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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Idolatry takes many forms, #9: Super Bowl Sunday, Or the Sabbath?

It is approximately 12:30 am on February 3, 2008, and that means according to standard time keeping, it is Super Bowl Sunday. This is one of the High Holy Days of the secular American religious calendar. Many of those in our country who would call themselves Christian and who would normally at least consider going to church a few hours from now will instead be preparing for the big party they will be participating in tomorrow. As the regular reader of this blog will suspect, it’s not something I’m particularly thrilled about. I don’t have anything against football. But I do have a problem with anything that tries to usurp the authority of Jesus Christ. Not only does the Super Bowl do that, but any sport played on the Sabbath Day does that. Having said that, though, the Super Bowl won’t actually be played on the Sabbath. It will be played on Monday Evening. I personally hold the view that, as Scripture says in numerous places, evening followed by day make one day (see, for instance, Genesis 1). And so I myself will probably be watching the game with a clear conscience. I don’t even see anything wrong with churches that will be having Super Bowl parties tomorrow night. Despite what some people think, Scripture nowhere requires a Sunday night worship service. And so I might even find myself at the local megachurch with my friends watching the game.

So how, if it isn’t being played on the Sabbath, does the Super Bowl interfere with it? In many ways. Coverage of the game will begin on TV in few hours, if it hasn’t already, and this will be a cause for many to not use the day as it is intended, as a day of rest and worship. The game will be a temptation, as I mentioned before, for many to skip worship to prepare for the parties they will be involved in. Many will no doubt go to the game or be involved otherwise (maybe even playing) who will forego observing the Sabbath for travel, work, etc. And sadly, rare will be the minister tomorrow morning who will be able to preach a whole sermon without making at least one reference to the game, therefore leading his own congregation into temptation and revealing where his own heart is. I don’t find these things reasons to not enjoy a game that, according to my own belief, will actually be played on Monday. Nonetheless, they are in themselves serious matters, and they are all brought about by a game that will be played, according to our society’s reckoning, Sunday night.

And there is the whole commercial aspect to this that irks me more than anything (yes, I said “irks”. I’m not exactly a dispassioned observer on this subject.). It used to be, less than thirty years ago, that almost nothing was open on Sundays (at least, here in the South). Almost everybody in our country observed the Sabbath at least to the degree of refraining from commerce, even if they didn’t go to church. Nowadays, it is even rare to find a Presbyterian or Reformed person, who have Confessions that require Sabbath observance, who actually believe what their Confessions teach or at least observe their teachings on the Sabbath.

But commerce rules our lives now, and it does so because we’ve let it. And one of the ways we’ve let it come to rule our lives is that we’ve let the market dictate how we spend our time, including letting it turn the “Market Day of the Soul” in to the “Market Day of Everything But the Soul”. It is, quite frankly, selling one’s birthright for a bowl of porridge. I long for the day when we return to the blessing of observing the Sabbath, assuming our culture will ever return to it. The blessings are immense for those who would honor God in this, but we will never experience them if we don’t trust God and obey Him.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the following section from the book The Market Day of the Soul by James Dennison (whence I got the phrase, though Dennison actually took it from the Puritans). In his book, Dennison discusses the history of the debates on the Sabbath during the era of the Puritans. This portion shows how, when it comes to making excuses for things we want to do, whether they are wrong or right, there is nothing new under the sun.

The Puritans were not opposed to recreations per se. Lawful (“honest”) recreations were encouraged on the other six days of the week. Bownd’s remark was typical: “I am not of that minde…to thinke that men should never take their delight, and that all recreation were sinfull….” However, even honest recreations were to be suspended on the Lord’s day because they interfered with the proper sanctification of the Sabbath. The Puritans also cited Isaiah 58:13-14 in defense of their position; God had clearly revealed His opposition to taking one’s own “pleasure” on the Sabbath.

Some would counter the Puritan arguments with the observation that recreation was not possible on any day other than Sundays. The Puritan reply is significant: “If men will allow seruants recreations, let them allow part of their owne time, and be liberall in that which is their owne, and not in that which God hath giuen them no such warrant to bestow on their seruants.”

Labor was not to be exploited. Men were to be allowed honest recreations Monday through Saturday. Though the general rule was that Sunday was playday, people did find time for sport on week-days; witness Bridenbaugh’s remark: “…young men who would ‘endure long and hard labour in so much that after twelve hours hard work they will go in the evening to football, stoole ball, cricket, prison-base, wrestling, cugel throwing, or some such like vehement exercise.’”

Richard Baxter maintained that the argument from a lack of spare time on week-days was a “sad argument to be used by them that by racking of rents do keep them (labouring people) in poverty.” The Puritan protest against Sabbath profanation was also a protest against overwork on the other six days of the week.

[Quoting Baxter] “But the truth is, it is not the minds of poor laboring men, that are overworked and tired on week-days, but it is their bodies; and therefore there is no recreation so suitable to them as the ease of the body, and the holy and joyful exercise of the mind, upon their Creator, and their Redeemer, and their everlasting rest.”


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