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I wore a Santa Claus suit to a university department Christmas party this week. It occurred to me that this is something I wouldn’t have done a decade or more ago. In fact, during my early days at the university I had a beautifully tailored Santa Claus suit and gave it away.

It’s not that my Santa Claus suit collided with my convictions. It’s just that I didn’t want to run the risk of offending anyone who didn’t like the idea of Santa Claus. And back then, our transformation from a more rules-oriented denominational college to an emerging, biblical worldview-based Christian university had just begun. People were more sensitive then to what we sometimes call “externals,” the dos and don’ts of Christian faith.

Wearing a Santa Claus suit today is not a signal that I don’t care anymore about what people think. Rather, I made the decision to wear the suit because a staff member with a great sense of humor—Vicki Pratt—asked me to wear it just for fun, so I did. And it was a lot of fun.

I respect people whose convictions lead them to reject “playing Santa Claus” with their children or grandchildren. If their decision does not in itself violate the moral will of God, and this one clearly does not, than they are certainly free to enjoy a Santa-Claus-free Christmas. More power to them. They simply need to avoid the temptation to judge others who disagree with them.

I respect people whose convictions allow them to be at ease with the Santa Claus fantasy. If their decision does not in itself violate the moral will of God, and I see no scriptural indication that it does, than they are free to enjoy the harmless silliness of Santa Claus. More power to them. They simply need to avoid the temptation of ridiculing others who disagree with them.

Coming to terms with Santa Claus is a Christian liberty issue. On Santa Claus, God never says “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.” Christian liberty means we’re both free to make and responsible for making our own decisions based upon God’s revealed moral will in the Bible.

God does give us principles to apply. He does say that the name of Jesus Christ is above every name. He says that Jesus Christ is the awaited Immanuel, the Messiah, the Savior. He does say that none other than Jesus Christ must be worshipped and exalted. He does say in different words, that Jesus, born in manger, is the “reason for the season.” According to the Word of God, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas and you can’t put him back, because no matter what a given culture says or does, without him there is no Christmas.

So is it possible temporarily to “displace” Christ with some overzealous, foolish, ignorant, or intentionally secularist emphasis upon Santa Claus? Of course. If this happens we need to understand it and respond winsomely. But is this what most people are thinking when they “play Santa Claus” with their children, grandchildren, or friends. I don’t think so. For most I think its light-hearted fantasy coming to us as harmless tradition, and Christians who noisily attack this don’t accomplish much other than making themselves look overzealous, foolish, ignorant, or over the top.

That’s why I wore a Santa Claus suit today. I respect people who don’t embrace the idea, and I would never intentionally offend them. But I disagree with people who go over the top with name-calling like “Satan Claus” or who question the spiritual integrity of people who are having a little seasonal fun.

In the face of intractable problems plaguing our world it seems to me that wearing a Santa Claus suit for a couple of hours is pretty tame stuff.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Several megachurches, in West Michigan and nationally, are getting mixed reviews in response to their decision to forgo Sunday services Christmas morning.

Many people have praised leaders in these churches for their sensitivity to family interests. Still others have criticized what they consider a lapse in spiritual commitment and a loss of a spiritual opportunity. Some people believe churches that close their doors on Christmas morning are simply demonstrating common sense, while other people are accusing these churches of kowtowing to secularist trends. Some people think churches planning to close on Christmas morning are admirably displaying a “big view of God and his work in the world.” Meanwhile these same churches are being cited for contempt of Christian tradition, irreverence, and a direct violation of “What would Jesus do?”

What seems lost in most of the commentary I have read is mutual respect and a consciousness that “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” And, therefore, that we should “stop passing judgment on one another.”

Whether to hold church services on Christmas morning is a classic Christian liberty issue if there ever was one. So Christians in any given church ought to be given the space to make a decision about when they schedule services without having their faith called into question.

Scripture tells us that we should “not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25), but nowhere does the Word of God mandate how often per week and on what day of the week we should gather for worship. When we meet, where we meet, how often we meet, what times we meet, how our services are structured, how long the services last—all these matters are left to our devising. Our patterns are more cultural than doctrinal.

Most of the churches that plan to dispense with services Christmas morning are also planning special or additional services during this coming week or the days after Christmas. So they will offer more spiritual programming during the Christmas season than less. Criticizing these churches, then, simply on the basis of their closed doors on Sunday morning seems self-righteous and legalistic. Citing one’s own plans to attend church on Sunday morning as a basis for one’s criticism is not much better. That tactic is what some might call “holier than thou.”

Some people have also accused No-Service-Christmas churches for “placing God second and families first.” This is an oft-repeated but not always applicable argument. In other words, it is possible to worship or to lift up something in our lives other than God. People do this everyday. It’s called idolatry, and we do it with everything from materialism, to recreation and hobbies, food, sex, golf, you name it.

It’s also possible to engage in an activity other than church, Christian service, ministry, etc. and honor God by doing so. Scripture tells us that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Scripture also says that Christ should be given the place of “supremacy” in all things (Colossians 1:18). So here’s how that works: It’s possible to go to church on Christmas Sunday morning with a carnal heart and in no way glorify God and in no way give him supremacy in what we are doing. It’s also possible, in fact divinely expected, for us to “put God first” in whatever we are doing (as long as our activity does not itself violate the moral will of God).

We don’t need to go on a guilt trip wondering if God is in third, second, or first place. He’s always supposed to be in first place “in” and “through” everything we are doing. If he is, then the rest of our priorities will take care of themselves.

In the Old Testament, through the prophet Samuel God reminded King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Meaning: a contrite worshipful heart trumps religious ritual every time. Saul never got it.

God further clarified this truth a bit later in the appointment of the shepherd King David, saying “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

On Christmas Sunday morning God will look not so much at whether we are in church as whether we have the right heart toward him.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

The White House left the word “Christmas” out of its Christmas card text—something it has done since 1993—so some conservatives are interpreting this as one more example of the “war on Christmas.”

The White House card quotes Psalm 28:7 and sends to 1.4 million recipients “best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness.” Apparently this isn’t good enough for some members of the Religious Right, including William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative website WorldNetDaily.com. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, doesn’t like it either, but he thinks it’s more a sign of political correctness run amok than an effort to side-step Christmas.

I noted on December that “Christmas is Back,” because retailers nationally are re-introducing Christmas to their holiday marketing campaigns. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush can’t catch a break from his conservative base. First Harriet Miers and now the wrong Christmas card—it seems the man can’t do anything right.

As I said earlier, it’s possible to over-react, and I think conservatives or Christians or both may be doing it with this latest bit of noise. The truth of Christ and the power of the Gospel as introduced in the Christmas story are not going to be lost if someone happens to omit the words, “Merry Christmas,” on a card.

For years I have made sure that Cornerstone University’s Christmas card includes Scripture, because this makes our cards distinct from most public university cards and clearly sends a message about our Christian mission. I have not worried about whether the card used the term “Christmas.” Is this word really more powerful than the Word?

The other side of this is that President Bush represents all the people, not just Christians and not just conservatives. He is open about his own faith, but he rightly does not force his beliefs upon others. A White House Christmas card with an Old Testament verse and a “Happy Holidays” message strikes me as more respectful of others than disrespectful of Christianity.

I think the Religious Right should spend its time on positive contributions that matter and give its watchdog inclinations a rest.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

It appears Christmas is back, or at least the “Christmas tree” is back. After several years of referring to the tree at the United States Capitol as the “Capitol Holiday Tree,” at the request of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R,IL), the tree was renamed this month the “Capitol Christmas Tree.”

In another reprise of the Christmas wars, the noisiest Christmas backlash so far this year took place in Boston, where the Parks and Recreation Department set off a firestorm by calling the city’s annual gift from Nova Scotia a “Holiday Tree.” The logger who donated the spruce said he’d rather feed the tree to a wood chipper than call it a “Holiday Tree.” Christian groups like Liberty Counsel threatened legal action until Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said, “I consider this tree to be a Christmas tree.”

“Christmas” is also back in retail. The word has been curiously missing from the marketing campaigns of major retailers in recent years, even though they, like most retailers, depend upon the Christmas season for a bulk of their revenues. Kroger, Lowe’s, Dell, Target, OfficeMax, Walgreens, Sears, Staples, J.C. Penny, and Macy’s, to name a few, have re-introduced “Christmas” in their seasonal advertising.

The Christmas wars have become all too familiar: “Silent Night” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at the local middle school “Winter Concert” or “Holiday Concert,” nativity scenes banned from display on courthouse lawns, school teachers not permitted to read Christmas prayers or perhaps even to put the word “Christmas” on bulletin boards, refusing to allow retail clerks to say “Merry Christmas” for fear of being insensitive or disrespectful to those who do not celebrate Christmas, and so it goes.

So the “December Dilemma” of the place of religion in public life visits us once again.

Is it any wonder that Christians who are tired of this dilemma are now reacting, sometimes via legal redress? They feel pushed to the limit by what appears to be an organized attempt to secularize completely this most special of Christian holy days. Christians are tired of political correctness, feel like the recipients of reverse discrimination, and in general believe they must draw a line somewhere or there will be nothing left that looks or sounds like the culture of their youth. For some, this becomes a moral battleground, a place where one must take a stand if one has any convictions at all.

Of course its possible to over-react. If it is un-Christian to dismiss important Christian symbols it is equally un-Christian to act disrespectfully to those who do not share our values or belief systems. Refusing to acknowledge Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, for example, do not win Christians any points for love or compassion.

All this is rooted in the meaning of the First Amendment. Government is to protect the free exercise of religion even as it avoids establishing one religion over others. That’s the rub, and that’s why the Christmas wars are not going to go away anytime soon.

One thing would help, though—if people could learn to distinguish between government-supported activities and all other activities that take place in the public square. If you can make the case for a Menorrha alongside a crèche in the city park, you should also be able to acknowledge the individual right of businesses to use Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa language in their advertising as they deem appropriate. One is publicly owned, the other is simply public. Christmas need not be empowered by government to continue its worldwide influence. It’s the Person and spirit of the season that yet makes the world pause and reflect about all that is good.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

The beauty of Thanksgiving Day is that it is a time of reflection. It allows us to ponder what God has done in and through our lives and what he may yet wish to do.

I’m thankful God has allowed me to work since 1974, almost continuously, in Christian education and in particular since 1982 in Christian higher education. That was the year I earned my doctorate in Political Science with concentrations in Public Administration and Survey Research. I defended my dissertation on Friday the 13th in July of that year and began working as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at my alma mater, Cedarville University (OH), in September. Six years at Cedarville, then 3 years at The King’s College near New York City, and now almost 15 years at Cornerstone University have gone by quickly but fruitfully.

When people ask me what I do I generally answer, “I’m a Christian educator.” If they press me for more specifics, than I tell them about the presidency. Working as an educator in a Christian institution of higher learning is not a “better” calling than others, but it has always been an interesting one.

I like the eclectic nature of the task referred to as administrative leadership. One hour you focus on new building plans, the next on an academic issue, and the next on a visiting supporter of one of the school’s programs. And so it goes. I tell people that I used to “teach politics,” but now as a university president I practice it every day.

A key part of the role is to be gone, to be off campus, out of town, or out of state, visiting with people who support the university. It’s called “Advancement,” and it’s a matter of sharing the university’s mission with those whom God has moved to participate spiritually and financially. The best days in my point of view are the busiest days, the days you almost run from one appointment to the next. That’s a “President’s day.”

In today’s so-called postmodern culture—one in which the primary motivating idea is that there is no such thing as absolute moral truth—the Christian university occupies an important and potentially strategic platform. We believe in truth, what Francis A. Schaeffer used to call “True Truth” in order to make his point unmistakable. We believe in the One and the Way, we are not afraid to research, to question, or to learn because indeed “all truth is God’s truth.”

The Christian university faithful to its mission can be instrumental in developing students capable of influencing culture, today and tomorrow. That’s a lofty statement and a loftier goal. But the God of a biblically Christian university is a “Big” God. He and his purposes are lofty by definition. And on this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful that God has allowed me to play a small part in this lofty mission.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.