humiliated the powers and authorities of this world that he "made a public spectacle of them". Were it not for the horrors of Good Friday, one can almost picture the Heavenly Host openly laughing at the demonic hordes, who believed they had triumphed but had actually suffered the greatest defeat in history. Jesus embarrassed the evil powers, he humiliated them, he made a public spectacle of them. What a great truth!

It seems to me that Christians have a tremendous opportunity each Halloween to remember and mark Hell's humiliation. By donning masks, we are openly mocking the evil forces which would seek to destroy us but are powerless to do so. We are saying to the satanic minions of the underworld, "There is nothing you can do to me; Jesus has won the victory! I openly mock you, as my Lord did, and, like him, I make a public spectacle of you!" Viewed as an opportunity and not a hurdle, it's a wonder that more evangelical Christians don't dress up on Halloween.

Finally, we learn a lesson that can help us in our darkest days. St. Paul writes that we should not worry about being judged by what holidays we keep or fail to keep. Those who would judge based on whether or not we celebrate Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost, or All Saints, or Halloween, are engaged in what the apostle refers to as "false humility". Are we more or less holy because we don a mask, play with children and eat candy? Hardly; we are sanctified by the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Already made holy and, hopefully, growing in holiness daily, no mask or holiday can alter what Jesus has done for us.

So, if on Halloween one chooses to celebrate Jesus' Lordship and his victory over evil, the complaints of detractors should not be a concern. Likewise, if someone is struggling with issues surrounding Halloween, whether it is questioning the Lordship of Christ, doubting the completeness of his victory, or because of racism, those who have chosen to celebrate should not actively attack those who have chosen to abstain. Prayer is a far more appropriate and effective response.

You may not agree with this exegesis of Colossians 2 which, I confess, contains some eisegesis. But I urge you to ponder these issues and pray on them.

My final post will deal with issues of racism surrounding Halloween as well as the incarnational ministry to which we are called each day, even on October 31.


Jeff Kahl said...

Keith -

I agree with your assessment, as well as your inclusion of a photo of Hillary Clinton among the other horrific monsters of our day.

Happy Halloween......


Keith H. McIlwain said... wasn't meant as a political comment as much as a pictorial assessment.

Anonymous said...

Throw in a Dick Cheney for balance and I'll buy the Hillary.

But that's not why I'm posting.

Your reading of Halloween and the Scripture is interesting and persuasive. I think a crucial issue is the spirit in which we don those masks.

I imagine many do not take part in a sense of mocking death. That is where the problems start, perhaps.

Jeff Kahl said...


I was going more for a humorous jab than any kind of stinging political rhetoric, but thanks for clarifying.


I think both Dick and George should be right up there with Hillary. The real "horror" of politics these days is that neither party has much integrity.


Eric Park said...


I'm looking forward to your next posts, entitled...

"The Whitest Guy Imaginable Addresses the Theological Implications of Kwanzaa"


"The Insidious Pantheism Behind Arbor Day"

Your thinking on Halloween is certainly thorough and well-articulated. My sense, however, is that if someone comes to the prayerful conclusion that, for them, it is best not to traffic in the imagery of the demonic (out of fear that what we mock will eventually begin to mock us right back), no amount of theological reasoning will convince them that Halloween is a good thing. Nor should it.

That said, your post serves as a reminder that celebrating Halloween as a Christ-follower is not, in and of itself, a glorification of the demonic. It can be a sort of "dancing upon the grave" that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible.

For me, quite frankly, my delight in Halloween is simpler than all of that. I simply enjoy being frightened by imaginary scenarios. I always have (ever since the days of Chiller Theater, in fact). I look upon Halloween as an opportunity to revisit the "chills" of childhood, all the while reveling in the fact that these imaginary realities are precisely that--imaginary.

I have certainly heard the outcry of various portions of the Body of Christ concerning the perceived demonic identity of Halloween. I respect those opinions and feel no burden to persuade my brothers and sisters to put on Dracula make-up for the sake of Jesus. But neither am I persuaded by them to throw out my "Exorcist" and "Poltergeist" DVDs.

Thanks, man.

Perhaps Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining" put it best: "All work and no play makes Jack [or Eric] a dull boy!"

Unknown said...

I will continue to read along with interest... BUT I do take umbrage to one comment. I think Super Bowl Sunday may be a BIT more sacred than the other holidays you mention (but only if Pittsburgh is in the Big Game.)

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Joe - I gotta tell you, a few years ago, when they went to the Big Game, it was as if Christmas never ended, continuing on through the Super Bowl. The mood in western PA was electric. A neat time; I'm glad my kids got to experience a bit of what it felt like growing up with a Super Bowl team, as we did.

Eric - I hear you, and largely agree with you. What bothers me is when sisters and brothers denounce those of us who DO choose to celebrate Halloween (see the last cartoon in the post). I've heard that quite a bit from the evangelical community through the years...even from good pastors in our very Conference. That bugs me.

Eric Park said...

Gotcha', bro.

Jeff Vanderhoff said...

I think we should all celebrate Festivus this year. Who has some grievances they'd like to air?

Eric Park said...

I've already brought my Festivus Pole down from the attic!

Unknown said...

Those masks. Will they be worn by the Pittsburgh District in the Annual Conference processional? If so, I want the clown with teeth.

Greg Cox said...

From all of that - while very well written, my favorite was the deathly ill looking mask of Billary Clinton. Nicely done!