By Matt Fretwell
Here’s the straight black-and-white answer you’re looking for, yes! There would be no need for this article had the answer been no—but emphatically and undeniably, Western culture has morphed into Sunday morning sports instead of Sunday morning worship, fact. I can recall a time when Blue laws existed and there were no stores open on Sunday—and I’m not that old. However, that is not the soap box that I’m jumping on and the question of legalism will be thrown out the window quickly—it’s a straw man argument. As Leonard Ravenhill stated, “When there's something in the Bible that churches don't like, they call it 'legalism.'”
There’s a major problem with culture, we all agree; however, are believers to adhere more to sports or to provide the example of godly leadership, integrity, and more importantly, obedience to Christ and His Church? Missing a Sunday service for vacation, getting some much needed sleep, or perhaps even someone taking a job when unemployed, those things we understand are going to happen—and once again we agree that it’s not about getting a gold star for attendance. And assuredly, we all agree that salvation does not come by attending church—we all believe in Christ’s efficacious work on the cross for our salvation. And there are no “buts,” added in.
The argument I am making now is that we are teaching an entire generation that church membership, or even attending church is not merely second fiddle—but there is no fiddle! OK, I’ll say it; youth sporting events on Sundays are destroying the children’s faith. We’re producing idolatry, lacking fellowship, and setting bad examples. They are growing up with these three huge mistakes, presented to them by us—their parents, as if these three things are edifying and good. Here are my three observations:
(1) Producing Idolatry
Children are being taught that there are way more important things than to worship Christ. Now, before you grab the argument, “I love Jesus, the soccer field is my church,” let’s be real for a second. Let me get on the soapbox. Jesus was the One who instituted the church—He’s the One who invented it, heads it, and upholds it, as well as directed its mission and gathering. I’ve never seen communion presented at the soccer field, nor have I heard Scripture being taught, nor songs of praise—maybe you have—but it’s still not church because the focal point is not Christ—but to get Christ out of the way, so that the game can occur.
I once had a seminary professor in evangelism declare that it was OK to skip church for sports, as long as you were “missional” and led the team in prayer. Seriously? While yes, that may be evangelism—it’s not church! And don’t throw the “where two or more are gathered” erroneous interpretation at me either, please. My rant is real because I love Christ’s church—if you do not love Christ’s church then you cannot love Christ—since He is the head (we’re connected). The sport becomes idolatry—putting something before God. We’re teaching the children that baseball is more important than Christ—so years down the road when they want a job, a boyfriend/girlfriend, family, and the ball games are done, try and explain why the church is important to them again? As Charles Spurgeon said, “Train up a child in the way he should go - but be sure you go that way yourself.”
The problem is that the baseball, football, soccer, or any sporting field, or even the dance studio, or whatever activity, you hold higher than the church; you have created an idol for your child. Honestly, anytime we place ourselves as the number one reason to attend church, we miss the point and are idol building. When we make ourselves more important than Christ’s command and the people of God—to edify, love, pray, cry, grow, and live within Christ—then we are saying I’m a Lone Ranger, I can do it alone—cut off the body—keep the head. But Christianity was never designed to be solo—but corporate fellowship.
(2) The Absence of Fellowship
The absence of fellowship is a major American dilemma. The problem is that some parents think “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so,” is all they need to know. The parents are aiding in the destruction of their children’s faith—they are not building them up, but building up idolatry. Fellowship is not only about intimacy, sharing, and caring, but it’s about encouraging others in community worship. Worship does not necessarily mean song, but our actions and the way we live the gospel. By pulling our children from church fellowship, making sure they make the game, the logic comes across to them as “If I say it’s more important than church—it’s OK.” But that logic will break down because it’s subjective at best—the foundations and boundaries of living the gospel are gone.
As well, fellowship attendance is important to the one who comes and is struggling. They see you across the aisle—they see your smile, your presence—iron sharpens iron. Perhaps you’re struggling and share of your busy schedule? “How do you cope,” they inquire, and then you realize that your response was their God-confirmation. They needed YOU. We are unified as a whole body, not churches of one. Fellowship informs the child that God has not left them alone—He gave them the church, to get through life, its pain, its suffering, its heartaches, along with their anxieties.
(3) Setting the Wrong Example
Needless to say, we’re setting the wrong example to our children and to the community. I get it, you will say, “But, I’m one person, if I pull my son or daughter out of this or that sport, no one will care and they may lose an eventual scholarship!” Once again, is the scholarship more important than Christ and His Church? We cannot just worship the head and cut off the body—it’s unified. We’re telling the world that we agree and we adapt and we like it. We like a severed Christ.
Here’s the next argument, but I go to church on Wednesdays instead—look, it’s all justification. Only you know your heart and if you’re one of the ones who brings your kids to sporting events instead of Sunday worship, first (1) I don’t condemn you, I pray for you, second, (2) the inevitable will happen when your child walks away from the faith—I pray that I’m wrong, and (3) lastly, you have created a subjective environment for your child to base his or her life choices on the matter of personal importance. In the matter of Christianity, that does not bode well. Please, heed the warning, love Christ, love the church, love your children; they’re the next generation to receive the baton of faith—let’s help them be the men and women of God that He intends.