Today is “Super Sunday.” The reason, of course, is the annual Super Bowl, the most important athletic event of the year. Only the Greek and Roman games of antiquity equal it in pageantry, public interest, and profitability. The Super Bowl is not without its impact on the church. Many congregations chose not to hold the traditional Sunday evening service tonight, not simply in deference to the game but in recognition that attendance will be gutted – even more than usual. Others choose to take advantage of the fact that the game is on most people’s minds and will develop the morning sermon around athletic metaphors and host Super Bowl parties to encourage “fellowship.” Neither response is biblical. Both indicate the church’s capitulation to the spirit of the age and give a very poor witness to a lost and dying culture. If we do not practice obedience and submission to God’s word as the only hope and joy of men and nations, the candlestick has truly been extinguished in this land. Sadly, the church in the west fears being deemed irrelevant more than it fears the Lord, and this is the reason for its irrelevance, as well as for the devilish darkness descending upon us.
Our culture is enamored with games. Professional and college sports dominate the daily lives of many. An individual or culture whose emotional state is dictated by the outcome of a game has embarked upon a dangerous flight from reality, either because it cannot deal with reality or equates reality with fun and frivolity. This mindset has contributed more than anything else to the popularity of “reality” television programs, as well as social networks in which many pretend to be more social, more beautiful, and more interesting than they are in person. Fantasy replaces life because the individual’s life has become largely devoid of meaning. Escape and fantasy become more attractive than real life the more the soul feels its alienation from God. Ancient Rome’s gladiatorial spectacles were successful in Rome for this very reason. They were also a leading way whereby the Roman authorities sought to placate and amuse the masses, whose attention was diverted from the tyrannous noose being slowly tightened around their collective necks. The depravity and brutality of the games are their most obvious features; their political usefulness is often overlooked. By keeping the masses distracted from the numerous problems plaguing Roman society, the emperors retained a free hand to rule without too much disruption and complaint from the narcissistic masses. The best way to aid a culture to overcome this kind of thinking is not by satisfying its cravings or deriving low-level Christian metaphors from sporting events. Separation from evil, proclamation of the meaningfulness of a mature life in submission to Jesus Christ, and exposure of the bankruptcy of secularist diversions are the only acceptable Christian responses to events like the Super Bowl.
Yet, much of the church has adopted the “Super Bowl” mentality. Life should resemble a game as closely as possible. It should be fun. Worship services reflect this mentality. The solemn reverence, the sense of the holy presence of God and his word that characterized better days, has given way to worship services that resemble a circus. The great attraction of the seeker friendly service is the appealing combination of mesmerizing entertainment and frothy teaching. We must remain firmly persuaded, however, that the devil cannot be conquered by fun; faith and repentance will never result from seeking common ground with the flesh. The heart of man, moreover, cannot be transformed by appealing to the fleeting pleasure afforded by emotionalism. It leaves the worshipper in a worse state, training his heart to equate excitement with the presence of God and emotional stimulation with progress in holiness. They avoid the most important thing in life – to know and walk with God through Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures (John 17:3).
In addition to this mentality, the church has institutionalized Sabbath breaking by yielding to the pressure to orient this particular Sunday around the Super Bowl. The pressure is purely internal; no one has forced us to do it. It is our own low and carnal aims, our man-pleasing ways, our own indifference to the Lord’s presence among us, and our own worldliness that makes us take notice of the Super Bowl at all. Sunday evening attendance is already abysmal in many churches. Families often forget that the best way to train their children to make full use of the Lord’s Day is to have them in service as often as possible. Instead, we have embraced the error that two services on Sunday, especially since we are too scattered and busy to meet daily (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 16:5!) are too difficult for them and will spoil their interest in God or interrupt their schedules. On the contrary, holiness is a principle that must be habituated by disciplined adherence to the will and worship of the Lord. A love for biblical worship and preaching are spiritual appetites that are developed through consistent exposure and use. They are, after all, Christ meeting with his people, preaching to his people, and strengthening his people. Can we be with our Lord too much? Super Sunday, therefore, in that many believers choose to skip the evening service in order to huddle around the television, is not simply evidence of a low view of the Lord’s Day, but coldness toward Jesus Christ himself.
Should you watch the Super Bowl today? No. Tape the game if you must and watch it later. I would suggest avoiding it altogether, not out of elitist snobbery but from a principled rejection of all that offends our Lord and diminishes our sense of the holy. Regardless of your personal motives, which cannot be good if they take you away from Christ’s church, to orient even one Lord’s Day evening around this event is to adopt the mindset of our pre-pagan culture. The issue is one of personal, familial, and cultural allegiance to Christ. The Super Bowl represents three fundamental signs of apostasy: a denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, replacement of his day with man’s day, and a flight from the responsibility of seeking to bring every area of life under his word. Today is super, but only because our risen Savior reigns at the right hand of the Father and meets with his people in the midst of the congregation for which he shed his blood. You will miss nothing if you miss this game. If you participate in this parade of human pride, you may miss him.
But should we not be engaged with the culture, know what is going on, and be able to talk about what the masses will be discussing Monday morning? I must confess that I did not even know the Super Bowl was today until last week, when a woman who cut my hair asked me if I was going to watch the game. I told her that I would be in church with God’s people. I started talking with her about the gospel of our Lord; she then confessed to be a Christian, a pastor’s wife. Her initial query was undoubtedly simply a conversation starter. Perhaps she was going to witness to me! But the entire relevance of my life to hers and hers to me at that moment immediately changed to the person of Jesus Christ, not a game. And this is exactly the way the Lord will use us to restore the barren wasteland of this nation: when we call the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13), when all our joy is in the Lord, when the precious highways to Zion are known by heart (Ps. 84:5-7) and games are left to children. O, dear believer, the Lord’s Day is called such because this is the day he preeminently meets with his people, blesses us, teaches us, and comfort us through his own wondrous presence. When he is all our delight, his day, his church, and his word will be our highest joy. Then, strengthened with his presence, we shall be relevant, for the life of our Savior in us – his word, example, and peace in obeying his Father – will save the world, this world, at this time. The problem with the Super Bowl is not that it takes place, but that Christians care about it at all, for it is the most public expression of our national distractedness, immaturity, and rejection of life in Jesus Christ. That we do care shows that our allegiances are divided, our priorities worldly, the candle of our faith barely flickering. May the Lord recover us! When he has mercy upon us, when all our pleasure is seeking him in worship and desiring to be led by his word, our nation, according to God’s promise to his Son, will be submissive to our Lord – but not until we are.