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Using Romans 14 to improperly defend "Christian freedom"

Vincent Danen

November 01, 2014

Full disclosure: I have not and will not participate in Halloween, and I personally do not believe that Christians should. And while this posting talks about Halloween, it's not about Halloween itself. It's about misinterpreting scripture to suit your own desires.

The scripture in question is Romans 14:

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:1–12 NKJV)

This scripture was quoted in reference to a Christian handing out candy at Halloween, and why they believe it's acceptable. To them, Halloween is not about celebrating darkness and witchcraft, it's about celebrating children and candy. They are interpreting the scripture above to say "it's fine for me to participate in Halloween because I get to interact with my neighbours, as a Christian I can hand out the best candy with the biggest smile on my face and don't judge me because I choose to do so ("eat all things") whereas you refrain from participating in Halloween ("only eat vegetables") and I have the freedom in Christ do so because I'm doing it for the kids".

The problem with that kind of thinking (paraphrased above) is that it doesn't account for the context of the scripture quoted. Paul isn't talking about certain tastes in food ("I like beef and you like chicken -- don't judge me for liking beef!"). He's not even referring to the Jewish custom of not eating certain foods (such as pork). Rather, he's talking about food sacrificed to idols. The food in question was for sale on the market after it had been sacrificed to idols, and people would buy it from the market, knowing it's origin, take it home and eat it. Some Christians thought that the very act of eating this food that had previously been sacrificed to idols meant they were partaking in idolatry (which is something that Christians would very much want to avoid). For some Christians, this was a very real problem and they would not want to be seen as being partakers in the practice, and for others they looked at it for what it was: food to be eaten. Give thanks to God for the food, and eat, regardless of where it came from.

There is a definite problem with using this scripture to back the practice of Christians partaking in Halloween, and it's very much the "apples vs oranges" problem.

Primarily, you cannot compare the act of handing out candy in the same light as eating food sacrificed to idols. They are two very different stages in a somewhat similar process. Rather, you need to compare eating this kind of food to eating the candy procured through Halloween activities. So the question of eating meat versus eating vegetables is the same as whether or not you should eat candy given to you that someone else obtained while out trick-or-treating versus refusing to eat it (because of the association to Halloween). In other words, if my neighbour comes over the day after Halloween and offers me some of the candy they collected the night before, I have to ask myself this: Does eating this candy make me a participator in the festivities or not?

Now, the act of handing out candy to children or taking your children out to collect candy from others can't be compared in the same way. If we look at participation in Halloween as the sensitive issue today, then the sensitive issue when Romans 14 was written is the sacrificing to idols. Perhaps it would be better to compare the participation in either activity rather than the participation in one to the end result of the other. Paul never compared the sacrificing of food to idols with the eating of this food. For a Christian it would be a no-brainer: You don't sacrifice anything to idols. So the participation is not the focus because the answer is an unequivocal NO. Should that not be the same with this holiday originating in paganism and celebrated as the third most important day for Satanists today according to the Satanic Bible1?

The question of whether or not to partake of the treats obtained by others who participated in Halloween should be the "freedom" that Christians need to think about and can use Romans 14 as a frame of reference. You cannot use Romans 14 for the question of participation. Instead, you should be using what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”” (2 Corinthians 6:14–16 NKJV (emphasis mine))

I think this passage of scripture is the more appropriate question with some very definite answers. There is nothing remotely Christian about Halloween and lame attempts to "Christianize" it to things like "Harvest Festival" are silly and were previously done -- in fact, the Catholic Church tried to Christianize Samhain to Halloween (or All Hallow's Eve) in the first place2. Personally, I think they should have left well enough alone, like we should today.

Participating in Samhain3 is something that, in my opinion, no Christian should be a part of. In the same way that I don't think Christian missionaries in India celebrate Diwali, or Christians in Muslim countries celebrate Ramadan, I don't believe that cultural observances are an excuse to participate in something that is clearly not Christian. And, to stem the comments of Easter and Christmas being "originally based in pagan holidays" I'd like to point out the obvious difference: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and Easter is about celebrating His death, burial and resurrection. Regardless of what other holidays they may coincide with, there is an obvious meaning to the Christian that is based on Christ. The use of Christmas trees may be a point of contention with some, but I believe that falls under the freedoms we have in Christ. The significance of the holiday is something very important to a Christian to celebrate.

I would also point out that those of other faiths such as Hindus and Muslims don't celebrate Christmas just because they live in Canada, so I think that "cultural observances" is a pretty weak excuse to participate in something that, unlike Christmas and Easter, has absolutely nothing to do with God nor glorifies God in the slightest.

The main point of this article is not about Christians participating in Halloween. As I stated before, I'm not one to judge. I have many Christian friends who participate and I don't think any less of them. I'm also not out to defend my right not to partake. The point of this posting was to dispel the faulty logic behind using Romans 14 as a prop to say that it's ok. All of us have to account for our thoughts and actions and only God is judge, not me, nor any other Christian. But if you are going to participate, just do it without trying to build a defence on scriptures that contextually cannot be used. For further in Romans 14 it states:

“So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:12–15 NKJV)

Each of us will give an account, and we should be considering others as well as ourselves. Here Paul is stating that if a Christian brother or sister is grieved by your desire to eat food sacrificed to idols then don't do it and so become a stumbling block to them. I say this to those who advertise the fact they are participating in Halloween and defending their "right" to participate. Rather, if you want to participate in Halloween don't make a big deal of it -- just do it. I don't make a big deal of the fact that I don't, yet to anyone who asks I will let them know my belief. In the same way, why make a big deal of the fact that you do, and then go on to justify it as well?

Ultimately, it is up to you. I don't at all believe that participating in Halloween affects salvation in any way or that it makes you a "worse Christian" than if you didn't. However, as Christians we should really be thinking long and hard about what James wrote:

“You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4 NLT)

Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT) copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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