Halloween is coming. Its a time of some controversy among Christians as they try to decide if they should join in on the trick-or-treating.
We wish we could just look up "Halloween" in the scriptures and get a solid answer, but it's just not there. The scriptures don't tell us if it's okay to dress up and go to door to door with a pumpkin shaped bucket without any belief in ghosts or goblins.
Halloween is just one question in the myriad of hot topics throughout the centuries. The world just keeps on changing at rocket speed, and we scramble to find answers in the Bible for our current issues.
I do not think the Bible is out of date, or irrelevant! The scriptures are all useful for teaching- but we need let them say what they mean. I don't know if you're guilty of this too, but I know that I've approached the Bible with a specific question in mind, determined to get the answer. Gary D Collier says it well,
"We arrest it from the shelf and begin looking for "gold". We ask it our questions, and we expect it to answer. And in our mad rush for what we want to hear, we often do not stop to consider whether the Bible even addresses our questions! What happens next is we hear things that were never said."
So what do we do? How do we get answers?
The Pharisees in Jesus' day thought they had the answer. The set up the 'Traditions of the Elders' to fill in the blanks of the Bible. They did not do this lightly. It took generations of study and debate.
I've probably put some backs up by bringing the Pharisees into the picture, but we need to remember they were the some of the leading spiritual guides of the day, and not all were bad! I myself battle some Pharisee tendencies - I want a list of rules neatly packaged, black and white. The Pharisees didn't make up tightly structured rules just for fun, they honestly thought they were doing what was right. They saw the Greek and pagan influences creeping in, and knew they had to keep the people on the right path. So everything from purifying your body, to exactly how much you could do on the Sabbath, to how you ate and with whom, became a series of strict rules.
Even if their intentions were good, the result did not please God. Jesus arrived on the scene and called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers", "whitewashed tombs" and "blind guides". Their focus was all wrong. Somewhere along the line, their hearts took a wrong turn.
And it wasn't just the Pharisees that struggled where the Scriptures were Silent.
The first century Christian church had its share of trying to find answers to questions not found in scripture. They had to deal with a hotbed of issues that threatened to bring the church down. Not the least of which was trying to blend Jewish believers with Gentile believers - each with vastly different backgrounds! (Go check out Acts 15:1-21 for a window into the controversies of their day.) Sometimes they decided on a course of action simply to keep peace and unity, even if though it wasn't what they believed. (Acts 16:3, and 1 Corinthians 8 gives us an idea of this.)
We have to live with a delicate and sometimes uncomfortable balance. There are some things in the Bible that are just plain true, no wiggle room allowed, and there are some issues where we have to be guided by our own conscience.
Of course, we can't simply toss scripture aside and go with our "gut". What we want above all is to know God. Another great quote from Collier is this,
"Jesus brought people face to face not only with Scripture, but with themselves by way of Scripture. Jesus showed that the Bible is -or is supposed to be- a major artery coming out from the heart of God to carry new blood and new life into a dying world, a dying church, or a dying person. How can this happen if we are not confronted by his message?"
Wouldn't it be awesome if Jesus taught us how to read the Bible?
He does! We see Jesus quoting scripture with ease. He knew it inside and out, not just the words, but the heart of the law. If we want to be like Jesus, we should try to read the Bible like Jesus did. So how do we do that?
I recommend the book titled The Forgetten Treasure by Gary D Collier. (The above quotes come from the early chapters of this book.) He has a great conversational writing style that is comfortable to read. He tackles some scholarly topics, but he doesn't leave it there, he hits the ground and shows how to read the book of Matthew respectfully, doing our best hear what Matthew was trying to tell us, as if we were sitting down over coffee. It wouldn't be polite to rush off to talk to Luke or Paul mid-conversation. We should stick with Matthew as much as we can, for he has his own point he is trying to make. Trust me, it's harder than it sounds if you're used to doing studies by theme instead of by book! I was deeply challenged, and in the end I was deeply rewarded.
As Gary Collier uses the book of Matthew to help us practice, he teaches some greater truths about how to approach scripture. Collier says,
"Jesus' answer to our question about how to read the Bible is perhaps a bit different from what we might have expected. Jesus did not give us a three-step or five-step program. But what he said was far more important . . . pursue righteousness and show mercy: follow me! If you do that, you will find treasures both new and old."
So what do we do when we don't know the answer to an issue that is bothering us, like Halloween?
Sometimes, you'll have to decide for yourself. We just don't have a detailed list of how to date, what to wear, approved entertainment, or how to arrange a church service. I personally don't have an issue with the modern traditions of candy, costumes and pumpkin carving - but I don't believe in magic, goblins or ghosts either. If I had a friend or family member who was struggling with this, I might have to reconsider trick-or-treating not based on a rule found in the Bible, but based on brotherly and sisterly love. We don't want to cause someone to struggle with their faith. If you feel led to do life a certain way (as long it’s not contrary to scripture), you probably should follow where God is leading you!
We need to spend time in the Word. Get to know Jesus. We need to be scribes in the kingdom, studying the Word so we can bring out treasures old and new. (Matthew 13:51-52.) It's not about learning the rules so we can pass a test, it's about knowing God, His heart for you, and His heart for the world.
Quotes from Gary D Collier's The Forgotten Treasure were taken from pages 16, 30 and 171.