Probably a hundred million people will be watching Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the Super Bowl, with the Steelers hoping to upend the favored Green Bay Packers and gain their seventh championship ring. Some will watch for the game, others for the halftime show. Expensive, slick and sometimes funny commercials will be at center stage. A few viewers will be intrigued by the controversy surrounding quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Where will Christians be sitting when they watch the extravaganza? One church in Dallas, where the big game will be held, canceled services so it could rent out its parking spaces for $82.50 a piece to tailgaters and game attenders. While more and more churches cancel services on Super Bowl Sunday, probably millions of other Christians will trade away the worship of God for fellowship together at church-run Super Bowl parties.
In an earlier day, few American churches thought it wrong to schedule games on Sunday, as long as they were played after church. It was a friendship made, if not in heaven, at least not in hell.
I remember the first time I saw sports come into conflict with church services. I was a pastor of a very small Assembly of God church. The service was very near its end, as it was approaching noon, but I had not yet prayed to close the service. Suddenly two families got up from the back row, waved sheepishly at me, and rushed out the door. Today, in most mega-churches they would hardly be noticed. But in a congregation of 20 or 25 people, six is a mass exodus. I was hurt. I was offended. I later found out they were headed to a major league baseball game. I didn’t say much. But I am sure the look on my face showed them how I felt.
For most evangelical churches there is no conflict this week, they have fit the Super Bowl into their schedules. And how has the world responded to churches accommodating its “holy day”? Has it responded in kind? No. Fox Sports has refused to run a commercial with a simple message asking viewers to read John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Other advertisements with vulgar and offensive messages will no doubt be welcomed, but Christ will not. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4,5)
I am sure now I unfairly judged my parishioners for leaving early. I think I overreacted out of pride. When I was a kid in Byesville, Ohio, I had showed up every time the church doors were open and the pastors and youth pastors had to use a broom to get me to leave. I loved God’s house and still do. However, like most Christians, after church on Sunday, I headed out to eat with friends at the local restaurant and then squeezed in an NFL football game or two between morning and evening services, especially if my favorite team, the Steelers, were playing.
I now see why I was wrong as a pastor. The problem wasn’t missing five minutes of a service. People miss that much service just going to the restroom. No. The problem was bigger and more insidious. It was that I thought and taught that once we put in our time at church, the rest of the day was ours to do with as we please. I had neglected Isaiah 58:13-14a:
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.
When will pastors learn that compromise and appeasement with encroachments against God’s commandments will never be enough for the enemy of their congregations? Am I saying football is inherently sinful? No. But from the beginning professional football has been in competition with the Sabbath by scheduling its games on Sundays.
Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A, a wonderful fast-food company that has refused to open on the Lord’s Day since its inception, has been taking heat for supporting groups that want to protect the God-ordained family. They have clarified their position so as not to offend homosexuals, but I can assure you that unless the company renounces Christianity and or otherwise pays off the lobby, the boycott will continue forever. Our local Culver’s restaurant, on the other hand, will close this Sunday at 4 pm so that its employees can what? Go to church? No, watch THE game.
There is a battle going on for the souls of men, and the life of the church. The seed of the serpent is at war with the seed of the woman. Christ’s enemies will not give an inch until Christ comes and overthrows them with the breath of his mouth. Puritan John Owen pointed out how every sin wants to destroy us and will never be content with sharing our affections.
The Sabbath was made for man, some will argue. Indeed. The apostle John said “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” But it wasn’t the spirit of the age or a heavy dose of team spirit; it was the Spirit of God. How are we to use this day, then? It is to be a day of rest and spiritual refreshment. It is to be centered around the Word of God, and the worship of God, not halftime shows, funny commercials, and football. I learned my lesson about pride, too. Because it is my favorite team, and one of my hometown heroes will be coaching, it will be a little harder for me not to join the festivities this Sunday, even though I hardly ever watch football anymore.
But I must remember one thing. It is the Lord’s Day, not mine. I must “remember the Sabbath, to Keep it Holy”. Who’s my pick this Sunday? “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).