Can Christians kneel at an elder’s grave or celebrate Halloween?

1. According to Chinese tradition, if an elder dies, it is necessary to kneel at their grave to worship. As a Christian, is this inappropriate? Why is that?
2. Halloween has become such a part of the culture, is it okay to “Trick or Treat” on Halloween? Thank you very much.

Both of these questions strike me as very much like the issue of eating food offered to idols that Paul discusses in First Corinthians. That is, they are matters that Christians of good will, with equal commitments to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, can legitimately disagree about. So the principles would be, “Each person should be fully convinced in their own mind,” and, “Do not cause anyone to stumble” (that is, do not do anything that would lead someone else to violate their own conscience).

Regarding kneeling at the grave of an elder who has died, one Christian might see that simply as a way of honoring the memory, legacy, and influence of a beloved family member. They would not really be worshiping, just following a meaningful tradition. They would know that the spirits of the ancestors aren’t really out there wanting to be appeased by worship and small gifts so that they will do favors for the family, and that no ancestral spirits could make bad things happen to the family if they weren’t appeased in that way. (As Paul says in his discussion of eating food offered to idols, “We know that an idol is really nothing in the world, and we know that there is only one God.”) But another Christian might recently have come out of ancestor worship, and so they might still feel that kneeling at the grave would be offering worship to a false god. If they saw you doing it, they might be led to do it as well, and then they would incur guilt for doing something that they believed to be wrong. So even if you felt free to do it as a meaningful traditional gesture, you could also choose not to do it if a person with a vulnerable conscience would be present at the graveside service or if they would find out about what you did.

Similarly for Halloween, if it’s just a matter of children having fun getting dressed up in costumes and visiting their neighbors and getting candy, that is harmless enough. I think Christians could have a lot of fun and get to know their neighbors better by giving out candy and by bringing their children around the neighborhood in costumes. But someone who was just getting free from occult practices might not be able to participate in Halloween in good conscience. They would take the association with witches and evil spirits seriously, and it would violate their conscience to participate. And certainly if someone said, “It’s Halloween, let’s have a seance” or “let’s watch a move about devil worship,” then Christians would need to say that they would not participate in those activities. Instead, they could suggest alternatives that everyone could do together and just have fun with.

So, as I said, for these activities and for similar ones, the principles are to become fully convinced in your own mind about what you could do innocently, without dishonoring God, but also to respect the convictions of others and not do anything that would lead them to violate their own conscience.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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