Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Playing hooky

This is a sequel to a post I did several years ago:

As the Superbowl approaches, some pastors are decrying Christians who skip church to watch the Superbowl. A few quick observations:

i) i agree that many Americans have skewed priorities when it comes to sports. (And not just Americans. The same holds true for Europe, the UK, and Latin America.)

That said, unless you think professional sports is sinful, a prudent pastor should pick his battles. No point attacking something that's popular unless it's sinful. That's a lost cause. 

In cases like that, it's best to take advantage of the situation.

ii) At the risk of stepping on some toes, most church services are eminently forgettable. How many church services in your experience ever made an indelible impression? If you attended one less church service per year, what difference would that make? Would you remember the service if you hadn't played hooky that Sunday? 

iii) Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that watching football is more important than attending church. Mind you, that depends on the kind of church you attend. There are situations where you'd get more from reading a good Bible commentary. 

iv) Someone might object that this isn't a fair way to assess church attendance. The value of church attendance is cumulative and fairly subliminal. A form of spiritual maintenance. A regiment or discipline which helps to keep you from drifting. 

If that's the argument, I agree. But by the same token, skipping one service has negligible effect. 

v) A better question is what we do in our spare time generally. It's not enough just to complain about how many churchgoers fritter away their leisure time on trivia. They need advice on how to make better use of their free time. 


  1. Of course, if Roman Catholics miss Mass on a Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, that's a mortal sin. Of course, Sunday Mass may be enjoyed on a Saturday night. There are no lengths to which Rome will go, to bend over backwards to indulge "the faithful" in their daily lives and activities:


    Sacramental absolution is not to be denied to those who, repentant after having gravely sinned against conjugal chastity, demonstrate the desire to strive to abstain from sinning again, notwithstanding relapses. In accordance with the approved doctrine and practice followed by the holy Doctors and confessors with regard to habitual penitents, the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust either in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent, by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct....

    13. Special difficulties are presented by cases of cooperation in the sin of a spouse who voluntarily renders the unitive act infecund. In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish cooperation in the proper sense, from violence or unjust imposition on the part of one of the spouses, which the other spouse in fact cannot resist.46, 561).] This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:

    when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;
    when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
    when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).

  2. An intriguing post, but only one problem: slippery slopes aside, if I were to adopt that mindset, I think I would have no problem not stopping with the Superbowl and excusing myself for missing church for any event I found interesting. Playoffs, World Series, World Cup, March Madness - excuses abound. If missing one service has a negligible spiritiual effect, how many can one miss safely? I can think fo a million excuses for missing church, and I msuspect I'm not alone.

    1. That actually pretty much summarizes the problem with an avalanche. We know that no one snowflake can cause an avalanche--it needs a critical mass of it. Piling two or three flakes together and you're safe, but what's the exact number needed to cause the avalanche?

      In the same way, skipping a service here and there is relatively harmless, but everyone agrees that skipping enough of them is almost certainly an indication of something else going wrong spiritually. What's the exact number? It's difficult to pin down--indeed, I would argue that it shouldn't be pinned down to a specific number.

      Personally, I wouldn't skip a service for a football game (hockey, on the other hand....) :-P

      If that's the only service someone else is missing and they show no indications of other issues in their life, I wouldn't make a big deal out of it myself.

    2. For somebody else, maybe. We Lutherans are nonsabbatarians, but any reading of Luther's Large Catechism or how he actually spent his Sundays would give a Scots Presbyterian a run for his money. Is it we who have become rather antinomian, or they who have become pharisaical?

  3. Your fifth point is important. Furthermore, it is also insufficient to merely identify possible (good) alternative uses of time. Many of the activities we hear people should be doing require infrastructure, community, training or other resources that are often difficult for any one individual or family to obtain.

    As to church, I have been to many services where both the preaching and music were nothing short of abysmal--to the point of frustration--and where fellowship afterward was nonexistent. In those cases I have would have been better off listening to a sermon and singing songs at home.

    1. Perhaps you would, but it would not have been fulfilling the function of actually going to church, since we go to meet together and mutually encourage one another as we see the day approaching viz. Hebrews 10.

    2. I am not suggesting otherwise.

    3. @MS: you described my church situation for about the last 20 years; let's also include the wink & nod by pastors who state that thy'll preach less that day in order to not interfere with attendance at the sporting event du jjour.
      @TK: if that actually happened, who would want to miss a single service?

    4. I think that does actually happen, albeit imperfectly, at least in the churches I have been to.

  4. Heart motivation is ultimately the real issue here, I think.

    Certainly lots of local churches are dead spiritually, and faithful attendance in such situations is most likely a source of discouragement to the few poor starving sheep amongst the goat herd.

    On the other hand when a local fellowship is functioning Biblically overall, it's as close to heaven on earth as it gets this side of the eschaton.

    "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace."