Devil's Day and Demonic Doctrine
Skeletons, witches, ghosts, blood and late night doorbells--it's that time again. Once more the annual Christian controversy of celebrating Halloween emerges. It is the time of year that see Chick tracts warning us that chainsaw-wielding Satan is around the corner, or that if we go trick or treating one time, we'll get hit by a car, die, and wake up in hell. Some Christians see Halloween as harmless fun, others see it as an insidious gateway to the realm of hell itself. Many Christians are somewhere in the middle, allowing their kids to dress up and attend the church's fall festival and knock on the doors of neighbors and family members, but not allowing them to sacrifice the family cat.
Concerning spiritual darkness and the celebration of evil, Scripture is clear. Christians are not to dabble with witchcraft (Gal. 5:19-20) or participate in darkness, rather we are to expose it (Eph. 5:11). Interestingly enough, preceding this command in 11, Paul describes the darkness in verses 3 and 4: sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish, crude joking. Darkness, then, is not confined to Halloween. It isn't most prominent on "the devil's day." From sexual debauchery to genital mutilation of children to the defense of infanticide, our pagan culture is suffocating darkness. Darkness is the world's condition (John 3:19-20).
It is a matter of personal conviction whether handing out candy to your neighbors, or allowing your kid to dress up as Spider Man is participating in darkness. What is undeniably devilish, however, is asceticism. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in his first letter to Timothy:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
The teaching of demons is forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods that God has approved. For many Christians, denying the good things that God has given us is tangible holiness. And that is what makes asceticism so dangerous--it seems spiritual, and it seems right. Who can argue with a disciplined Christianity? Platonic philosophy has plagued the church for millennia.
It was an early Jewish Christian sect, the Judiazers, that demanded all believers follow the Mosiac Law (Gal. 3:1-3; 10-13), be circumcised (Gal. 6:12-13), and follow the Jewish liturgical calendar (Gal. 4:8-10). And it was to these Judiazers that Paul unloaded some shocking language (Gal. 1:6-9, 5:7-12). Shackling the conscience to asceticism is a seducing and serious danger, having ensnared even the apostles.
In Acts, we see Peter's battle of conscience:
Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:9-15)
In Galatians, we see Peter's behavior of hypocrisy:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-15)
Demonic teaching is not just the prohibition of food, it is also the denial of marriage and marital sex. In our day, we don't have to look far to see the results of platonic philosophy and asceticism in sexual behavior. The widespread sexual abuse of boys and girls by Roman Catholic Church clergy is testament to the fallout of sinister asceticism. Rather than denying biological reality, we should follow Scripture's wisdom. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," writes Paul (1 Cor. 7:9).
God doesn't simply permit sex, he encourages it. The Bible is unblushing in its celebration of marital love and the sheer pleasure of bodily enjoyment:
Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:15-19)
There is nothing holy about abstaining from marital union, sex, and good food for the sake of abstaining. That's demonic.
Solomon offers a much needed corrective to evangelical asceticism:
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
In food, drink, dress, and sex we enjoy God's good gifts. Instead of thinking that abstaining from them for the sake of abstinence is a mark of holiness, we must recognize it for what it is: demonic. Holiness, after all, is a matter of our hearts.
J.C. Ryle gives us this insightful reminder:
Let it be a settled resolution with us, that in all our religion the state of our hearts shall be the main thing. Let it not content us to go to church, and observe the forms of religion. Let us look far deeper than this, and desire to have a "heart right in the sight of God." (Acts 8:21.) The right heart is a heart sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and renewed by the Holy Spirit, and purified by faith. Never let us rest until we find within the witness of the Spirit, that God has created in us a clean heart, and made all things new. (Psalm 51:10. 2 Cor. 5:17.) Finally, let it be a settled resolution with us to "keep our hearts with all diligence," all the days of our lives. (Prov. 4:23.) Even after renewal they are weak. Even after putting on the new man they are deceitful. Let us never forget that our chief danger is from within. The world and the devil combined, cannot do us so much harm as our own hearts will, if we do not watch and pray. Happy is he who remembers daily the words of Solomon, "One who trusts in himself is a fool." (Prov. 28:26.)
Worldliness is a condition of the heart--desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Desires and pride--those are conditions of the heart. Worldliness is a condition of the heart that manifests itself in external behavior. What that means is we can be externally clean--saying the "right" things, dressing the "right" way, and even behaving "right"--all the while our hearts are dominated by worldliness; therein, is our chief danger.
The question of the Christian's participation in Halloween is a matter of personal conviction. Scripture prohibits us from abstaining for the sake of abstinence. More sinister than the Devil's day is the demonic doctrine of asceticism. Like Ryle warned us, "the world and the devil combined, cannot do us so much harm as our hearts will."
Eating good food, and having great sex with your spouse is holy Christian living. Let us not give way to deceitful spirits or submit to demonic teaching.
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)