A few months ago there was discussion as to whether or not the Belfast Marathon should be moved from Monday to Sunday. Many public figures, politicians and mainstream churches publicly objected to this, on the grounds that it would cause major disruption to Sunday services. The inconvenience of holding the marathon on a Sunday seemed to be a major concern for many people.
I would like to discuss the churches response to this issue. I believe that changing the day of the marathon to a Sunday would be a mistake, although this is not based on the grounds of ‘inconvenience.’ Setting aside my personal opinion, what we need to take note of is the message this situation conveys about the Christian church in our country. If the main objection to having a sporting event held on a Sunday is that it is ‘inconvenient’ for church-goers, then we are sending out the wrong message to the community. Firstly, because this argument is based solely on the selfish grounds that church attendance will suffer and people who manage to attend a service will have a longer journey than normal. This is utterly selfish as it takes no consideration of those who are inconvenienced by the event when it is held on a Monday. Secondly, as a church if we are going to object to something should it not be based on scripture rather than our own opinions? Should the main reason for objecting to this day not be the upholding of the fourth commandment rather than “it will disrupt our day”?
My reasons for not holding the marathon on a Sunday are based on the scriptural teaching of setting the Sabbath apart as a day of worship and consecration; making it separate and different from the other days of the week. While this view may be seen as extreme, it is what I believe. For me, this is black and white issue. Of course I cannot judge those who don’t share this view, but I can scripturally disagree with them. As Christians we expect to hear arguments from unbelievers which say we cannot impose Christian vales and morals on people who don’t believe in God or the bible. This has been and will continue to be an ongoing debate. However, I believe the real danger comes from those in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum. Those who have adapted and changed the teachings of true Christianity in order to fit in with our comfortable lifestyles. Those who use their religion as the basis of their objection to the proposed change of day for the marathon, when really is their own convenience that they are fighting to preserve. It is from this same group of Christians that we hear of plans such as cancelling a Sunday service because it falls on Boxing Day or cancelling Sunday Evening Services during the summer. It is this type of Christianity that does damage to the efforts of true believers who are trying to reach out for the gospel. This is because Christianity is not being seen as a firm, steadfast faith but rather a watered-down, ever changing accessory that we can just fit into our lifestyles.
I am not against change in many areas of the church, in fact making changes can sometimes improve the work of the church. But on theological, scripturally proven doctrines and practises, we should be known as people who stand firm and voice our beliefs. If the community were to see this firm stance based not on opinions but on the bible, it may establish at very least, a respect for the gospel and at very best an understanding and an acceptance of it.
We can all think of religious faiths or even individual denominations who hold unmovable positions on certain issues. We may not agree with them but we can respect them because they are devout in what they believe. Until the Christian church (ie. the people of God, saved and living in accordance with scripture) earns the respect of unbelievers by upholding the very basics of biblical teachings, we cannot expect the Lord to work through us in reaching out in love with the gospel. Why would an unbeliever trust what we say about the gospel whenever we show that our faith is so maleable and ultimately selfish because we pick and chose the parts of Christian teaching according to what suits our lifestyle best?!
I have heard a few suggestions that encouraged churches to use the change of day for the marathon as an opportunity to reach out to the local community in practical ways such as setting up water stands for the runners. While I agree that this type of endeavour could give valuable opportunities for witnessing and serving others, I do not think it would right to undertake these on a Sunday, as these type of activities, despite being kind, are not a form of worship and rejuvenation for God’s people. There is no reason as to why churches could not do this practical type of outreach on another day of the week.
As a church we need to be fired up by the Holy Spirit. Standing up and shouting our biblical convictions, showing we are serious about our faith, unwilling to compromise on important issues. When we honour the Lord in this way, even though it may be difficult going against the popular trend, we know that the Lord will honour us.