Is Santa ok in Church?
Every year one or two people ask about Santa Claus and the church. Good folks want to know, “What does Santa have to do with Jesus’ church?” The issue comes up because the churches I’ve served usually have some kind of photo opportunity with Santa Claus. At San Pedro we hosted a “Breakfast with Santa” event to kick off the Advent season. Similarly (or perhaps more controversially), we’ve also hosted “Fall Festival” and “Trunk or Treat” Halloween alternative events.
Before reading any further, let us agree as Jesus followers to respect diverse interpretations of faith-based practices. The “Santa” question opens the door for a theological reflection. Likewise questions about other issues can be opportunities to reflect on the connection between what we claim to believe, and how we live out our faith. There is room in God’s family for disagreement.
So as an obvious starting point: the purest of Biblical readings gleans no mention of Saint Nick. There are, however, clear warnings in the Bible about avoiding the influences of this world. For one, read Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So it would be an easy interpretation of the faith to avoid, shun and ignore every single tradition of our culture that does not align with Biblical examples.
You’ve probably met a few Christians who adamantly adhere to a practice of no Halloween, no Santa, and no civic holiday recognitions. I admire conviction and devotion, so in terms of my own respect for the spiritual paths of other believers I avoid engaging in debates. But obviously, I fall into the category of trying to take hold of what is in the culture and claim it for God, rather than dismissing and avoiding everything outright.
Consider a few thoughts about Christianity and the world we live in.
We need effective strategies to reach people for Christ in the modern church.
The Apostle Paul noted the culture of regions he evangelized, and he used examples from their culture to turn their attention towards God. We read an example of how Paul did this from today’s passage in Acts. Paul did not agree with people worshipping false idols, but he noticed they had a spiritual interest, so he capitalized on that interest.
We need to affirm what people are doing right as they align with the goodness of God. Doing good things is not a means of salvation.
We always claim we are saved by Grace, not works. But there is nothing wrong with affirming what we see in people that is good. As my grandmother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey.” If there are community events we can participate in, it’s worth being present with a positive message.
We need to believe, ourselves, in the hope we have in Christ for a better today and a better tomorrow.
We all fall short of the example set in Christ. But we must all acknowledge when we fall short and strive to become more like Christ each day. If we are not sharing our faith in simple, easy to understand ways, showing how we put our faith in Christ, then how can we expect people to respond to our invitations to join the body of Christ?
Events like “Breakfast with Santa” and “Trunk of Treat” are strategic programs designed to invite people to church based on their need to be together, their desire to celebrate fun moments, and what we know to be their unspoken search for hope that is only found in Christ. People need Jesus, but they often don’t know how to describe and articulate what they’re looking for yet!
So for now I’m going to be at peace doing whatever we can to reach people in ways that do not compromise the message of the gospel. And in a return to scripture, consider the logic of the Apostle Paul in his efforts to reach people with the Gospel.
In the New Testament writings of Acts we read, "Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands." Acts 17:22-24
Instead of judging the worship of other gods, Paul discerned an interest and hunger in the people of Athens for a spiritual connection to our Creator. Instead of dismissing everything about their beliefs, he found common ground.
So could a case be made for a separatist mentality about all things that whisper of “worldly influence?” Yes. You could reach that conclusion as a Christian and I’d respect your position. I understand why churches won’t host Patriotic Sundays, show the American flag, put up Christmas trees, or host fellowship events that coincide with holidays.
But in a post-Christian world, shouldn’t we adjust what we do to adapt to our current reality? People aren’t joining churches the way they used to, nor are believers attending as regularly as they used to. We could either lose hope in the One who is still searching for his sheep, or we can choose to adjust how we open our doors to meet people where they are at this moment in history.
I still have hope in Christ. The gospel is still Good News. And people still long for a divine experience of hope, peace, joy and love.
A Prayer for Christmas: “Jesus, show your people how to reach their neighbors with the Good News. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”
[Dr Stamper writes a daily devotional with content like this reflection. Sign up for free HERE.]