Reprise: Will Santa Make you a Bad Parent?

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imagesWhether or not you “play Santa” does not really bother me. In fact, I’m not even bothered if you do or don’t celebrate Christmas. Ultimately, we who love the Lord should make Christmas season a celebration of both advents above and beyond any other celebration. But if someone in my church really thinks Santa is God, perpetuates it as truth, and follows Santa, then my response would be the same as if I were talking to a Mormon — evangelism. Often the anti-Santa rhetoric bothers me personally, not because people do not play Santa, rather because most anti-Santa discussions over-simplify the issue. Let me start with saying, this is a freedom issue. If you disagree, and think it’s sin, then do not do it. Follow your conscience. But would we really church discipline someone over this issue?

Does “playing Santa” with your kids set your children up for failure? Are you lying to your kids? Are you potentially disrupting God’s integrity? Can they discern fact and fiction?

Some argue “playing” Santa endangers your children because you are establishing a reason for them to distrust you and therefore ultimately the Gospel. The problem with most arguments on the subject stem from an over-simplification to “playing Santa.” When evaluating this situation, it seems best to consider a person’s overall life, character, and testimony. Playing Santa is pure fantasy and fiction. Santa will not derail your testimony. Your life will derail your testimony.

Are you concerned about your testimony to your children? You should be. But consider these four factors. If you are biblical in these four factors, “playing Santa” will neither disrupt or hinder the Gospel.

First, God saves children. If my child believes, then the Spirit of God caused him to Winterfell_throne_by_MarcSimonettibelieve. “Behold, all (all means all here) souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18) Ezekiel explains just because a father transgresses the law and follows wickedness does not mean the son will do the same. Nor does having a righteous parent guarantee a son’s righteousness. The Lord holds your children and me equally accountable before Him.

I pray for my children’s salvation. I believe the Lord wants them saved. The world influences and encourages my child’s already natural tendency to reject Him. Fearing the world and their practices places my fear on the wrong object. I am designed to solely fear the Lord, to trust Him, and faithfully follow Him! I sense many of us believe every little action we do will either save or derail our child. Have we bought into psychology’s “daddy’s complex”? Daddy did it wrong, now I am scared for life! DAD!!! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!! WHY AREN’T YOU PERFECT?!?!?! It’s not your fault if your child rejects the Gospel. Say that again. It’s not your fault.

We know a child’s belief is not contingent on our actions but on His sovereign plan. I will sin, obey, teach, and explain the Gospel in front of them. But their belief is the Triune God’s work. Before you think I’m advocating apathetic parenting, please understand, Christians have a role to play as a disciple of Christ. The next two factors teach our responsibility.

Baby Holding Dad’s Finger on BibleSecond, God’s Bible teaches the truth. Show them Psalm 19, Psalm 119, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. God’s Word teaches truth.

I teach my children to trust the Bible. It is the ultimate authority, not me. Where I am off, follow Scripture. My words are not the center for truth unless they convey biblical truth accurately. Believing the authority of Scripture will keep a person from derailing on ANY subject — even Santa. The Bible testifies about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He died for me, buried, and resurrected so that I can have eternal life in Him. I stand justified by His grace and work, not mine. I know these truths because of Scripture!

Now, one might argue, “How can they trust you, if they can not trust your view of Santa?” That’s a good question and the next two factors provide the answer.

Third, God called me as His ambassador (2 Cor 5:20). Therefore I teach them biblical truth and live out my relationship with Christ in front of them ALL YEAR ROUND! (Eph. 4:1).

Christians live out their life in devotion to Christ all year. We pray to Him, we follow Him, and we teach the Triune God as the standard for perfection. I tell my kids, “I follow Christ because I love him!” We teach our kids, believers conduct matters because we imitate a perfect, holy God. We sacrifice to serve others because we love Christ and His church — understanding He sacrificed to save us. We listen to biblical sermons and tell our kids why this is essential for our sanctification. Worshiping anything more than Christ will not only derail me, but my kids will see it too. Our kids should see parents who fear the Lord and follow Him. In other words, our everyday life mirrors our testimony.

What parent prays to Santa? What parent teaches his child to follow Santa? What parent discusses Santa in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September or October? What parent goes to church, gathers with other believers under the name Santa? What parent opens a book on Santa and reads a family devotion to him? What church mingles Santa with hymns and begs you to consider repenting and following Santa?

If someone is doing this, then yes, your children will probably doubt your integrity and truthfulness. Santa, two months a year should not derail your testimony, unless you totally replace the Lord with Santa. Can someone integrate Santa into holiday traditions and still keep Christ as Lord?

“But if you play Santa, then you are ruining your integrity.” I think we undermine our children’s intelligence with this statement. Consider the final factor.

Finally, there is a difference between fantasy, fiction, and fact. Our kids can animaatjes-lord-of-the-rings-73676discern the difference. The difference can be discerned by the way you respond to it, use it, and enjoy it. I joke with my kids all the time by saying absurd things. They know when I am kidding and telling the truth. I teach them history. History authors are fallible men and could be wrong. My kids read books. They know Harry Potter is fiction and fake. Yet they know God’s Word, inspired by Him, is the only reliable history in the world.

Do your kids see you praying to Gandolf, following Gandolf, or exalting Gandolf in prayer and church? Do not confuse your kids regarding the standard: the Gospel.

So can you play Santa? Sure. Do you have to ascribe God’s character: omniscience, omnipresence, and holiness to Santa? No, I wouldn’t. But it does not make Santa off limits either. We do not have to throw the baby out with the bath water. If your child cannot discern the difference, then do not play Santa. It’s fine.

Last year my kids came to my wife and me asking, “Hey, we know Santa is not real, but can we pretend and leave cookies out for him and carrots for the reindeer.” That was at 8, 5, & 2. My children can discern fact from fiction. Teach them to do so.

When I found out Santa was my parents I did not feel deceived. I had fun and thought it a fun tradition. Did I believe in the Lord at that time? No I did not. I did not believe because I suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. It took the power of the Gospel to save me and make me believe the truth. Teach your children the Bible, teach them discernment, pray for them, have fun, and do not violate your conscience.

Feel free to comment, challenge, or provide insights missed in this article.

Caveat: Please note, I think playing Santa is a freedom issue and have no problem with Christians avoiding Santa or playing Santa. To be honest, I really do not care what traditions (or lack thereof) a family has during the holidays. I trust people who love Jesus, follow Him and imitate our Lord in holiness, love, grace, truth, and mercy.

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Jason Vaughn

About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow him on his personal blog at shepherdthesheep.com.
  • Louise

    I agree with what you are saying, but I disagree that kids won’t feel deceived when they discover the truth. I grew up in a Christian home and my parents had me totally believing in Santa Claus. When I found out the truth at age 5, I was mad and felt like a fool. My first thought was “that means there’s no Easter bunny or tooth fairy either. Is there even a Jesus?”

  • Well done, pastor. I appreciated the sensible logic here.

  • Kyle Sanderson

    It is so sad to see Christians fighting and bickering over Santa. I’ve viewed it on Facebook recently. I agree with your point. But I also would add a caution along with Louise. I remember being upset when I found out there wasn’t a Santa. Your fantasy distinction is helpful but keep in mind that some parents don’t present Santa as fantasy and “absurd.”

    • Which I think helps to prove his point of it being a Christian liberty issue, ultimately.

  • Jason

    Kyle and Louise,

    I can TOTALLY understand that response. When thinking through this issue at an article level, I’m drawing on some principles to make a wise decision. I think it would be sin to declare this a sin issue carte blanche. Yet I also understand your responses. But my response was different as were my friends when they found out. Most of my friends thought it fun and even missed those days in high school. Now, do we factor how a person (like you) may respond when establishing a practice? I’m not sure at an article level it should be factored. But at the parental level it certainly needs to be factored, which is what I’m advocating. Parents, know your children, be biblical, do what makes most sense to you, don’t violate your conscience, and be okay with your decision unless Scripture directly opposes the issue.

    For me, when approaching “freedom” issues I don’t just ask, “Can a believer do this?” But also, “How would doing [insert freedom issue] be done in a god-honoring way? In other words, ask the question in a positive way. So, how could a believer play video games in a way that honors the Lord? If I can think of a context, scenario, and factors that would be agreeable with Scripture, then I think the freedom can be done. I think there is a way to play Santa and not sin. My family, for one, I think we do it in a way to where we don’t lie. (My kids know he isn’t real and STILL want to play). 🙂

    Thanks for the comments. 🙂

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  • Was with you right up until the last part. The difference between pretending to be a race car driver with my son is that at some point, shortly after we climb into our “car” (the recliner in the living room) and “steer” (turn an old frisbee in our hand) our car, we STOP playing and go back to reality. It ends with “alright kid, let’s go do real world things now”. It was so obviously fake that the kid knew it, even if he certainly had some fun with it as it was happening.

    But parents don’t do that with Santa, do they? They construct elaborate and complicated schemes to explain the story. They go way out of their way to perpetuate the scheme. They answer objections and defend their case when the kid gets a little older and a little wiser and starts asking how reindeer could fly or starts doing the math about houses and hours in the night. The parent doesn’t respond with “oh it’s just a fun story, you know Mom and Dad really give the presents”. They swear up and down the story is true. Even to the point where people commonly become angry when other kids or people tell their kids that Santa isn’t real and they’ll go to great lengths to keep it going as long as possible.

    Eventually, the truth does come out (it always does) and Mom and Dad are left with what they’ve done. Some (most?) kids don’t think that deeply about it and just let it roll off their backs. Some don’t. YOU may not have had an issue with Mom or Dad, and for that I’m glad. But just because you didn’t doesn’t mean others won’t too. Judging a situation by how you reacted or by what happened to you is not going to serve you well for very long.

    Either way, it’s not accurate to compare this to reading about Gandalf or Harry Potter. No you don’t pray to Gandalf, but you do send your kid to tell “Santa” (or later, his “helpers”) what he/she wants and help them to write letters which you actually mail. You can dress it up, but if you’re telling your kids a person exists and he visits your home in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer early Morning Dec 25, you’re not telling the truth. My encouragement: Tell the truth.