Santa Is Not a Salvation Issue

A few days ago, a 5th grade boy told me that he was going on a diet. I asked him why, since he's an average-sized child. He said that a pastor told him and his mom, "You have to go on a diet for three days if you want to be in the presence of God."

I asked him a series of questions, trying to get him to think through this issue:
  • Does the Bible say that you have to diet in order to be near God? But the pastor said so.
  • What does the Bible say you have to do in order to be with God? Believe and do good works. (I ignored this last point, and emphasized the first part of the answer.)
  • So if a person says one thing, but the Bible says another, who or what should we trust? The Bible, but the pastor said that God has spoken to him.
  • How do you know that God has spoken to him? Because he can heal people.
  • Have you seen him heal people? No, but he's been all over the world healing people.
  • Can he heal my eyes so I won't need glasses any more? Or what about my fingers that were broken and healed crookedly? I don't know. I just know that he says I need to go on a diet so I can be in the presence of God.

Realizing that I had reached a limit in my questioning, and running out of time to talk with him, I very clearly explained that that "pastor" was contradicting the Bible. God would never give someone a message that goes against what He has given us in His word.

The boy's mom wasn't around, or I would have talked to her, too. I don't like to correct someone without giving them a chance to explain. But in this conversation about salvation, I felt compelled to contract lies and false teaching, and to preach the truth.

I used to see every topic as black-and-white, right-versus-wrong. But over the years, I've learned that not all issues are equally important to argue.

Is Santa a Lie?

Last year, Clint Archer outlined his case that parents should not lie about Santa Claus. I agree that we as parents must always be careful in the truths that we teach our children, and to say what we mean and mean what we say.

But I believe that the things we say are not nearly as important as the reasons we say them. The motive is more important than our method.

Lying is condemned in the Bible not merely for the act in itself, but for what that action usually represents -- a failure to trust God, and/or an unhealthy fear of others. In the case of Santa Claus, I think it's a sin to use the story of Santa to try to get kids to behave in a certain way.  ("Be good, or you won't get any presents!")

But what if a parent just uses the story of Santa just for the fun of it? Or even as a way to point to Jesus (see below for a link to a pro-Santa family's handling of Santa). Whether that is a good or poor decision is up for discussion, but at the least we could make a case that it does not encompass sinful motives (that is, a failure to trust God or an unhealthy fear of others).

And for all you anti-Santa families, please don't tell others that lies make baby Jesus cry, or that Santa is linked with Satan.

Our Method: No Santa

My wife and I have never "done Santa" -- not in the context of him coming down the chimney to deliver presents. That has been our choice, and I'm glad that we went that way.

But we must be clear that this is not a heaven-or-hell issue. We must be careful to not become arrogant, judgmental, and condescending in how we act towards others in the church (and definitely towards those who are not followers of Jesus). I know I've made this mistake in the past, responding to questions with a flat out, "We don't lie to our kids." Groan....

While we have made this choice, we have also been sure to teach our children that it is not their role to tell other children that Santa isn't real. (You can read more in Don't Kill Santa Claus.) For a young child, the parent is the spiritual authority, and I need to trust (and help, if possible) that the parent is leading his or her children.

(Note that when I corrected that 5th grade boy about how you get into the presence of God, I felt that was OK because that is a salvation issue.)

Friends Who Have "Done" Santa

Even though we never taught our kids that Santa was real, we have some great, Jesus-loving friends who have made the opposite choice. And do you know what I have noticed? That their kids are turning out fine. They are not scarred because "Mommy and Daddy lied to them," as many of us no-Santa families would have everyone believe would happen.

For more on how a Christian family has incorporated Santa into their traditions, check out Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1 and Part 2.

Of First Importance 

The most important thing we need to do as Christian parents is help our kids believe in Jesus. But I haven't seen any evidence to support that teaching kids about Santa makes them more likely to doubt the truth about Jesus. It's an unfounded fear that us no-Santa people have.

If kids grow up in a home that is full of love, and where they see parents seeking and growing in Christ, they will overlook any of our sins -- lying, laziness, or whatever. At the least, they'll be able to view our choices and shortcomings in the view of the Gospel.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,"
(I Corinthians 15:3-4)

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