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Monday, October 13, 2014

Holidays: Pentecost and Halloween

(Note: This article neither suggests nor states that these two holidays are alike, related or associated in any way with each other. Read on, please. gt)


The value of holidays
The observance of holidays by adherents of various religious beliefs is an ancient, common practice. Typically, the value of these celebratory observances is to remind the older generation and to teach the newer generations the origin, the significance and the meaning behind those holiday observances. Oftentimes what happens over the years is that the origin, significance and meaning are altered, diluted or forgotten. This may happen either through the abandonment of those observances by the remaining, but fading faithful, or through attempts to make relevant those observances, even at great cost to their faith heritage, seemingly as a way to remain relevant or to maintain appeal in the modern culture.
Holidays are often cited as religious, pagan or political in origin with the last of these being, presumably, devoid of religious content
and are merely for propaganda (much like the teaching by celebrants of religious holidays) of ideology and the state. Religious holidays are often viewed as pagan and are dismissed and disregarded with varying degrees of disdain by other self-proclaimed religious groups and individuals. This view may reflect the desire of individuals or groups to forget their past involvement and celebration of those pagan holidays. It may reflect an inability to make an appreciable assessment of those holidays with respect to their new faith and to teach and enlighten those with whom they once joined in those holiday celebrations.


The purpose of this article


This brief article cites two religious holidays. This is not a study of those holidays, but it is merely a reference to them. The purpose is to draw some observations. The first holiday involves the observance and practice of Pentecost by the apostle Paul as recorded in the book of Acts 21. Pentecost, the Jewish religious holiday, is also known as “Feast of Harvests,” “Week of Weeks” and “Shavout.” It was the Hellenist Jews who referred to it as “Pentecost” which is also as it is most commonly known by Christians.


Pentecost
God commanded and instructed Israel about various holidays which they were to observe. (Leviticus 23) These were not existing holidays or pagan holidays. They were ordained by God himself. One of these holidays was pronounced for Israel to observe yearly following the annual Passover Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:15-21) They were to count seven complete Sabbaths following that Sabbath. The instruction is given in the following manner: fifty days or seven Sabbaths. Seven times seven equals forty nine, plus one; hence, fifty days, or Pentecost. (Note: This counting method will always place the fiftieth day on the first day of the week in the Gregorian calendar, or Sunday.) These are some passages in the Tanakh (Old Testament) with references to Pentecost; Exodus 23; 24, Leviticus 23, Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16.
Pentecost, for Israel, fell under the auspices of the Law of Moses. Among the early Gentile disciples of Jesus it became known to them as they were taught by the apostles, especially Paul. It is likely that the Gentile converts to whom Paul ministered learned of the origin, significance and meaning of Pentecost through Paul. Certainly, that teaching by the apostle Paul would not have been to impose on those saints any requirement on their part to observe Pentecost. Paul was clear that the purpose and observance of this holiday, as any other Jewish holiday and as a part of the Law of Moses, had been fulfilled. This fulfillment of the law was explained by Paul extensively in his writings concerning the Law.
Yet, Paul saw Pentecost as an opportunity for the gospel of Jesus.
The observance of Pentecost by Paul was neither because he was bound to observe it nor because it was ordained by God.


Christians often claim they do not observe a holiday because of its pagan origins. Clearly, since Pentecost was ordained by God there was no question as to whether it had any connection with pagan origins.

Nonetheless, it was not for this reason acceptable for Pentecost to be imposed on the saints then, or today. Christians in the first century were never bound to that law as Paul pointedly reminded Peter and as the saints were instructed by the elders and the church in Jerusalem. (Galatians 2:11-21) The reason why Christians were not bound to that Law was for the same reason as the Jews, namely, because the Jews themselves could never be justified by the law. Justification from sin was through Christ in whom justification was made free and available to all who obediently trust Him.
Paul looked forward to being in Jerusalem for Pentecost. (I Corinthians 16:8; Acts 20:16) When he arrived in Jerusalem he was informed about the accusations and misinformation which was circulating in Jerusalem about him. (Acts 21) There are three points to observe from Paul’s acquiescence to the instruction of the leadership of the church in Jerusalem.


  1. He consecrated himself and four other men along with him and went into the temple.
  2. Despite all measures taken by Paul to show his respect for the Jews and the temple customs he was immediately accused falsely of desecrating the temple.
  3. Subsequently, he was arrested and appealed to Caesar. Thus, Paul began the long journey to Rome to appear before the emperor and seize the opportunity which awaited him to proclaim Jesus in Caesar’s palace.


Is it possible that there are vital lessons from the apostle Paul’s observance of Pentecost for the saints in Christ? Is there anything praiseworthy of Paul’s observance of Pentecost for the saints to enlighten them and for them to emulate with respect to their response to pagan holidays and holidays ordained by God?


Halloween
The second holiday; Halloween, is commonly referred to and cited by Christians, that is, the saints in Christ, as a pagan holiday. This article in no way suggests or equates the Halloween holiday with the holiday of Pentecost. It does not suggest there is any relation or association between the two. However, there are principles concerning the observance and practice of holidays as taught by the apostle Paul through his exemplary celebration of Pentecost.
Holidays represent a challenge for Christians to learn and understand more fully just what it means and what it looks like either to celebrate or refrain from celebrating a holiday as Paul urged the saints in Rome. (Romans 14)
Broad condemnations of a holiday, its celebration or its celebrants do nothing for those whom we would presume to enlighten.


The origins of the pagan holiday of Halloween (Samhain) go back to the Druids. The name as well as the origin, significance and meaning behind the observances and practices are, for the most part, lost, obscured or altered. There is a more complete blog article on Halloween for those who wish to read it.


Today, Halloween is about children going door to door for candy treats. It is just an occasion for occult practitioners; both practices of which are a departure from the Druid belief and practice concerning Halloween. The Druid belief was that the spirits of their dearly departed would visit them on that night. Therefore, they would put out treats for the spirits. They soon realized that an open door for the good spirits in the after-world was also an open door for evil spirits. As a means of protecting themselves they disguised themselves with frightful costumes to deceive the evil spirits into thinking the living were themselves evil spirits. Thus, the evil spirits would let them alone.


There was much more to the celebration and observance of Samhein among the Druids. Two aspects of this celebration will suffice for this article.


  1. They believed and invoked the presence of the good spirits of their dearly departed for a brief visitation among the living kin.
  2. The disguised themselves as protective measure against evil spirits.

The dismissal by the saints in Christ of those beliefs misses the point. Certainly, I do not contend for the truth of those beliefs, but the point of fact is that this was their belief. The fact that we might disdain and condemn that belief and feel justified to take license and distort it with accusations of demonic worship is a lie of our own making.


Conclusion


Both Pentecost and Halloween, as unrelated as they are to each other, pose some lessons which demand a response with understanding from the saints in Christ. Merely saying a holiday is of pagan origin and therefore it is an evil the observance of which is to be avoided by Christians is as fallacious as to sanction the observance by Christians of Pentecost on the basis that it was ordained of God and as a way to draw closer to God. Any saint who would embrace Pentecost or any holiday because they can ascribe it in some way to God and as a way to drawer closer to God are reminded of Paul's to the Galatians, Christ will profit you nothing.


What, then, can Christians offer to the Halloween celebration and its celebrants?


Some possibilities come to mind.


  1. We remember Jesus who, though he died, was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness raised from the dead by the power of the resurrection.
  2. The saints in Christ have been clothed with Christ since they were washed of their sins in baptism.
  3. We have received the Holy Spirit who does not visit us, but He dwells in us.

It is ironic, if not an indictment of lost opportunity by the saints, that the Halloween, one holiday on which the saints ignorantly heap aspersions of evil also happens to be the only holiday in which we eagerly look forward to strangers knocking at our toward to receive an undeserved (grace?) treat from us. Let Jesus as Lord and Savior be proclaimed and made known to those who do not know him. peace to all.

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