Was the NFL the Gateway Drug for Playboy?

I wonder when neurological scientists will study the effects on the brain of watching football on the Lord’s Day. Until then, these conclusions look shaky (even a tad reductionist along materialist lines — but, hey, it’s our reductionism):

We now see the effects of having it “all out there now.” We can see how the constant exposure to pornography is not just eating away at our souls but is quite literally highjacking our brains.

In 2011, Struthers wrote an article for Christian Research Journal that explains the effects of porn on the male brain.

“Because the human brain is the biological anchor of our psychological experience, it is helpful to understand how it operates,” he wrote. “Knowing how it is wired together and where it is sensitive can help us understand why pornography affects people the way it does.”

Here’s a simplified explanation: Sexually explicit material triggers mirror neurons in the brain. These neurons, which are involved with the process for how to mimic a behavior, contain a motor system that correlates to the planning out of a behavior. In the case of pornography, this mirror neuron system triggers the arousal, which leads to sexual tension and a need for an outlet.

“The unfortunate reality is that when he acts out (often by masturbating), this leads to hormonal and neurological consequences, which are designed to bind him to the object he is focusing on,” Struthers wrote. “In God’s plan, this would be his wife, but for many men it is an image on a screen. Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.” (For more on this see “9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain.”)

Imagine if neurological scientists tried to measure lust in the heart. And what about those long lasting effects of images of football players kneeling during the National Anthem on a Christian’s loyalty to the God-ordained powers?

The full story has yet to be told.

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When You Think Billy Graham You don’t Think Lent

But such are the fortunes of evangelicalism that the people running the magazine that Billy Graham (trans-denominational) helped to found with Carl Henry (Baptist), and J. Howard Pew (anti-Communist Presbyterian) are fully comfortable with Anglicanism, and so have posted another article recommending Lent. In this case, telling points mount to show how poorly Lent fits with Christian piety:

heightened devotion is fruitful for a season, but cannot be sustained indefinitely. The Christian calendar offers a sustainable rhythm of which Lent is a part, and the fasting of Lent gives way to the feasting of Easter. Fasting and feasting are interconnected disciplines that teach us to love the King and his coming kingdom. In Lent, we learn to confess our sins, practice self-denial, and take on the humility of Christ. In Easter, we learn to rejoice, exult, and feast in Christ’s victory. As historian William Harmless explains, “In these two liturgical seasons Christians drank in, by turns, the ‘not yet’ and ‘already’ of New Testament eschatology.”

Repentance is fruitful for only part of the year? Moderation is something to observe but only for a time? Imagine if American Christians were moderate and humble the entire year. They wouldn’t binge or purge on American greatness or heinousness depending on which of their favorite presidential candidates was in the White House. Indeed, encouraging the idea that restraint and repentance are only for a while and not for all of life nurtures antinomianism: “I wouldn’t do this during Lent, but the other 325 days I will.”

If Lent is not supposed to lead to those thoughts (which I assume it’s not), then why not make Lenten practices year round? Because repentance and moderation can’t be “sustained indefinitely”? So people practicing Lent are Snowflake Christians? They don’t have the stomach for life-long dying to sin and living to Christ?

Aaron Damiani concedes that “Many Christians choose to keep or modify their Lenten disciplines for the rest of the year, as they have established helpful routines.” So now you have churches divided between full-time Lenten Christians, and ones who only observe Lent in late Winter and early Spring? Christians who truly sanctified and some who aren’t? Not only does this allow a culture of spiritual superiority to gain traction, but it also violates the rules of the liturgical calendar. Who sings Lenten hymns during Advent (oh, the hay that evangelicals make of tradition)?

Then there is the argument that Lent and the church calendar evoke the Jewish liturgical calendar (have you heard that Jesus fulfilled all of the law?):

It’s important to remember that the Christian liturgical calendar developed in part out of the rhythms of Jewish practice. The Old Testament indicates seasons of both heightened devotion and celebration, including Levitically led “sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31) and “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zech. 8:19). Fasting and feasting were part of the “architecture of time,” in which Jesus participated as an observant Jew.

So what does Father Damiani do with Apostle Paul:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)

Here‘s what Calvin did:

The reason why he frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner, absent. For he contrasts shadows with revelation, and absence with manifestation. Those, therefore, who still adhere to those shadows, act like one who should judge of a man’s appearance from his shadow, while in the mean time he had himself personally before his eyes. For Christ is now manifested to us, and hence we enjoy him as being present. The body, says he, is of Christ, that is, IN Christ. For the substance of those things which the ceremonies anciently prefigured is now presented before our eyes in Christ, inasmuch as he contains in himself everything that they marked out as future. Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of his excellence, and makes him in a manner void.

In other words, Lenten Christians are still holding on to a piety that clings to outward and physical attributes of unseen realities (heard of faith vs. sight?). They are incomplete Christians. They demand outward expressions of spiritual realities. They forget that Paul also wrote:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

Oh by the way, Paul’s contrast between the visible and invisible, between the external and internal, is why the Confession of faith contrasts Old Testament and New Testament worship this way:

Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (7.6)

The comparison of Lent to the Old Testament is epic fail.

But remember what Calvin went on to say about Colossians 2. The rejection of the church calendar and other external ways of commemorating salvation doesn’t mean that Protestants throw out the sacraments:

Should any one ask, “What view, then, is to be taken of our sacraments? Do they not also represent Christ to us as absent?” I answer, that they differ widely from the ancient ceremonies. For as painters do not in the first draught bring out a likeness in vivid colors, and (eikonikos) expressively, but in the first instance draw rude and obscure lines with charcoal, so the representation of Christ under the law was unpolished, and was, as it were, a first sketch, but in our sacraments it is seen drawn out to the life. Paul, however, had something farther in view, for he contrasts the bare aspect of the shadow with the solidity of the body, and admonishes them, that it is the part of a madman to take hold of empty shadows, when it is in his power to handle the solid substance. Farther, while our sacraments represent Christ as absent as to view and distance of place, it is in such a manner as to testify that he has been once manifested, and they now also present him to us to be enjoyed. They are not, therefore, bare shadows, but on the contrary symbols of Christ’s presence, for they contain that Yea and Amen of all the promises of God, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) which has been once manifested to us in Christ.

I understand the appeal of Lent over the Anxious Bench. The followers of Billy Graham needed to graduate to something more meaningful, something more historical. How about the Reformation? How about the Bible? It replaces the altar call with the Lord’s Supper and gives us fifty-two Easters a year, fifty-two feast days with six days every week to prepare.

How Professional Sports Profanes the Lord’s Day

And why don’t more serious Christians, the kind who worry about what their vote says about theeeehhhhhhmmmmmm, worry about profaning a holy day?

Remember that Protestants and Roman Catholics technically agree about the Lord’s Day even though they number the commandment differently (four and three respectively). Boniface recently wrote:

One final thing: even though the disappearance of a real catechesis about the Lord’s Day is a post-Conciliar phenomenon (perhaps with the exception of St. John Paul II’s Dies Domini), do not be tempted to think that flaunting the prohibitions against work on the Lord’s Day is something modern. As far back in history as one can find homilies, one can find examples of preaching against servile labor on Sundays. Even in the “golden age” of the 13th century, surviving homiletics reveal that working on Sundays and Holy Days was endemic; several chapters in the Fioretti of St. Francis are devoted to describing the misfortunes of peasants who worked on Holy Days. It is certainly not a post-Vatican II novelty. So please, no comments about how in the “old days” no Catholic would have ever dared work on Sunday.

We also should remember, in the Middle Ages there were many more days that were considered Holy Days where work was prohibited – so many so that many common folk complained about not having enough time to finish their work. I cannot cite the source, but I remember reading in one scholarly work on medieval calendars that in some places as many as 100 days out of the year were nominally supposed to be work-free. This was, of course, excessive, and by the 13th century many of these days were no longer being observed. This cluster happened as a result of the accumulation of universal and regional festal days over the centuries; it was not until after Lateran IV and the reforms of the late Middle Ages that the status of many of these feasts changed to make their observance more manageable.

Why then do the devout turn the other way when rooting for members of their tribe between the white lines? Here’s a piece on the Mets’ Rene Rivera that might tighten Boniface’s jaws:

Our own natural families grow bigger when we are part of the Catholic Church. Our fellow Catholics may not be related to us by blood, but they are related to us spiritually. That connection is one of the things that makes walking into a church so reassuring and peaceful.

Even more than that, though, is the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Every Catholic parish has Jesus in the tabernacle, so that means you can feel comfortable spending all the time in the world there. If you’re praying in a Catholic parish, you’re not alone. Jesus is always there, and so is God the Father and Holy Spirit. Mary and the angels and saints are there, too.

Home plate is where I like to be for baseball, home with my family is where I like to be even more, and being “at home” in church is the very best place anyone can possibly be.

But what about Protestants (and the New Calvinists who root root root for them)? (Thanks to our southern correspondent) the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist seems to know (as does his pastor father) that he shouldn’t play on Sunday but that doesn’t stop him (or the Gospel Allies from rooting):

Ben and Julianna are both committed to the local church, even if finding a workable process took a few years to sort out, Yawn said.

“Ben is a hardcore local church guy,” Yawn says. “He cares about what’s happening at the local church level.”

Part of that rootedness comes from growing up in Eureka, where, after 28 years, his dad is still the pastor.

“We felt like Ben’s spiritual life was more important than his sports life,” his father says. “We wanted him to understand the importance of the local church. We didn’t let him play on teams that played on Sundays. . . . Nothing is more important than the Lord. I don’t think children make that connection if the parents don’t have that commitment.”

So Zobrist plays on Sunday, why? Even Sandy Koufax tried to observe the high holy days of Judaism much to Walter Sobchak‘s approval. Why can’t professing Christian athletes and their professing fans do the same?

The Unsanctity!

At this point, surprise and indignation are no longer in order since the disregard for the Lord’s Day among New Calvinists is so ho-hum. Yet, sometimes the ordinary is brazen in its ordinariness. Consider this paid advertisement for the Professional Golfers Association at the Allies website:

There’s a tight-knit Christian community on the PGA TOUR, including a Tuesday night fellowship that includes Bible study and worship. Tournaments run Thursday to Sunday, so it’s often hard for players to attend church on Sunday. This is their form of Christian community away from church.

No wrestling with the fourth of the Ten Commandments? Just a shrug? It’s hard. Ever heard of Eric Liddell? Sometimes, Christian athletes really do make sacrifices for their religious obligations.

Apparently, a golfer learns enough about grace on the links so he doesn’t need to comply with the demands of God’s law:

Ben Crane, one of the TOUR’s Christian players, summed this up perfectly a few years ago. He was having a tough year on the course. One of his friends asked how he was doing in the midst of his struggles. He replied:

I think he expected me to say I was really struggling because the golf wasn’t all that good. I just said, “You know, I’m doing great, because the rough season of golf has brought me closer to God. Golf was becoming too important to me. . . . These last few weeks I’ve just said, you know what, golf is not everything.”

Two years ago, Crane was injured and thought he may have to retire from the game, even though he was only 38 and keeps himself in good health. He surprisingly won a tournament a few months later.

“I had to finally become okay with golf not being in the picture,” he said, reflecting on how to find an identity apart from golf. But the gospel got him to the place where he could pray, “Lord, if it’s not golf, I will love you. But if it is, that would be really fun.” Golf was no longer his idol; he could enjoy it for what it is—a gift of grace.

I believe the person who conducted this interview attends a Presbyterian church where the Shorter and Larger Catechisms are supposed to be taught and followed. So is the lesson here that New Calvinists really are a different kind of Protestant?

Sunday School as Open Forum?

Scott, Aimee and (here I tread in rake territory) Todd try to sort out the differences between Sunday school teaching and authoritative church instruction. I tend to sympathize with the point made (I hear) by Carl and Aimee that women can do whatever non-ordained men do (except of course when it comes to reproduction). And I think Scott’s points about the flimsy origins of Sunday school as a church institution should make all Christians re-think the mechanisms by which churches instruct the faithful. Need I remind folks of the fun that even H. L. Mencken had at Sunday school (even though the Christian religion didn’t really take hold):

The one thing I really remember about that Sunday-school is the agreeable heartiness of the singing. It is, of course, the thing that all children enjoy most in Sunday-schools, for there they are urged to whoop their loudest in praise of God, and that license is an immense relief from the shushing they are always hearing at home. . . .

My favorite then, as now, was “Are You Ready for the Judgment Day?” — a gay and even rollicking tune with a saving hint of brimstone in the words. . . . We grouped it, in fact, with such dolce but unexhilarating things as “In the Sweet By-and-By” and “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” – pretty stuff, to be sure, but sadly lacking in bite and zowie. The runner up for “Are You Ready?” was “I Went Down the Rock to Hide My Face,” another hymn with a very lively swing to it, and after “the Rock” come “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” “Throw Out the Lifeline,” “At the Cross,” “Draw Me Nearer, Nearer, Nearer, Blessed Lord,” “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Where Shall We Spend in Eternity?” . . . and “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Revive Us Again.” . . . It was not until I transferred to another Sunday-school that I came to know such lugubrious horrors as “There Is A Fountain Filled with Blood.” The Methodists avoided everything of that kind. They surely did not neglect Hell in their preaching, but when they lifted up their voices in song they liked to pretend that they were booked to escape it. (Happy Days, 178-79)

Not sure Sunday school is the best method of delivery for passing on the faith.

The problem however goes beyond the qualifications posed. What session wants to deal with questions and complaints that arise from non-ordained teachers providing instruction on subjects revealed in Holy Writ? It’s one thing for a woman or non-ordained man to teach math, plumbing, banking or baking. But what about a Christian view of math, plumbing, banking, or baking? Doesn’t the Christian character of the instruction indicate some kind of normative (hence authoritative) instruction? I mean, if I offer a Christian view of history, should Christians not feel a certain pull in the direction of considering this is THE way believers should think about history? Or are Christian views of subjects simply optional for Christians (that’s accepting the premises of w-w thinking).

How much more is instruction seemingly normative if a woman or non-ordained man is teaching the Bible or confession related material? Do such teachers come with a disclaimer — what you are about to hear is just one person’s opinion? If advertised that way, what church members would come (if not for having to find a place to wait while children are in Sunday school)? And if Sunday school is just a place for Christians to opine, is that a good way to prepare for worship (if services follow Sunday school)? Can I really get another member’s objectionable opinions out of my head simply because the pastor invokes God’s presence?

So the issue isn’t one of office, ordination, or even the history of Sunday school as an institution. The issue is the content of the instruction. If that content includes material that comes from the church’s standards — Bible and confession — then the setting involves some version of binding address. At that point, a session will likely want the teaching to reflect the norms of the communion. And at that point we are in the ballpark of having officers who have been vetted and approved for teaching up front behind the podium for — wait for it — Sunday school.

Among the Reasons Not to Go to Together for the Gospel

These stand out:

Don’t lollygag when it’s time to eat. 8,000 people are all trying to eat at the same time. Be decisive. Pick a place and go. You snooze, you lose. May his grace be with you.

Herds to eat.

Don’t go to the bathroom at the Yum Center. You are going to want to go in your hotel or restaurant. Again, 8,000 people in one building. May his grace be with you.

Herds to pee.

Don’t skip the singing. Don’t be that guy. If you are prone to skipping the singing for the sermons, reconfigure your theology of worship and preaching.

Herd piety.

The Lord’s Day is a wonderful practice.

When Easter Wasn’t

Now that Christians are polishing off the chocolate cross remains and stripping lilies arrangements of their liturgical ribbons for weekday household decor, they may want to remember how recent the Protestant observance of Easter is. Eric Leigh Schmidt’s Consumer Rites helps:

Easter, even more than Christmas, remained under a Puritan and evangelical cloud in the antebellum United States. Though various denominations preserved the holiday — most prominently Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians — their celebrations were, until the middle of the century, local, parochial, and disparate. The festival only became a nearly ubiquitous cultural event in the decades after 1860 as low-church Protestant resistance or indifference gave way to approbation and as Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and new-immigrant observances became ever more prominent. Middle-class Victorians, as fascinated as ever with the romantic recovery of fading holiday traditions and the cultivation of new home-centered festivities, discovered lush possibilities in this spring rite. . . .

In an article on Easter published in 1863, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine suggested the growing embrace of the feast in American culture. “It is one of the obvious marks of our American religion,” the article related, “that we are noticing more habitually and affectionately the ancient days and seasons of the Christian Church.” Easter, following Christmas’s rising popularity, showed “unmistakable signs that it is fast gaining upon the religious affection and public regard of our people.” “We have carefully noted the gradual increase of observance of the day,” the journal continued, “and can remember when it was a somewhat memorable thing for a minister, not Catholic or Episcopal, to preach an Easter sermon.” What the magazine found most revealing of “this new love for Easter,” however, was the increasing use of elaborate floral decorations for the festival. “Easter flowers are making their way into church of all persuasions,” the magazine applauded. “One of our chief Presbyterian churches near by decked its communion-table and pulpit with flowers for the third time this Easter season.” . . .

In lauding Easter flowers, the Harper’s piece was celebrating the expanding art of church decoration. As a liturgical movement, this art bloomed in England and the United States in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. An outgrowth of the ritualist or Catholic turn within Anglican and Episcopalian circles, the new forms of church decoration meshed with the Gothic revival in Victorian church architecture and ornament. (195, 196)

It took another thirty years for candy makers to catch up with the spirit of the times: “In the 1880s and 1890s the material forms of the modern Easter — chocolate rabbits, mass-produced eggs, greeting cards, baskets, toy chicks, and the like — settled snugly into place as fixtures of the holiday” (234)