By Ross Engel –
All Hallows Eve is only a few days away. Costumed trick-or-treaters and late night revilers will soon be upon us! Be prepared! I have many fond memories of my childhood, dressing up to go trick-or-treating on Halloween and getting lots of free candy! I grew up in the 80s and back then my parents had a standing rule that we couldn’t eat any candy until we got home and they inspected it all. They meticulously checked our candy-filled plastic pumpkins for things that might be dangerous. Over the years, some really sick people have tried to hurt children by poisoning candy and there have even been instances of razors or nails imbedded in Halloween loot. We had great neighbors growing up though, and never had anything like that in our Halloween haul.
There were, however, a few well meaning neighbors that didn’t give out candy. They gave out something “better than candy,” or so they said. They handed out Chick Tracts and invitations to “Hell House.” Now I’m sure all of our readers are familiar with the Chick Tracts, those simple cartoons that depicted some aspect of life and then would employ some sort of scare tactic to try and convince someone to “get saved.” Every comic ended with a choice of “heaven or hell” and an opportunity to “choose” Jesus as one’s Savior or to “promote Him to Lord and King of one’s life.” For the most part, the Chick Tracts ended up going in the trash with all the gross candy corn that seemed to sneak into a mostly good haul of candy. Even at a young age I knew something wasn’t quite right, after all, I could recite Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed!
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…
But truth be told, I was always a bit intrigued what the invitation to “Hell House” was. It took me until I was a young adult to finally get an answer to my childhood question, “What is Hell House?”
“Hell House” is Chick Tracts on steroids. Instead of a little hand-size comic to scare someone to Jesus, “Hell House” is a full on experience of the bad things in life. Whereas a haunted house typically exists to get a few screams or laughs, “Hell House” has the goal of scaring a person into heaven. As one walks from room to room of “Hell House,” real-life situations are displayed and you are presented with sin and the extreme consequences of sin. In shocking and graphic fashion, “Hell Houses” use scenes like botched abortions, or drug overdoses, teen suicides, a drunken driving accident, and other horrific vignettes that depict sin and its consequences, all with the hope of scaring individuals to repent and choose Jesus. The last two rooms at a “Hell House” are typically a glimpse into the torments of Hell and then finally, a Fundamentalist view of heaven, complete with people playing harps and pretending to float around on the clouds. At that point, the audience is invited to choose, Heaven or Hell.
In addition to presenting a dangerous theology that puts salvation into the hand of an individual “making a decision” for Jesus, one of my biggest concerns about such a method of “evangelism” is that it is devoid of the Gospel. Attempting to scare people into Salvation is not how Scripture depicts God at work, reconciling the world to Himself.
Certainly God is Almighty and the hidden God is quite terrifying. This terrifying hidden God isn’t where we find comfort or peace. God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. And the Good News of Jesus is that He came into the world to die for sinners. He came into the world so that He would live the perfect life, die, and rise from the dead to save you and me. The Good News of Jesus is that He has already paid the price for us and our salvation; He offers us new life and salvation, all free of charge. Nothing we do can earn God’s favor or purchase our salvation; it comes to us freely as a gift of God’s grace and mercy. Life and forgiveness poured out upon us on account of what Christ has done, not what we have done.
This Halloween, if you find yourself standing in the halls of a “Hell House” or sifting through Chick Tracts in your trick-or-treat bag, remember that our Christian faith isn’t a journey from vice to virtue or sinfulness to morality, our Christian faith moves us from trusting ourselves to trusting in Jesus for life and salvation!
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:1-9