I write this now (and not closer to Easter) because I don’t want anyone to think I have a particular church in mind. I have not seen any big signs, nor seen any ads in the paper telling me which churches are having Easter egg hunts this year. I have no clue which congregations will feature a man in a cheap bunny suit prowling around on Easter weekend. This isn’t about any one church; it is about a sad trend I have seen growing in the last few years.
That trend is churches co-opting popular holiday themes into their church programming Whether it is having the kids sitting on Santa’s lap or the previously mentioned Easter egg hunt, churches are competing with each other to see who can attract the most kids to their holiday events.
The very word Holiday means, of course, a Holy Day. This means (or at least meant) a day set aside to mark a holy occasion. Traditionally, the three Holy Days observed by almost all Christian churches, no matter the era or country, are those marking the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For Christmas, I think the issue is less clear cut, simply because many of the motifs go back centuries, are drawn from many cultures, and are not tied into the cult of Santa Claus. Wreaths and garland are fine. But I would never have a picture of Santa adorning the church wall, just as I would never sing Here Comes Santa Claus in place of O Holy Night.
For Easter, the issue for me is black and white: Nothing about a bunny delivering painted hen’s eggs in a church context, please.
My argument is simple: these things will confuse, dilute and blunt the message and meaning of these Holy Days. Children are already confused about what parts of the Christmas story are in the Bible and which parts are tools of marketing departments. Do we really want more children in our culture to wonder if the meaning of Christmas is about the resurrection, chocolate bunnies, or some weird combination?
The flip side of the argument, of course, is that these things draw children into the church, so that the church can reach the parents. I have two responses.
First, even if it worked, does pragmatism somehow trump the clarity of the gospel message? Is it worth increasing the scope of the church’s mission if we become less clear about what that mission is? Has this ever, in the history of the church, been a good thing?
Secondly, I don’t believe these things will really work at increasing the scope of the church’s mission, for this simple reason: I don’t think God is honored by them, and so He will not honor them. Outreach like this smacks of having a small vision of God, as if the Lord of the Universe needs us to get people in the door with Easter bunnies and painted eggs.
I don’t want to be the Easter version of the scrooge here. Feel free to paint eggs with your kids and give them all chocolate bunnies their stomachs can handle. This is all just good, childhood fun. But, in my opinion, incorporating these themes into church is a very bad idea.