Santa wants you to skip church this Christmas.
Or, at least, a billboard Santa does in an ad campaign sponsored by the American Atheists. Running in Colorado Springs, CO, and Winston-Salem, NC, St. Nick beams, “Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness sake. Happy Holidays!”
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, noted in a statement, “We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person.” Nick Fish, the program director of the organization, adds, “There are tens of millions of atheists in this country. We’re everywhere. And we don’t need church or gods to tell us how to be good people.”
Mr. Silverman and Mr. Fish have made the same mistake that some Christians do. It’s called pharisaism. The Pharisees wore benevolence on their sleeves, touting their goodness in public so everyone would see. If you have to display your morality in front of others, whether by doing secular philantrophy, going to church or letting everyone know just how good you are, you are going after the praise of people. Your “goodness” is tainted.
Most of the saints I know don’t go to church to be good. They know they aren’t good. They realize that they fall short of God’s glory every day. As C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”
So mature Christians don’t go to church to prove their goodness. They go to hear a word of grace. They worship to give thanks. They attend to receive encouragement as they walk along the road of sanctification, that ongoing journey to become more like Christ. And they don’t perform good deeds to receive the accolades of others or earn brownie points to get into heaven. They know very well that human praise is fickle and heaven is a gift, not a reward for goody-goody behavior. Christians are simply grateful for God’s grace, and they want to share this inexpressible gift with everyone they meet.
So, Billboard Santa, thanks but no thanks for your advice. I’ll be in church during Christmas season. You’re welcome to join me.