In 2007, the National Football League (NFL) made formal objections to a church in Indiana that was preparing to host a Super Bowl party and showing of the game on a large screen. The NFL’s objection was due to the church charging a nominal fee to help offset costs of party supplies. The charging of this fee was in violation of NFL proprietary rights and copyright policy. What followed, was a firestorm of complaints against the NFL and many churches cancelled their planned Super Bowl parties for fear of legal consequences.
But the NFL was slammed to the turf by pastors and churches across the nation who viewed the league’s actions as deliberate discrimination against Christians. Even politicians were outraged and some went so far as to create congressional legislation that would exempt churches from the restrictions of showing the Super Bowl in the same way that sports bars are exempted. The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit legal organization dedicated to fighting religious discrimination, also jumped in the dog pile, blitzing the NFL with the threat of a lawsuit. In 2009, the NFL reversed its course, clarified its policy, and agreed that churches may host Super Bowl parties and broadcast the event on large screens. But, the churches may not charge admission and they must respect the ownership of any copyrighted material. That seemed reasonable enough and so churches once again began the annual ritual of hosting Super Bowl parties.
However (yes … I always have a “however”), is showing a hugely secular event within the church the right thing to do? Is it right for a church to endorse such a worldly holiday and everything associated with it? Just because a church is legally allowed to show the Super Bowl, does it make it spiritually appropriate to do so?
Those who say Yes, suggest that it allows families an opportunity to fellowship and also that the church can use sports or other secular events to evangelize and invite people. They point out that there are numerous dedicated Christian athletes within the NFL who serve as good role models for a difficult-to-reach generation of youth. Some even say that they must provide an opportunity for their congregates to enjoy the big game or face the cancellation of evening services because so many churchgoers would stay home in order to catch the opening kickoff.
Yet there are many Christian pastors that declare it is wrong. They point out that the role of the church is not to entertain their people but to encourage them, and to help them to grow to be more Christ-like. They view the church as a house of prayer and suggest that when a church invites the play-by-play action of the game into its sacred walls, that it also embraces the numerous illicit entities which come attached to professional football. Maybe a church can turn off the racy half-time show. But how does it get away from the sex-filled commercials, the prevalence of alcohol ads, and the profanity emanating from the lips of the quarterback that is often captured by the camera?
Has the church become so desperate? While having a genuine concern for people and a passion to work for Christ, the church has resorted to elaborate marketing campaigns and entertainment in an effort to reach an increasingly tough-to-win population of unchurched. Super Bowl parties in the church are being hailed as an excellent tool to reach people. But I’m afraid that the church has forgotten how to keep score. You see, getting people through the doors of the church is not the same as getting them through the gates of Heaven, (Matt. 23:15). The Bible says that Satan might fool people by making them think he is an angel of light in order to draw them into a false religion. The church seems to have taken a cue from the devil and decided to resemble the world so that unsuspecting souls might enter in through the doors and then get a sprinkling of Jesus.
Pressured by falling attendance, churches have abandoned their game plan, (The Holy Bible), and left their first love, (The Holy Spirit), in order to employ a very worldly strategy for reaching the lost … A strategy written by mortal men instead of the one divinely inspired by almighty God, (II Tim. 3:15-17).
Christians are the “light of the world.” Light usually floods into the darkness, overcomes and permeates it. But instead, the darkness is invited into the church, envelopes the light and dims it. It is not supposed to be this way (I John 2:15-16). The Great Commission commands that the church is to “go into all the world” … But churches have decided that they have a better idea – bringing worldliness into the church. Churches should use caution when using worldly means like some secular movies, sports and music to accomplish a heavenly task. When an athlete or team plays poorly, the best thing that a coach can do is take them back to the basics and improve on the fundamentals of the game. Pastors might follow the same strategy. So, perhaps on the morning of Feb. 7, instead of asking the people, “Are you ready for some football?” … let’s return to asking the question, “Are you ready for the coming of the Lord?”