The most salient indicator that we live in a post-Christian society may not be the banning of prayer in school, or the rise of postmodern relativism in popular thought, or the call for gay marriage, or the general downgrade of morals, or any of the other usual suspects. Rather, perhaps the sign of the secular times is what has become of Sunday. Not many decades ago, the Lord’s Day was generally upheld as a day distinct from the rest of the week. Though not everybody went to church, businesses and stores were closed and the day was more or less considered the day for worship.
How the times have changed! Sunday is now, for all practical purposes, just another day of the week. More accurately, it has become Saturday’s sequel – a day off for work for many, but devoted to errands, home projects, recreation, and pleasure. In the popular consciousness, whatever sense of sanctity the day might have once enjoyed as a day belonging to God has virtually disappeared.
As our culture becomes less oriented around Christian values and principles and increasingly secular, the de-sanctifying of Sunday is unsurprising (whether it is a cause or effect of this secularization). What is dismaying, though, is how evangelical churches and Christians have so thoroughly embraced this trend. Indeed, in her teaching and practice, by neglecting the traditional (and dare I say, biblical) Christian view of the holiness of the Lord’s Day, the Church has surely given a helping hand in hastening its demise. Most believers do not view Sunday as a special day to be set apart for God and for his worship: yes, they may go to church in the morning, but after that anything goes. And even church attendance is, at best, just a slight notch above optional. We say if someone does something with a consistent and dependent regularity, no matter what may threaten to distract him from it, he does it “religiously”. Given this use of the term, how ironic and tragic that many believers don’t even go to church “religiously”!
Proof of the American Church’s active role in the secularization of the Lord’s Day is what takes place on Super Bowl Sunday (which, in case you somehow haven’t heard yet, is this coming Sunday). Super Bowl Sunday has evolved in my own lifetime from a championship football game to something closer to an unofficial national holiday. It is the new “Greatest Show on Earth.” Many churches host Super Bowl Parties on that day. The practice is common enough that one law firm gives some free legal advice on their website on how to host a Super Bowl Party at your church without running afoul of any pertinent intellectual property laws (for example, don’t call it a Super Bowl Party, but a “Big Game Party”). One church in Great Falls, MT, , advertises this on their website:
Join us for our annual Super Bowl Sunday Service on February 5, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. It’s a great time of Super Bowl challenges and lots of fun and energy as well as a motivating message from our coach, Pastor Gary Hart.
Notice this is not just a post-morning service Super Bowl party, but a “Super Bowl Service”! I am willing to bet this church’s leadership, and other church leaders who put on Super Bowl parties (ahem, “Big Game Parties”) justify these activities as a way to be relevant to people in our culture – meeting people where they are, so to speak. But the more a church’s Super Bowl Party imitates the more familiar secular version, the more irrelevant it becomes. If I am an unbeliever, why should I go to a church for my Super Bowl festivities, when the neighbors down the road will be having a party? At least at my neighbor’s house, I will be watching football the way it is meant to be watched, with a cold beer in my hand! In my view, what is more relevant to people is a church that, Sunday after Sunday, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, and calls people to repentance and faith.
But even if a given church isn’t hosting a football-themed worship service, or a Super Bowl Party, it is very likely that a good portion of the congregants will be spending most of the day (after church, of course!) watching the game at home or with friends. Now, at the risk of sounding like a hide-bound legalist, or the male version of “the Church Lady,” allow me the temerity to say I don’t believe watching the Super Bowl is the best way for Christians to keep the Lord’s Day holy. If the Fourth Commandment has any validity at all for New Testament Christians (which I believe Scripture teaches), then Christians ought to set apart Sunday as a day devoted to the Lord, keeping it holy. If most of the day is taken up with the Super Bowl, that’s just not honoring the Lord’s Day.
Here’s one way to look at it. I suspect every church that hosts a Super Bowl service or party would be scandalized if, when they celebrated communion, sitting next to the bread and grape juice were plates piled high with nachos, chicken wings, and bite-sized burgers. That would be shocking, indeed! But if cluttering the Lord’s Table with Super Bowl snacks is profaning a holy meal, is it not true that cluttering the Lord’s Day with Super Bowl activities is profaning a holy day?
I love sports just as much as any other red-blooded American male. If the St. Louis Cardinals were playing Game 7 of the World Series on Sunday, I confess it would be a mighty struggle, and probably a losing battle, for me to keep my focus on Christ that day. But nevertheless, the Church sacrifices far too much in giving up any notion of the sacredness of the Sunday. The day is supposed to be a delight (Is. 58:13), a day God made for us and for our good (Mark 2:27). But if we give ourselves over to entertainment on the Lord’s Day, whether it is Super Bowl Sunday or any other Sunday, we miss out on that delight and blessing. And, more than that, the unbelieving world gets the message that the Church has nothing more meaningful to offer than a baptized version of the world’s fare of entertainment and distraction. It may be enjoyable, but it is ultimately trivial and fails to satisfy the soul’s longing for the Bread of Life.