Santology, Part 2 – Who has the power? (Omnipotent?)

This is part 2 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas.  My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.

santology-pt2-power

Christmas is a time to reflect on how God reveals Himself to us.  While we understand that to be true, it is somewhat beyond our understanding of how God operates.  In fact, Christians wouldn’t argue that God is omnipotent (meaning all-powerful); however, we often allow secular Christmas (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc) to hold aspects of power without thinking of the potential impact it may have on our spiritual Christmas (Jesus).  While the issues are usually subtle, the impact is often great.

Our all-powerful (omnipotent) God.

Sometimes we misunderstand the tension between ability and willingness. God is fully able to do anything, but not always willing to do what we want Him to do.  God’s goal is to mould and shape us by the experiences in our lives.  To explain this, James wrote:

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.[i]

God uses his ultimate ability in this way, because he loves us.  God is our heavenly Father who, even though we don’t understand most of the time, disciplines us so that we can grow and mature.  With that said, our choice to either ignore God or embrace God will either end with a real consequence or real reward respectively.

16 For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[ii]

Out of love, however, God doesn’t wish any of us to be lost forever.  In fact, both 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9, both point to the fact that God’s desire is for all of us to be saved. This of course brings us back to God’s omnipotent power – God is able to save all of us, but, out of love and desire for us to mature, gives us the freedom of choice.

So, what does this mean for our understanding of God’s power and Christmas?

Three things we should understand about God’s omnipotent loving power:

  1. God always can, but not always will;
  2. God loves us in a way that helps us; and,
  3. God’s consequences and rewards are real.

Most of us understand these three spiritual realities; however, when Christmas approaches, we sometimes forget that these spiritual realities are sometimes trumped (or at least downplayed) by Santa and/or Elf on the Shelf.

The “Knotty or Nice List”

Depending on where you go in the world, the consequences of being on the knotty list are different. In our North American context, any child who is “bad” should expect to receive coal Christmas morning.  Some may argue the meaning of receiving such an item, but the general understanding is: if you’re bad, you’ll be on the knotty list, won’t receive the toy you asked for, and instead receive coal.

The Elf on the Shelve has a similar power, in that, if a child is bad, the elf will report to Santa and thus giving the threat of “toy letdown”.

Do we allow Santa to have godly power?

At first, you might laugh at that question! I did!  Over the past few years, I’ve thought about some of the implications, but my attention was seriously turned toward the topic when I saw the movie “Santa Buddies” where kids actually pray to Santa. Have a look:

We may quickly dismiss this as something we don’t do; however, there are some serious threats of a potential negative impact on Christian households.

From what I can see, there are two (2) main issues surrounding this topic:

  1. We give Santa the ability to determine good and bad and resulting consequence or reward.

By focusing our attention on this, Santa becomes the provider and punisher.  If kids are misbehaving, why don’t we focus on the fact that God is always watching (not just during Christmas) and wants what’s best for us, because He loves us.  To me, that’s a message worth focusing on!  That’s a message of hope; much better than “no toys” or “you’ll get coal!”

  1. The “Empty Threat”

Let’s be honest for a minute.  If a child misbehaves to the point of threatening, “you’ll get no gifts on Christmas…”, we all know the threat is as empty as your wallet!  At the end of day, the gifts remain.  The only thing we teach our kids is that consequences aren’t real.

So, what’s the potential impact on our Spiritual lives?

While I know there are many other factors at play other than Santa, a secular focus during Christmas, doesn’t help in combating against these three (3) things:

  1. If God doesn’t, I must have been bad (have sin);
  2. If I experience bad things, God doesn’t love me; and,
  3. It doesn’t matter if I’m bad; consequences are empty.

 

When the real truth could be as far from these three concepts as possible, we need to make sure we focus on the right things during Christmas. We can have fun without giving God’s authority to Santa.  If we do give over that authority, we really take the risk of encouraging these three backward ideas.

What are my options?

As I’ve said before, I am not trying to condemn secular Christmas!  By writing about these issues, I want to make sure we are thinking about the potential impact on our spiritual lives so we focus on the most important things.

Focus more attention on what you want to see.

If you want to use the Elf on the Shelve, maybe you can have a look at the “The Kind Little Elf“.  Instead on using the Elf in terms of a behaviour tool, the Elf encourages acts of kindness throughout the Christmas season.

Reserve godly characteristics for God.

Why do we point to Santa, when God is more powerful?  Have fun with Santa, and when times of behaviour and/or need come into play, make sure to point to God.  When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend named Mary.  I was the first child, so my imagination took over.  There was no issue with having an imaginary friend.  In fact, creativity and play are encouraged among kids for development.  The problem came in, however, when I used my imaginary friend to hide my parents car keys when we were visiting a friend.  I didn’t know where the keys were, because Mary had hid them.  Long story short, my father asked me to ask Mary to get the keys (in the father-like serious tone no kid can ignore)!  The fact is, using imagination isn’t the problem.  The problem is when our imagination trumps or goes against important truths.  Parents have the responsibility of working through that tension.

Your turn! Have you ever noticed Santa was allowed some godly attributes?  What have you done as a parent/grand-parent/friend to counteract this issue?

Click here for PART 1


[i] James 1:2-4, ESV.

[ii] John 3:16-17, ESV.

The Fellowship – The Early Church (Part 4)

A devoted church, is a church in fellowship together.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted.

What JESUS said about fellowship…
Jesus declared that he would build his church on the rock that Peter stood on – the faithful ones who believed and followed him…

“[Jesus asked], But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…”[i]

Jesus spoke of building his CHURCH.  He used the Greek word ecclesia, meaning “the called out ones.”  Therefore, the Church consists of those who are called out to believe and follow in faith.  Jesus is calling all of us[ii], and so those who choose to believe and follow become the Church that Jesus is building.

Jesus even prayed for those who would believe in the future.  Jesus prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…”  But he didn’t stop there, Jesus prayed that through UNITY and LOVE, others would and will know that He indeed was the Son of God.[iii]

The Church, as Jesus taught, is a group of believers who not only follow in His footsteps, but also bond together in unity and love so that others would believe and follow as well.  For Jesus, the Church is about being in fellowship together.

 

What the EARLY CHURCH did…
The early church devoted themselves to the fellowship.[iv]  The fellowship was who they were.  The early church made up a group of believers, following after Christ’s example who gathered together in unity and love.  Paul wrote of this when talking to the church in Ephesus:

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[v]

Because of their common belief, values and connection with God, the members of the Church became uniquely connected.  With Christ as their cornerstone, they were joined together by the Spirit to become a dwelling place for God.  As a result, the early Church devoted themselves to developing this fellowship with one another.

Check out this interesting picture of the early Christian life…

“The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe.  They display to us, nevertheless, a wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.  They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners.  As citizens, they share all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.  They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.  They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.  They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are insulted, and repay the insult with honor.  They do good, yet are punished as evil-doers…”[vi]

No doubt this is an optimistic picture of early Christian life; however, it certainly gives a clear picture of what was expected of early Christians.

 

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…
Early Pentecostals really embraced the idea of being a part of a spiritual family.  A Pentecostal believer wasn’t simply a part of an assembly; rather, they were a part of a family – and they were devoted to making sure everyone felt a part of it.

One of the ways Pentecostals create a family atmosphere, is by calling each other “brother” or “sister”.  No matter ones leadership role, age, or spiritual maturity, this prefix is used to bring everyone together.  This was especially true among early Pentecostals, and it brought a sense of community to believers.

Moreover, the Pentecostal view of fellowship can be seen in their view and understanding of God.  Steven Land labels this understanding as Eschatological Trinitarian Fellowship.[vii]  Let’s break that down.  Their fellowship is eschatological (meaning “focused on Christ’s return”) because they believe they are a part of the body of Christ and their work, as a fellowship, is directly involved in preparing for the return of Christ.  Their fellowship is Trinitarian (meaning “God in three persons: Father, Son & Spirit) because they believe they are in a relationship with the Father, as the body of Christ (Son), while living in the Spirit.  As a result, Pentecostals are driven by the fact that Christ is returning, to be a part of a fellowship based on a godly relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

 

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…
Jesus, the early church, and early Pentecostals gave a lot of attention towards being a fellowship.  A believer was not only a believer personally with God, but also in community with God and each other.  As a result, believers become united together in faith, belief, finance, community, and relationship.

In our culture, however, tradition often outweighs biblical support.  The question Christians need to ask today is this: will we base our fellowship on scripture or culture?  This is especially true for our public gatherings.  If we based our gatherings (services, socials, etc…) on scripture, not culture, would our meetings look like they do today?

Perhaps we should re-evaluate the way we conduct ourselves as a fellowship.  Maybe we need to regain what has been lost, and remove what has been added without warrant.  In either case, we need to be a people who are eager to be a part of the fellowship!

 


[i] Matthew 16:15-18, ESV.

[ii] 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

[iii] John 17:20-23, 26.

[iv] Acts 2:42

[v] Ephesians 2:18-22.

[vi] Henry Sheldon, History of the Christian Church The Early Church, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 293.

[vii] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010), 205-206.