All Around Us

“Happy Halloween” 

The time for Halloween celebration is long gone by now. Yet something came to my attention which may be instructive and also serve as warning with respect to our own observance of this day. We have come to accept “halloween” as a legitimate fun day for our children. “Trick or treat” is represented as an innocent method of obtaining many goodies on this day. Some concern has been expressed within cities because of harmful items inserted into the food or candy. But little concern is heard about the very pagan origin of this celebration. Perhaps, then, we as parents ought to give careful thought to an article appearing inChristianity Today, Oct. 21, 1977, by John W. Howe. Among other things, he writes about the origin of Halloween:

. . . It’s such an extraordinary time. We do some bizarre things on Halloween, don’t we? Dressing up as spooks, goblins, and witches. Calling on people and demanding goodies. I wonder if we know why we do these things. Why do we go along with it? Because it’s tradition? That isn’t enough of a reason. 

Let me put it this way. The Passover celebration in a Jewish home begins when the youngest son asks his father, “Daddy, why is this night different from all other nights?” Then the father tells him of the mighty works of God surrounding the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. But what would you say if your son or daughter were to ask about Halloween, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” How would you explain the shenanigans of Halloween? 

Most people know that the word itself comes from All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Hallows. Therefore it has something to do with All Saints and the Christian Church. But what? 

It comes as quite a surprise to discover that this celebration predates the Christian Church by several centuries. In fact, it goes back to a practice of the ancient Druids in Britain, France, Germany, and the Celtic countries, who lived hundreds of years before Christ was born. This celebration honored one of their deities, Samhain, Lord of the dead. Samhain called together all the wicked souls who had died within the past twelve months and had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. The date for this celebration was the last day of October, the eve of the Celtic new year. It was a time of falling leaves and general seasonal decay, and it seemed appropriate to celebrate death. That’s what it was a celebration of death. It honored the god of the dead and the wicked spirits of the dead. The Druids believed that on this particular night the souls of the dead returned to their former homes to be entertained by the living. If acceptable food and shelter were not provided these evil spirits would cast spells, cause havoc and terror, and haunt and torment the living: They demanded to be placated. Look closely. Here is the beginning of “trick-or-treat.” Evil spirits demanding a “treat.” If they didn’t get it, you got a “trick.” 

James Napier writing in Folklore says that these beliefs and practices were not confined to northern Britain, but were widespread and—with some variations—practiced the world over by pagan peoples. . . . 

But how did all this become associated with Christianity? There’s another part of the story that goes back to Rome. The Roman Pantheon was built by the Emperor Hadrian in about A.D. 100 as a temple to the goddess Cybele and various other Roman deities. It became a principal place of worship where Roman pagans prayed for their dead. Then, Rome was sacked, the barbarians came in, and they took over the Pantheon, along with everything else. After several centuries it fell into disrepair. In A.D. 607, it was recaptured by the Emperor Phocas and he turned it over as a gift to Pope Boniface IV. 

Boniface reconsecrated it to the Virgin Mary. This was part of a general policy that wherever pagan celebrations were well established, they would be continued and incorporated into Christian worship. (Only the names were changed to protect the innocent.) . . . Now the Roman Catholics were gathering to pray to the goddess Mary for their dead. And they did so in the same temples. 

For two centuries the major celebration in the Pantheon took place in May and was called “All Saints Day.” Then in A.D. 834 it was deliberately moved to the first of November. Why? To coincide with those ancient Druidic and pagan practices that had been going on for centuries. The Church wanted to accommodate the recently conquered German Saxons and the Norsemen of Scandinavia; it baptized yet another celebration. 

That’s the wedding of All Saints Day to Halloween. Thoroughly, utterly, totally pagan: the worship of the dead, the placating of evil spirits, the honoring of the Lord of the Dead, the transferring to Mary of pagan esteem that was previously given to Cybele. Where does this leave us?

So, when your children ask, “Dad, why do we celebrate Halloween?”, you’ll know. You can tell them that we are simply joining with all of the idolaters of old to commemorate heathen fantasies in order to have some “innocent” fun. Or perhaps we ought just to keep silent—and allow our children to have their fun while they are still young? 

“Liturgical Prizes or Surprises” 

The Outlook of Nov. 1977, contains an article with the above title by Rev. Jelle Tuininga. Once more, the author decries the proliferation of new forms within the Christian Reformed Church. At one point the author states:

I wish I could trust the Liturgical Committee itself on this score (presenting Reformed theology in the new liturgies—G.V.B.). Rather, I see evidence that the Committee itself at times tends (intentionally or unintentionally) to undermine our Reformed theology in some of the newer proposed forms. Indeed, in my worst moments I ask, after the fashion of Nathanael, Can anything Reformed come from the Liturgical Committee?”

The writer continues by criticizing the new marriage form recently presented to the churches. The point made is very valid and suggests the un-reformed and unscriptural approach taken.

Look only at the fact that there is no reference at all to the husband being the head-of the wife, and thus the vows spoken by both bride and groom are’ completely identical. In the Preface to the proposed form the Committee says that “there should be a clear and concise statement on what the Bible teaches about the meaning and purpose of marriage. But here a very important part of that teaching is simply ignored. And in the face of a lot of unbiblical ideas nowadays as propagated by the Women’s Liberation movement, such an omission is so much the more inexcusable. It does not show a great deal of biblical sensitivity to the spirit of the age. And surely that is what we may expect of the church. 

Without a doubt this omission is itself influenced by the Women’s Lib movement. But instead of capitulating to the secular spirit of the age, we ought to throw up a bulwark against it. 

It won’t do to say that in the past the headship role was often misinterpreted or misused. That may be true, but to fall into the opposite error is equally bad. It won’t do either to stress the concept of “mutuality” in subjection to each other. That concept itself is biblical enough, and Paul mentions it in

Ephesians 5:21

. But right after that he admonishes wives to be subject to their husbands, and not the other way around. Mutual subjection holds for parents and children too, and for servants and masters also. But that does not do away with the unique role or function that each party has to the other. One cannot say that because we all must be subject to one another, children need not obey their parents. Nor does it follow that therefore wives need not be subject to their husbands. . . .

“Homiletic decay” 

One hears often today that the preaching as done in the past by notable ministers is not acceptable today. It does not hold the young. One must present something striking and different if we are to hold the church together. It is said that the young demand this and will not even listen to “old fashioned” preaching. A striking comment is made by an associate editor of Chimes, the student newspaper of Calvin College. In the issue of Oct. 21, 1977 we read this:

During the last few decades, there has been a declining emphasis on theology among the members of the Christian Reformed Church. Whereas many of our grandfathers could defend the articles of the faith with skill and conviction, many of us do not even seem to care whether or not the Canons of Dordt or the Belgic Confession actually represent our faith. Some might argue that such a decreasing emphasis on theological matters minimizes conflict and eliminates meaningless abstraction. Nevertheless, it is evident that this state of affairs has its harmful effects as well. The quality of the sermons that we often hear in the Christian Reformed churches bears witness to this fact. For example, many sermons display the following characteristics. 

First, sermons often seem to have been produced in an unorthodox fashion. A minister is inspired by an interesting idea. After developing this idea somewhat, he searches the scriptures for an appropriate text. This text is then bent and twisted until it more or less fits the already formulated message. No careful exegesis is undertaken. 

A sermon of this sort simply does not have the power and authority of a sermon founded on a thorough, theologically guided exegesis. Rather, such a sermon often displays shallowness, weakness, and little power to edify. 

Secondly, the sermons that we hear are often moralistic. Many of us are familiar with this phenomenon, but lately a new version is being expounded from some of our pulpits. It can be appropriately christened “Enlightened Moralism.” People of this persuasion correctly stress all of the concerns our churches have just recently become aware of industrialism, technocracy, world hunger, ecology and the problems of the Third World. However, all too often action in these areas is demanded without making any mention of the grace of God and the redemptive power of Christ, through which such action is made possible. Such sermons lose their Christ-centeredness; without Christ, our efforts, no matter how enlightened, are fruitless. 

It seems likely that instances of the above two cases are not the result of faithlessness, but rather of unclear theological thinking. Moreover, many more instances can be found in which our collective lack of interest in theological matters is evident. We should attempt to change this state of affairs. For surely, if we do not continuously strive to deepen our insight into the Word of God, both our proclamation and our action will suffer.

The brother is not far from the old and tried position of the Reformers. His comments in Chimes stand out as an oasis in the midst of a desert. May God use such remarks to remind many others of our old Reformed heritage!