Christianity and sport in life and in film

It’s not an uncommon phrase: football is my religion. Or any other sport for that matter. But how do Christians pass over the idolatry of the game? How do we get competitive without discrediting our competitor? Over history sport and Christianity have had mixed relations. In this post we take a quick look at the relationship between sport and Christianity and highlight some sports films on New Faith Network. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

Sport in Ancient times

In ancient times the distinction between sport and religion was not always clear. In his article ‘A Christian Perspective on Sport’ Lecturer Lincoln Harvey brings up the example of the Mesoamerican ball game. This sporting event also functioned as a sacrificial ritual. It showed the community’s epic myths. Harvey goes on to explain similar events were important during the ancient Olympics and Roman sports. “The details in each case differ, but the general point remains: sport was a ceremonial ritual bound up with false worship. The early church was right to be suspicious.”

Cover of YMCA magazine June 1919. Drawing of men running a race.

Muscular Christianity

Over the centuries the relationship between the church and sports remained conflicted. In the mid-nineteenth century a new movement became popular in the United Kingdom: Muscular Christianity. Organisations like the YMCA were founded on the principles of Muscular Christianity. It focused on discipline, self-sacrifice, patriotic duty, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism. It’s rooted in the athletic metaphors used by Paul the Apostle to describe the challenges of Christian Life. In the United States too, the movement became popular and it has remained of influence in many churches around the world to this day. 

Sport on a Sunday

Long before Muscular Christianity was introduced some changes in the relationship between the church and sports were already noticeable. The decisions of the church to allow sports to be played on Sundays have differed per community. In some parishes certain sports were allowed to be played, but only by those who attended the service. Allowing sports to be played on Sundays is still a point of discussion, though it appears that many sports clubs have become less strict with this over time. 

Christianity in sport today

But some conflicts with sports have remained the same over the centuries. Can we be competitive whilst still feeling sympathy and concern for our ‘enemies’? Do we dishonour the body when we participate in activities that carry the risk of injury? And what about the many scandals that surround (professional) sports? Drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, infidelity and the violence between (the fans of) opposing teams, to name a few. And most importantly, how do we make sure our love for the game doesn’t overshadow our love for Jesus. It’s up to us to figure out how to balance these, but we can always find joy in our faith.  

Still from 'The 5th Quarter'. Coach and American Football player praying before match.

Sports films on New Faith Network 

With sports being such a huge part of our culture (especially in America), it’s no surprise that you can find several Christian sports films on New Faith Network. They show us how sports can help us overcome hardships, like in The 5th Quarter, Restoration or The Rocket. They remind us of the importance of team work and which sacrifices we might have to make to achieve our goals. Remember the Goal is a wonderful example. The films also remind us that through working together we can find love for each other, despite our differences.

Find all our sports films here.

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