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Sunday Sport – A Heidelberg Viewpoint.


Ask the Pastor

Pastor, is is wrong for Christians to play sports on a Sunday?

God rested from all his labours at the end of his week (7 days) of creation.  So, some Christians will argue that if God rested one day in seven, it is right that we too should rest in that pattern.  It must be noted though, that the Genesis narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive.  Unlike marriage, there is no direct command by God, in Genesis, that we should do as he did.  So,  we can go no further than to say that it is good, as a general principle, that we should rest, one day in seven.
Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

For Israel, under the old covenant, the Sabbath had an extra dimension, – the original blessing of the Sabbath Day is expanded, for it is commanded by God in the law. Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

But what does this mean for Christians, for whom  the law has not been abolished, but it has been FULFILLED in Christ!  Jesus perfectly kept the Sabbath for us.  So do we strictly observe the Sabbath, like an OT Jew, attempting to perfectly keep the Torah, or do we just ignore it, and make it like any other day of the week, with a quick trip to church thrown in? My personal view is NEITHER of these!

The New Testament Lord’s Day principle is stated in the ministry of Jesus and in the writings of Paul.
Luke 13:10-17 … 14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” 17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
Colossians 2:16-17 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
The Heidelberg Catechism aimed to bring some unity between Lutherans and Calvinists on the continent. Later Puritans and Calvinists in England held to a strict Sabbatarian line, but that does not reflect the attitude of either Calvin or Luther. Calvin spent Sunday afternoons bowling! Luther once once said, “that if Sunday were anywhere made holy merely for the day’s sake or its observance set on a Jewish foundation, ‘then I order you to walk on it, to ride on it, to dance on it, to feast on it, to do anything that shall remove this encroachment on Christian Liberty’ Because of this early reformation position, Heidelberg has a balanced, well thought out position on the Sabbath in Q/A103. What does God require in the fourth Commandment?
In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained,(1) and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church(2) to learn the Word of God,(3) to use the Holy Sacraments,(4) to call publicly upon the Lord,(5) and to give Christian alms.(6) In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.(7)
(1)Tit. 1:5; I Tim. 3:14-15; 4:13-14; 5:17; I Cor. 9:11, 13-14. (2)II Tim. 2:2, 15; Ps. 40:10-11; 68:26; Acts 2:42, 46. (3)I Cor. 14:19, 29, 31. (4)I Cor. 11:33. (5)I Tim. 2:1-2, 8-10; I Cor. 14:16. (6)I Cor. 16:2. (7)Isa. 66:23; Gal. 6:6; Acts 20:7; Heb. 4:9-10.

Simply put, on the Lord’s Day, the catechist urges us to put God first, our priorities on the day will be spiritual matters – for the good and wellbeing of our eternal soul. So:

  • We will attend to Divine Worship, – be in the place where we can learn God’s Word, attend to the Lord’s Table. Pray, serve others.
  • Rest from my ‘evil works’ (Remember that everything we do is sin-stained, carnal, worldly) – so, would Sunday Sports be ‘sin stained – carnal or would they be honouring and glorifying for God.
  • Preparing myself for heaven! The Catechist links our activities on the Lord’s Day with our Sanctification, – the work of the Holy Spirit in preparing us for eternal communion with God.   My own opinion, for what it’s worth… Going to a football match or running a marathon, is probably NOT a good away to prepare for our eternal rest in heavenly holiness and glory. Would we not be better employed in spending time reading good Christian literature, thinking though our Christian faith, resting. Praying, witnessing, engaged in Christian work and Christian conversation.

Didn’t Jesus heal people on the Sabbath, and didn’t his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath? YES! And that was because the Pharisees, (People who believed in the false religion of works righteousness) made Sabbath observance (keeping the Law) a saving work! Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  Mark 2:23-28. The Lord’s Day is a blessing to us, not a burden. The old Covenant observance of the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ. But the Seventh Day principle that we NEED a day to rest from our labours and to care for our souls remains, and the best day for that care is on Sunday, when all the Christians can gather in the one place, and edify each other.

So. Is it WRONG for a Christian to play sports on a Sunday? Probably not WRONG – But would it be a GOOD way to spend Sunday, and is it the best use of a valuable  spiritual resource that God has given to his people?  The ‘third use of the law’ – where the law is a standard, for Christians to know how to live in response to God’s love, in humble gratitude to him, would suggest that we shouse seek to obey the fourth commandment – but to obey it as it has been transformed in Christ, who gives us the substance, in place of the shadow. Sabbath rest is about making Jesus the centre of our day, (and of our life.)

* Paul wrote, Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. How should we regard Christians who disagree with us on the use of the Sabbath?
* What activities on a Lord’s Day, might be useful in preparing us for heaven?
* If you have time at home, compare and contrast the Heidelberg Catechism Q/A103 with the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A58-60. Why do you think Heidelberg takes a ‘softer’ attitude to strict Sabbath observance?

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