This is the 6th installment concerning Sunday Sports in the context of Local Church Sports Ministry. The first five blogs articulated the following: a) the 3 Sabbath mandates to “honor the day; b) the 3 Lord’s Day principles to fulfill the day; c) the five crucial reasons for regular participation and committed involvement in a local congregation; d) revealed two unintended consequences of evangelistic efforts through sport on Sunday; and e) how the theology of salvation (soteriology) provides a key insight into whether or not Sunday sport evangelistic efforts are actually effective. This blog provides an overview of one specific historical view of Sunday Sport.
The Story of Eric Liddell
Eric Liddell is recognized for two significant reasons: a) he won a gold and bronze medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics; and b) he was a heroic missionary to China who died in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2, but he is most remembered because of his principled stance of honoring the Lord’s Day by not competing in Sunday Sport.
A popular version of his story, told through the movie Chariots of Fire, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981. The movie was quite remarkable in many ways. It was written by a self-avowed atheist; told the story of 3 Olympians (an Agnostic; a Jew; a Christian); and was funded by a Muslim! The three featured athletes told the story of how one ran for personal reasons; one ran to prove his faith (Judaism); and the third (Liddell) chose not to run to prove his faith, but the movie missed many vital facts…
While the movie faithfully represents Liddell winning gold in the 400, and his choosing not to run in the 100 because the heats for the event occurred on a “Lord’s Day,” it does not tell the “rest of the story.” First, he also won bronze in the 200 but more significantly, he forfeited two other medals as the 4 x 100 and the 4 x 400 were also run on a Sunday. It also does not accurately communicate the extended amount of time (a year or more) Liddell had to withstand pressures from friends, family and even British Royalty, to forgo his choice to honor the Lord’s Day by not competing. 
Relevance to Local Church Sunday Sport and Evangelistic-Disciplemaking Endeavors
The overwhelming rationale for Christians competing in, and local congregations sponsoring sport on Sunday, is for the purposes of evangelism. Well-intentioned and rightly-motivated followers of Christ often argue their participation in and/or sponsorship of, Sunday sport is for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom of Christ. The fallacy of this argument is keenly seen when Liddell’s story is compared with a modern-day athlete’s example. Jonathan Edwards is also a gold medal Olympian who originally modeled his life after Liddell, including not competing on the Lord’s Day. Yet Edwards became convinced (at least partially by some within the Sports Ministry Movement!) that he could “expand his platform” by competing on the Lord’s Day.
Here’s the question? Whose platform is wider, deeper and more respected today? I wonder if there will be a movie made 50 years in the future which heralds the heroic stance Edwards took in competing on the Lord’s Day. Today, 90 years after Liddell chose to honor the Lord’s Day by not running, his platform continues to grow.
Summary of the Historic Perspective Concerning Sunday Sport
Christian athletes and local church Sports Outreach Ministries are not responsible for their platforms. We are only responsible for our faithful obedience to, and love for Jesus Christ. God alone is responsible for our platforms. Let us focus on being faithful to His commands and trust our “platforms” to Him.
Next week’s blog will summarize the issue of Sunday Sport in the local church and provide a few specific recommendations.
This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Linville's book: Christmanship. 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, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville are archived at: www.csrm.org
 Please consult my book Christmanship for a much more detailed retelling of this amazing story. It includes the results of research and interviews I conducted with Liddell’s family, friends, other researchers and even those who were interned in the Japanese prisoner of war camp with him. The book dedicates an entire chapter to this theological topic of the Lord’s Day and sport.