Paul in Athens; you, me and Halloween

Had a conversation yesterday with a friend about Christianity and Halloween, and what the Christian response to or involvement with Halloween should be. 610px-Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31 In other words, should we acknowledge its legitimacy, engage in its festivities, and dress up in costumes and go door-to-door in search of free candy?  As I understood him, his reasoning for partaking in Halloween was to be involved with our culture and its people and use that as a platform for the gospel.  That – and acquiring a year’s supply of Reeses peanut butter cups!  Now that is potentially legitimate, although we should, at a minimum, ponder how far we can engage in the culture before our Christianity is compromised and we blend in so well that our pagan friends and neighbors see no difference between us and them, between our lives and their lives.

800px-Ura_and_imaI’ll come right out and say it that my position in this discussion is that Halloween is a pagan festival (holiday, celebration, etc.) and that Christ-followers probably should not engage in its festivities, however “innocent” those festivities may seem to be.  Later in the day the thought occurred to me that when Paul was in Athens (Acts 17:16 – 34) he didn’t join in with what the Athenians were doing.  Rather, he saw that their “city was full of idols,” and “his spirit was provoked within him.”  Provoked?  Yeah, he was not happy.  And he did not join them in what they were doing.

So what did he do?

The next verse tells us: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”  What was he reasoning about?  Surely the folly and error of their belief systems – both the incomplete knowledge of the Jews who denied or did not yet know that Jesus was the Christ, and the flat-out error of the pagan Athenians who engaged in open idol-worship.  This led to his being invited (or taken!) to the Aeropagus, or Mars Hill, to explain to the philosophers and other important people what he was teaching.  And yes, he started with their religiosity (idolatry) and the fact that they even worshiped an unknown god, just to be sure they didn’t miss one.

Ahh, so Paul used their culture as a platform to tell them about the real God.  But, and this is significant, this did not mean that he was endorsing their idolatry or excusing it in any way.  Hardly.  Look back again at verse 16: “his spirit was provoked within him.”  And it certainly didn’t mean that he was joining them in their pagan festivals.

800px-Areopagus_from_the_AcropolisAt the end of his speech on Mars Hill he told them about Jesus and the resurrection, which caused an uproar.  Some mocked him, some wanted to hear more later, and a few believed.  Isn’t that a normal response to the gospel?  If we’re not getting that kind of reaction from our pagan friends and neighbors what should that tell us about our gospel message and our gospel-life?

I’m all for being “missional” as a follower of Jesus living where I live.  For me that means engaging with the people, both Christians and pagans, in the spheres in which I move and have my being – my church; the coffee shop; the bike shop and local mountain biking community; my suppliers, vendors and customers in my construction business; the people I’m meeting and getting to know in the website building business; my neighborhood; the blogosphere; shopping at WalMart; and so on.

What being “missional” doesn’t mean, in my opinion, is blending in so much that my life as a Christ-follower looks no different than that of my pagan friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.  Do I engage in some of the activities they do?  Of course.  Do I engage in all of the activities that they do?  No way.  Christians in the first century were a persecuted, disliked bunch of people, because they were a group of ex-pagans following Jesus and telling their still-pagan friends and neighbors about the Light of the world – Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. . . . And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.  John 3:16,19-21

So for me and Halloween, being a missional follower of Jesus means that I don’t participate in this pagan festival, and I’m open about it and willing to talk about it and tell people why I (we) won’t be joining in.

*Edit – Using a Halloween staple . . . a Jack-o’-lantern . . . as a platform to proclaim Christ and him crucified.  Sent to me by the friend I mentioned at the beginning of this post!   😉

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