Separation of church and Super Bowl

by Barnabas Piper
Posted on Friday, February 1, 2013, at 10:54 am

To go or not to go, this is the question facing thousands of churchgoers on Super Bowl Sunday evening. Of course, all sorts of moral expectations and qualifications underpin that question. Is it wrong to skip church in favor of a Super Bowl party? (And is “skip” even the right verbiage for choosing not to attend?) What if it is only the evening service but you went in the morning, is it OK then? What if the pastor said it was OK but will still be leading church? (Even though everyone knows he’d rather be watching the game, too.) Even worse, what if the pastor said, or subtly implied, that skipping church is a questionable decision? And on and on it goes.

I wrote last year why I think participating in Super Bowl festivities is a great idea, football fan or not. But the issue of conflict with church is a sticky one in Christian culture, with a long, moral tradition of “there’s no good reason to skip church.” And there is much fresh thinking about whether attendance makes the churchgoer or whether it is something deeper. So here is some encouragement and a bit of perspective.

No church should make its people feel guilty for missing a service in favor of the big game. This is as much a church culture issue as it is a scheduling one. Those churches that have created an environment where attendance is mandatory and “skipping” is shameful have missed the point of gathering to worship (especially if the gathering is an evening service after a primary morning one). And to judge those who miss a service in favor of gathering with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company and, hopefully, a great game is legalism.

The individual making the decision gets no benefit by feeling guilt over a church service missed—or by going to the service full of resentment. The guilt or angst you feel over “skipping” church is probably based in the same sort of legalism I just mentioned, only this time it is in your heart. You are too worried about right performance and have lost perspective. Church is for corporate worship of God and your benefit, so take it seriously. But don’t base a single bit of your moral standing before anyone, God or man, on your attendance. Feel free to enjoy the Super Bowl if you so desire, and feel free to attend church.

Mainly there ought to be a spirit of understanding. Those who want to go to church should do so with joy. Those who want to watch the game should do so with relish. And both groups should understand that those on the other side are doing what they do in good conscience and with good reason. We should not be judging out loud or in the deepest, smuggest corner of the heart. Super Bowl Sunday should be a wonderful day for all, whether or not their day involves the big game.

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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