WE ARE RELIABLY INFORMED that this is “Super Bowl Week,” a promotional publicity-fest that is something like Advent for the USA’s greatest holy day. That this holy day falls on the first day of next week—the Lord’s Day if you are a confessional presbyterian—may have something to do with professional football’s relatively late arrival on the American sports scene. That some churches and elders who ought to know better embrace this mega-event as an appropriate occasion for church activities may indicate the diminishing regard presbyterians have for their historic standards.
By the time burly bruisers began to get paid for playing football, Saturdays were taken—already the domain of high school and college football.1 Professional football arose in the 1920s when Blue Laws prohibiting many commercial activities on Sundays were fading away. All over the country local and state governments were greenlighting Sunday contests. By 1967 TV viewers were ready for some football and the TV networks were ready for increased revenues so when 65 million people watched the first Super Bowl the die was cast. Every Super Bowl since has been played on Sunday. The NFL owns Sunday now from fall through winter. A few cranky protestants pose no threat to the new lords of the old Lord’s Day.
American churches generally accepted the ongoing relevance and application of the Ten Commandments until about the time professional sports went wild in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By then the glories of Revivalism were fading and pragmatism called evangelicals like a siren. The doctrinal underpinnings of Lord’s Day observance were largely lost on both the fundamentalist right and the progressive left. The right was running on the fumes of Calvinistic doctrine (see the early Southern Baptists). The 1925 Baptist Faith & Message reflects an almost-Westminsterian understanding of the Lord’s Day. The 2000 revision showed the loss of this understanding by the end of the 20th century. While evangelicals may have fallen prey to pragmatism, the mainline loved respectability. The old ways of honoring the Lord’s Day were just…weird. And no one wanted to be weird.
Brad Isbell | “Chariots of Hire” | February 5, 2024
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