Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally ran in December 2013. It has been updated as of December 2014 to include additional content and advice from Dr. Roger.
Three years ago I received the following question concerning Santa’s Naughty List from a six-year-old at Christmas time.
I didn’t give a very good answer as evidenced by some of the comments that I received the following week. After you read my answer take time to read several of the comments that I received the following week. I’ve copied them below. I think that you will be intrigued and enlightened.
My six year old son, William, had a question tonight to ask you: "If you have Jesus in your heart can you still get on Santa's Naughty List?" His mind was really working on this after watching the Tim Allen "Santa Clause" movie.
You have a great opportunity to teach about grace and the God-given conscience and how it comes into play in our every day living.
I grew up with Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Halloween. I loved them all. So many wonderful experiences and memories!
Mike Everett, an older friend in the neighborhood, was the one who told me that there was no Santa Clause. I was heartbroken. My mom was mad at Mike for the rest of the year. It took me about two hours to get over it. After all, the toys, chocolate bunnies, quarters electric trains and candy trump Santa every time.
The childhood years are the Golden Years. They are times of dreaming, learning, character building, fantasy and storytelling. For my brother Ronnie and me Santa added a little more spice to our lives. We are all the better for it.
Of course, not all Christians agree with me. Here is a sampling of some of the criticism I've received for allowing Casas to celebrate Christmas in the traditional way with our children.
*Umm, isn't it kind of... sinning to tell children that there is a Santa watching them 24/7 who will come down there chimney using MAGIC and leave them gifts?
*I don't mean to start an argument here, but "Santa" IS a lie. A "white lie" but a lie. The Bible clearly states that lying is a sin, and that there is a special place in hell for liars. The Bible also tells us to stay away from witchcraft, like the kind it would take to make reindeer fly...
*I'm only 17 so this is just a stupid opinion here. But why lie on the day we celebrate Christ's BIRTH? I personally would not to that. Too afraid of lightning.
I am not criticizing the above comments. They are valid as far as they go and any parent can decide not to emphasize Santa and the Easter bunny and still raise fine children. Most of us know that Christmas and the Easter eggs and bunny were both adopted to be celebrated from ancient Roman holidays. They were "Christianized".
On the other hand, most Christians are surprised to discover that the church invented Halloween.
One person shared with me how she handled the "Santa" issue. I thought that this was really good.
*Why not tell your children about the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus, and about how the REAL St. Nick brought gifts to boys and girls, who is probably (I'm not God, I don't know) in heaven with Angels right now? And that in the spirit of CHRISTmas we give each other gifts?
Britney, use Matthew's question as an opportunity to teach good Christian lifestyle truths.
Can a Christian be on Santa’s naughty list? Certainly! When we become Christians all of our sins are forgiven—but this does not mean that we stop sinning. We will interpret "Santa's good list" to mean that our fellowship with God is pure and unimpaired. Unfortunately, when we sin we hurt our fellowship with God. This is the "naughty list".
Notice that our fellowship with God is impaired by our sin but our relationship with Him can never be lost. My daddy is always my daddy. I may hurt his feelings (impair fellowship) but nothing can ever break the bond between us (relationship). I'm forever related to him as father to son. Our relationship with God may suffer at times because of our sin; but nothing can ever change or alter our relationship to God as Father and son (Romans 8).
Use the idea of good list and naughty list to talk about sin and marring out fellowship but never our relationship. Some Christians do very naughty things and belong on His naughty list. Their sins are still forgiven and by God’s grace they will go to Heaven.
The best way to stay on "Santa’s good list" is to follow and obey the voice of Jesus. In Ephesians 5:18 Paul told us to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This means that we listen carefully when God tells us what is right or wrong. It also means that we ask God to show us what to do. It also means that we think of what Jesus would do and do that.
Britney, this is a great time to teach William about our conscience. Since he asked about it, it is safe to assume that his conscience is reminding him of some behaviors that could put him on the naughty list.
In the Disney classic, "Pinocchio," Jiminy Cricket advises us to "follow our noses" to know what is right and wrong. I was five-years old and riding my bike when I followed my nose right into an arborvitae bush.
"Give a little whistle, and always let your conscience be your guide," Jiminy sings.
Romans One teaches that God has placed within each of us an understanding that He exists, but this is not our conscience.
Britney, remember this, the conscience does not tell us what is right and wrong. The conscience tell us what we've been trained is right or wrong. This is why Christian parenting is so crucial. Paul tells us that a good conscience must be carefully cultivated according to the principles of the Bible. Without a trained conscience, we are literally on our own.
Be certain that you are teaching William Biblical truth instead of teaching personal convictions as if they were Biblical truth. My growing up pastor taught us that dancing, consuming alcohol in moderation, riding motorcycles, women wearing pants, and not attending church were sins according to the Bible. These were not sins. They were his personal convictions which he taught as Biblical truth.
Let William think Santa will be coming down the chimney. Have fun with Christmas. Make great family memories. When he is old enough he will handle well the idea of Santa as a lot of fun.
The real issue for Christian parents is not whether believing in Santa will mislead their children later on.
The issue it how well they've trained their conscience to line up with Biblical truth.
Have a merry Christmas. Tell Santa not to eat all the cookies. Save me a couple of chocolate macadamia nut; they are my favorite.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: December 16, 2013.