I’ve seen a lot of tweets / posts today to the effect of “Christian, don’t get more excited about the Super Bowl tomorrow than you are about worshiping Jesus with the body of Christ.”
On one level, I get this, and I think those who are saying it mean well. There is a legitimate danger of idolatry with sports, as with any area of life. We ought to constantly be on guard against placing anything in our hearts above our affection and love for God. If this is the message these men and women are trying to send, then I heartily agree.
And yet it seems to me that these statements may imply something else, perhaps unintentionally, something in addition to a warning of idolatry. In my opinion, these comments imply an uncrossable line of “excitement”, where one cannot be more “excited” about a football game (or whatever it is gets you “excited”) than you are when participating in corporate worship.
There are at least two things that strike me as odd, and perhaps wrong headed, about these statements. The first is that they equate the type of excitement a person shows about or during a football game to the type of excitement (if we can even call it that) a person shows about or during corporate worship. These, in my opinion, should not and cannot be compared.
To give an example: in my excitement for a football game, I might stand up at some point and yell “oh COME ON! That’s a terrible call!” Or, maybe the team for which I’m cheering makes a great play, and I stand up and yell loudly whatever my team’s cheer is. Would that type of expression be at all appropriate during corporate worship? Should I be intensely involved in how the service ends? If it doesn’t end in as dramatic a fashion, or perhaps with my favorite song, does that mean we lost at worship?
In other words, the simple fact is that “excitement” for worship means something entirely different than it does for a sporting event. This makes the attempt to draw some imaginary line where I can’t get more excited about the Super Bowl than church even more puzzling. First, because they aren’t equivalent, and second, because it promotes undue worry on the individual’s part. “Uh oh, I’m not excited enough during the sermon – I need to pump it up a notch just in case the game is really good this afternoon!” Or, during the game: “oh man I didn’t yell that loudly in church – sorry Jesus!” This is, if we examine it carefully, nonsensical.
The second reason why I think these types of statements are problematic is because I think they imply yet another false equivalency between worship and sports. My excitement over corporate (and individual or family) worship comes because I understand my own sin and Jesus’ payment for it in his penal substitutionary death, because I worship the risen Christ, who burst the bonds of death and began renewing the world at his resurrection, because Christ is king over all things at this very moment, even my own life, because Christ shows me the Father, the Creator of all things, and because Christ gives me his Spirit, who allows me to understand his Word and worship him in spirit and in truth.
My excitement over a sporting event comes because I attended the school or grew up in the city or live in the city now or just because I’m on a bandwagon.
*These are not the same thing.*
I should also point out here that sporting events are by nature temporal, both in the sense that they are season to season and game to game, whereas corporate worship is a regular and ordinary means of grace.
*These are not the same thing.*
Now, I want to say again that sports can become an idol, just like anything else. We need to guard against finding our ultimate happiness in anything other than Christ, including whether or not our team wins a game. But finding ultimate happiness in a sports team is not the same as being excited when they play, and being excited when they play is not the same thing as being excited about worshiping the risen Lord Jesus.