I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Monday, December 23, 2013

Satan Claus...Really?!?

Although we never really did the Santa thing, while raising our daughter, I find this an odd choice for a hill to die on for any pastor. When a grievously small portion of the modern evangelical church can recite the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostles’ Creed, or even not panic for people watching them scramble when the text for the sermon is called out from one of the Minor Prophets, it seems odd that a pastor would bolt out in making sweeping claims about the satanic nature of the Santa Claus...ehem...I mean “Satan Claus movement.”  Pastor Carry Snellings, the local pastor of Hunting Creek Baptist Church has done two things with his recent rant on the Santa tradition: (1) caused no small stir amongst the villagers, and (2) proven that Baptist fundamentalism hasn’t totally shaken its myopic focus. If the church was ever in need of majoring in the majors and minoring in the minors, it’s today. Here is my response to his post, which he won’t post on his blog.  :,(

I have a hard time seeing the priority of this topic as provocative, granting the state of the church today. Especially here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, the gospel has suffered serious reductionism over the last century. If a Christian in our region can even articulate the gospel, it is usually done in terms of the “ABCs.” “[You] admit that you’re a sinner; [you] believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and [you] confess Jesus before others.” We’re conditioned to believe that the gospel is three things that WE do! This is not at all the gospel of grace revealed in Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Rather, this is our response to the gospel, after one has enjoyed the sovereign, regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit working through the word of the gospel. And, even if a Christian can articulate the gospel, less than one in ten can sufficiently defend it against the onslaught of today’s heresies and secular challenges.

I have a very hard time understanding the centrality of the so-called Satan Claus movement in light of these and a plethora of other crises that are neutralizing the American church.

One of the most revealing weaknesses of this argument is that it is premised on some alphabetical juggling act. I’ve known people to commit the same fallacy with respect to denominations. After all, it is conjectured, “denomination” and “demonination” is just a letter-flip apart! Balderdash. When we consider how Santa might be spelled in the context of the other 6,702 living languages today, the fallacy is more than apparent.

Never mind all this, "Santa" is not a diabolical word morph, it is the Anglicized rendering of santana, which is Spanish for saint or holy. 

Matt Byers made a very valid point in highlighting the arbitrariness of this sort of “picking and choosing.” In fact, a far more potent case could be made against the Christmas tree tradition, if one were really hankering for a hobby horse to ride. The cutting-down and raising-up of conifer trees for religious purposes has deeply imbedded roots (pun? yes) in ancient idolatry, which is condemned on nearly every page of the Old Testament. In fact, one would have a fine proof-text for his cause in this.

Thus says the LORD: "Learn not the way of the nations...for the customs of the peoples are vanity (i.e., idolatry). A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:2—5a ESV).

Think about it. We do all that the prophet describes above, and then on Christmas morn, we all bow down before the over-dressed Asharoth pole to receive our gifts!

Does this mean that all Christians who honor the Christmas tree tradition—understanding the ever-greenness to signify the renewed, everlasting life brought to us in the incarnation of Christ, and the silver and gold ornaments as reminders of the gifts of the magi brought to the baby King Jesus—are unwittingly worshiping the ancient Canaanite deity Ba’al?!? Good grief, no! Neither is Santa Satanism.

Why not be consistent? Why Christmas at all? December 25th as the date to celebrate the advent of our Lord came by way of the papal decree of Pope Julius I in the middle of the fourth century A.D. Epiphany (how many Christians even know the term?) was the original commemoration of the early church for the Lord’s advent and revelation.

Perhaps the greatest irony in all this sanctimonious propheteering is that, when I got the end of the post, I was met by a humorous Youtube advertisement promoting New Castle Cabbie, a strong British beer! Lol.

Tom’s comment offers the most wisdom. A family can easily recapture and redeem the historic meaning and trajectory of the Saint Nicholas tradition in the context and rhythm of the church calendar.  And it seems that pastoral wisdom would dictate that an issue involving a clear point of Christian liberty like this would be carefully and prayerfully considered by a church’s broader authority in her elders and deacons, before being globally scathed and broadcast on a blog. But, who knows, maybe it was.   

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