BROOKS: When Santa Claus came to church

Published 8:42 pm Monday, December 11, 2017

By Michael Brooks | Brooks is the pastor of Siluria Baptist Church and a weekly contributor to The Selma Times-Journal

Former Democratic National Committee interim chair, Donna Brazile, in her recent book wrote about Donald Duck who followed the Trump campaign around the country in 2016. The character’s presence was intended to suggest Trump “ducked” hard questions. Brazile received a complaint from ABC/Disney about copyright infringement and moved to shut down the duck. She found the Washington DNC wasn’t responsible for the duck, but rather what she referred to as “Brooklyn”—the Clinton campaign headquarters in New York, and the candidate herself.

This story reminded me about Santa following me to church.

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I served an Indiana Baptist church while a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I learned that a Christmas tradition was for Santa to come to the sanctuary after a worship service and give gifts to the boys and girls. I was shocked. “This is the place reserved for worshipping God,” I said. “I don’t think it’s right for Santa to be here, especially since we have a fellowship hall if this has to be done.”

The church had an adequate fellowship hall, though some seniors complained about the steps required to get there. But for the next two years the church acquiesced to the pastor’s opinion that Santa didn’t need to be in the room where we worshipped God.

I’ve often wondered if the congregation didn’t revert to the traditional Santa visits after I graduated and moved to a full-time ministry. The Christian church has debated the propriety of many things in public worship in recent years. I suppose the first to go was “dressing up” for church. Since many unchurched make not having “Sunday” clothes an excuse, some churches determined to “dress down” and make this one less impediment. Now we even have unshaven pastors wearing grungy jeans and tee-shirts in the pulpit, if they have a pulpit. And then our hymnals became an endangered species. My generation revered the hymnal since it taught us music and theology. But now many churches project words on a screen for singing. One of my acquaintances insisted this is better since “we look up to God” when we sing. Another friend reminded him “God is in China, too” when we look down and sing.

And another jettisoned item is artwork. Churches through the ages installed stained glass and portraiture to teach spiritual truth and to instill an appreciation for beautiful art. Now churches build simpler buildings, often with black walls for better stage lighting.

As we continue to discuss what is appropriate in the worship place, we do so with thoughtfulness and prayer. The paramount principle is that God is the object of our worship, and we must approach him with reverent and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17).