Sunday Sports is perhaps the most currently controversial issue confronting the Sports Outreach Movement: Many Sports and Recreation Ministers, Church Recreators and Fitness Ministry leaders wrestle with whether or not to program sports outreach activities on a Sunday and almost every Christian athlete, coach and athletic director has already made a decision on whether or not they will play, coach or organize sport on Sunday. Christian families are also faced with the question of their “sporty” kids’ priorities and commitments in regards to sport on Sunday.
The answer to Sunday Sports cannot be determined quickly and must not be pre-determined by the often emotional desire to play sport at a high level, a desire to utilize one’s sport to glorify God and/or reach others for God. The answer can only be ascertained by reflection on five key Level #1 Theological Truths: a) Sabbath Day; b) Lord’s Day; c) ecclesiology (theology of The Church) in relationship to church association and participation; d) missiology (theology of missions) in relationship to biblical principles of reaching those far from Christ; and e) soteriology (theology of salvation) in relationship to evangelism and discipleship. The issue of Sunday Sport is indeed uniquely linked with each of these Level #1 Theological Truths and a complete understanding or decision cannot be made without a thorough theological examination. Last week’s blog focused on the Biblical principles of the Sabbath Day. This blog looks at the principles of The Lord’s Day in regards to Sunday Sport.
The Lords’ Day and Sunday Sport
The Sabbath commandment (see the previous blog) was very much alive and well during the time of Christ and the founding of the Christian Church. Christ not only observed and honored the day but He also taught about it and lived out its fulfillment in the New Covenant, including his weekly attendance at the Synagogue. Jesus, however, taught against the Pharisaical approach of onerous adherence to a ritualistic religious set of un-Godly expectations. To fully understand and appreciate the shift in emphasis from Sabbath to Lord’s Day, two historical occurrences must be studied. In addition, there are three principles that emerge from Jesus’s teachings about how to observe and fulfill Sabbath principles. Together they provide clear direction for how followers of Christ should “honor the day, to keep it holy.”
Historical - The Lord’s Day came to prominence for the Disciples and early church because of the two most significant events in all of history. Both the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and the descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) occurred on a Sunday, and both, support the Sabbath principle in the fact they didn’t occur on the Sabbath! Therefore, what started off as descriptive language: “the day the Lord was risen” or the day the Lord descended,” morphed into the Lord’s Day. Following Jewish tradition of designating “Holy Days” to commemorate significant historical works of God; these days, upon which the most significant actions of God occurred, were designated as “Holy Days.” Yet, in this one instance, the utter significance of what happened on Easter and Pentecost was given rightful pre-eminence over all other Holy Days, as Sunday became a “Holy Day” with the unique distinction of not being commemorated just once a year but rather weekly! These two events were so superior to anything that had ever occurred before, that they resulted in the early church’s two seismic shifts. The first was, the Lord’s Day represents the only time in history a Holy Day achieved once-a-week status (in comparison, not even Good Friday received this status)! But even more incomprehensible, when the Pharisaical movement in specific, and broader Jewish theology are considered, changing the weekly Holy Day from Saturday to Sunday becomes even more stunning. Thus, historically the weekly observance and the change from Saturday to Sunday indicate two very profound arguments on why all local church sports and recreation ministers should sincerely contemplate what, if any sporting activity should be engaged in.
Principles - The three principles concerning the Lord’s Day fulfillment of the Sabbath are taught by Jesus as inspired by the Holy Spirit and recorded by Matthew in chapter twelve of his gospel. The three Sabbath Day principles of rest, worship and witness are fulfilled, further explained, and summarized by three clarifying “acts” taught by Christ. These three acts as taught in Matthew 12 are: acts of mercy, acts of necessity and acts of ministry. So, in the Sabbath we have what the goals of the day are – rest, worship and witness – and in the principles of the Lords Day, Jesus teaches that while the day is to be a day of rest, there are specific activities that would not dishonor the day, but in fact, enhance and fulfill the purpose of the day. To offer acts of mercy and necessity would be both a worship and a witness and would work in conjunction with acts of ministry.
Therefore, does participating in and/or organizing sporting activities on Sunday meet the basic Sabbath/Lord’s Day criteria? Does it provide for the mandated rest, worship and witness. Can it be considered an act of mercy, necessity or ministry? The answer to the first three mandates is mixed…
Rest - Recreation can be part of the answer to meeting the mandate of rest but it should be obvious the refreshing renewal of recreational activities is much different than the tension and fatigue that often accompanies participating in professional or day long sports.
Worship - One’s sporting endeavors can indeed be worship and sporting Christians cannot be condemned for worshipping God in and through their sport, however, as stated earlier, worshipping through sport is a supplement to traditional, congregational worship, not a replacement.
Witness - The witness question is also not so clear cut and will be dealt with in a later blog.
So the answer to the three principles remains inconclusive. Only in the rarest of circumstances could anyone make a case for declaring Sunday sport a necessity, although it remains a theoretical possibility. It’s an even harder sell to state Sunday sport is to be considered an act of mercy. The strongest case supporting Sunday sport may come from the principle of it being an act of ministry, however, this is far from decided conclusion at this point in the argument. It too will be discussed in a later blog.
Summary of Sabbath / Lord’s Day
So as to the 3 mandates and 3 principles, there is no clear cut conclusion as to whether or not Sunday sport is theologically sound and biblically defensible. More thought, research and reflections are needed. Inconclusive yet leaning is how I would summarize it.
 I believe a most powerful support for the Sabbath principle lies in the fact God did His three most significant “works” on days other than the Sabbath: Good Friday; Easter; Pentecost.
This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Linville's yet to be released book. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports written by Dr. Greg Linville are archived at: www.csrm.org
Dr. Greg Linville was one of the founding members of CSRM and has served as the Executive Director since 2000. He served for 15 years as a local church sports and recreation minister and coached over 30 years at the junior high, high school and collegiate levels as well as 30 years in rec. leagues. Dr. Linville has consulted with churches from Australia, Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, New Zealand and North America. He was awarded the world's first honorary Doctorate in Sports Ministry and holds an earned Doctorate as well. He is the author of Christmanship: The Theology of Competition & Sport. Dr. Greg has been married for over 35 years, is the father of two married children and the grandfather of a growing number of grandchildren.