Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A brief word on discipleship vs. legalism

In further reflection on the Super Bowl, outreach, and popular culture.

This is one of the areas to which I've put a lot of thought over the last 10 years. As followers of Christ, we are called into a lifetime of discipleship, of walking in the way with Jesus, seeking righteousness, holiness, christ-likeness throughout our lifetime. We are to seek the things of God, the things of Life, the fruit of the Spirit, the attitude of Christ. The way of Christ is the way of Life, and thus we are to pursue the things that lead to life - holy living, confession when we sin, kindness and gentleness, hospitality, extravagant giving, treating others with respect and dignity; in short, loving God and loving our neighbor, or behaving justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

All too often, however, the Church takes these concepts and turns them into legalism. What begins as a proper discipleship question - for instance, is it appropriate for a follower of Christ to consume alcoholic beverages when these same beverages are the downfall and destruction of so many - turns into Law: Christians shouldn't drink beer. Or, is it appropriate for Christians to listen to rock music, when the culture of rock music is destructive and rebellious - turns into Law: Any music with a backbeat is necessarily satanic in origin. And soon, rather than pursuing righteousness, we're all back to living under the Law, building hedges and hiding from perceived sinfulness rather than pursuing Christ-likeness in our love of God and neighbor.

So I don't want the question about the Super Bowl to turn into a question of Law: should we pronounce it a sin to watch the Super Bowl in Church - but instead to frame it as a question of discipleship, a question of Christian ethic:

A) If we are called to pursue righteousness in all areas of life; and
B) If we are called to think on whatever is good, right, holy, etc.; and
C) If we are called to flee the evil desires of youth; and
D) If the greater culture surrounding the Super Bowl is one that leads to death, insomuch as it:
1) Promotes the image that women are objects to be enjoyed by virile young men
2) Is a bastion of wasteful spending when people around the world are starving to death
3) Promotes a culture of drinking, partying, spending, consuming, violence, gambling, etc.

Then. . .

E) Is it in the best interest of followers of Christ to spend the better part of an afternoon supporting this event? (One could also point out that it's a Sunday afternoon - iow, a Sabbath day. . .)

And even more so,

F) Is it harmful for the Church, the Body of Christ, to give approval to this event by publicly showing it and inviting the community in to watch it together?

And, finally,

G) If we sit with the young men and women of our community to share in this event together, in what ways are we forming their spirituality for good or bad? Are we causing our youth to stumble by essentially saying, "It's ok if it's sexualized and violent and if it is a massive waste of money that could be better spent on Kingdom work, just so long as it's entertaining, or if it gets your friends in the door"?

So the answer to the quesiont ought not to be "It's a sin to watch the Super Bowl." That's legalism at its finest. But could it be said "of the many options available to us, engaging in this activity is probably not the wisest choice for those who seek to honor Christ with their lives?"

And, just so you know, if our church decides to hold a Super Bowl party next year, I'm not going to go all judgmental on them. I'll probably show up and enjoy some pizza and soda and carrots and fellowship. I'm not trying to make any command decisions via this blog. Just trying to have a healthy conversation.

Two final thoughts:

- As was pointed out in the comments below, we had a group of young ladies take the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday to travel to Seattle and hand out sandwiches to homeless people there. They chose to minister, to be counter-cultural and ignore the game in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe we could learn something from them.

- Erin asked the question about going to the beach - Essentially, there's lots of girls in bikinis at the beach, so if we're going to avoid the Super Bowl, shouldn't we also avoid the beach? The pool? The world?

I'd respond that those are different issues. The commercials shown during the game made it obvious that flesh and sexuality went hand in hand. Wearing swimsuits at the beach is a different matter. Yes, some are there on the hunt, but others are there because they want a tan. There are a lot of different reasons for going to the beach, and most are good. To get some sunshine, to swim in the ocean, to enjoy being with friends, to enjoy the beauty of creation, to play frisbee or nerf football in the waves, to surf, to get out and have fun. One could make the argument that going to the beach has much to offer the follower of Christ - to rejoice in the wonders of this planet, to have long , uninterrupted conversations with friends, to clear the mind, to find health in all the sunshine and clean air, to minister to others we may run into, to relax, to get exercise.

Yes, I know for some it's a struggle to keep their mind in appropriate places when surrounded by young men and women in various states of undress, but that undress is natural in the location. You wear a swimsuit to the beach; it goes with the territory, and it isn't necessarily intended to be sexual. But I would argue it's not the same with something like the Super Bowl. Whereas the beach can be a positive experience but also has at its core the potential to be, shall we say, distracting?, I'm not so sure that there are many positives left about the Super Bowl. Does the good that can happen there outweigh all the harm it can and does do? I'm beginning to think the answer is no.

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