League of Denial and the Sixth Commandment: Can Reformed Christians Watch, Play, or Otherwise Enjoy Football?

Thou shalt not kill.
Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17

Man is such a paradox. He sins and is lawless. Yet he is a legalist at heart. Show me where “it is written!” If I have done what is written, well. If it is not written, I am free. Jesus addresses this tendency in the Sermon on the Mount with his repeated contrasts of “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you.”

Reformed catechisms and theologians have been careful to expound the Ten Commandments with this sinful proclivity in view. The sixth commandment, as do all the others, says much more than the four English words say. Question 69 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?” Answer: “The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” The last three words are where battles could be fought: what exactly qualifies as “tending toward” death? Again, because we are legalists, we want to know exactly how dangerous something has to be before it is considered something “tending” toward death.”

As might be expected, question and answer 136 of the Westminster Larger Catechism gives a fuller answer:

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

According to the Westminster, the command forbidding murder also forbids any kind of physical harm that justice does not demand (i.e. parents are still required to discipline their children and civil authority is still required to punish evil).

Questions 105 through 107 of the Heidelberg Catechism are in substantial agreement with this:

105 Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?
A. I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor; not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds; and I am not to be party to this in others;  rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.  I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.  Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

106 Q. Does this commandment refer only to killing?
A. By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness.  In God’s sight all such are murder.

107 Q. Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?
A. No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves,  to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them,  to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.

Reformed theologians echo the thought.

Predating both of the Catechisms above, Luther summarized man’s duty toward this commandments as: We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

When John Calvin turns his attention to explain this commandment in his Institutes of Christian Religion, he writes, “The purpose of this commandment is: the Lord has bound mankind together by a certain unity; hence each man ought to concern himself with the safety of all. To sum up, then, all violence injury and any harmful thing at all that may injure our neighbor’s body are forbidden to us.” (2.8.39)

The Reformers- at least two of the greatest- and Reformed catechisms- at least the three most well-known- interpret the sixth commandment in a Christ-like manner. The command prohibiting murder also forbids all physical harm and enjoins the protection of life.

With this understanding of the sixth commandment, how can any confessing Reformed Christian play, watch, or otherwise enjoy the game of football? Whether you are a Presbyterian who uses Westminster; or a Reformed who uses Heidelberg; or claim the term Lutheran or Calvinist; you are not being faithful to what you say you believe if you are investing time in football.

The game of football does physical harm to its participants. This element cannot be removed from the game. Furthermore, through the work of those doctors and scientists described in League of Denial, it is becoming clear that football literally kills it participants.

But we are legalists at heart. Football players do not get injured on every play. Not every football player will develop brain damage and die abandoned, penniless, and insane. Somewhere in the “tendeth thereunto” we can find all the allowance we need to enjoy watching men commit physical violence toward one another.

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Otto Weber and John Calvin on Roman Hubris (and me on Evangelical Insolence)

According to the Roman Catholic view, Jesus is the Lord in the Church and through the Church, but not over the Church in the sense that he alone defines the word of the Church through the apostolic witness and makes this word secondary to that witness.

Otto Weber, Foundation of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 40

It is easy to simplify things and state that all the differences between Rome and Christianity come down to authority. Nevertheless, all differences must at the very least start there. Until this issue is resolved, there can be no meaningful rapprochement with Rome.  Rome says that what the Church says about the Apostolic witness is more important than the witness itself. Jesus may help and guide the Church in her dogmatic decrees, but her decrees always take precedence over whatever Jesus or the apostles have decreed.

This should not be taken as an assertion that Protestants have it all together. We may have a better creed, but for many it is little more than that: “I believe,” but not “I do.” Sola Scriptura and Regula Fidei are nice slogans to sling around, but they have little bearing on how we relate to God, society, or one another. The arrogance of Roman autonomy is little better than Evangelical insolence.

 …in mysteries of the faith common sense is not our adviser, but with quiet teachableness and the spirit of gentleness (which James commends) we receive the doctrine given from heaven.

John Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.25

Here is something marvelous

The boundless essence of the Word

was united with human nature into one person,

yet we have no idea of any imprisonment.

The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven,

yet without abandoning heaven;

was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb,

to live on the earth,

and hang upon the cross,

yet always filled the world as from the beginning.

John Calvin, Institutes 2.13.4

John Calvin on The Trinity and Forgiveness

Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and, therefore, they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits and the sanctification of the Spirit.

Institutes, 4.1.21

John Calvin: The Church has been as long as time

…we must understand, that at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass he always sanctifies some vessels to honor, that no age may be left without experience of his mercy.

Institutes, 4.1.17

John Calvin on The Motive of Many a Church hopper

Still, however even the good are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men.

(Institutes, 4.1.16)

John Calvin on Creation and the Problem of Evolution

Although we are convinced that our wit is so weak that it is pitiful, we will not give up the foolish opinion that we are wise. But when we are brought before God we are driven to know that we are nothing and that we must not deceive ourselves by our own self-worth. See how Job sets God before us here. So we would know the wisdom that is in him alone he also sets the creation of the world before our eyes. Are men so sharp-witted as to comprehend all God’s secrets? To know how he disposes the order of nature and how he has, as it were, weighed the winds and waters and other things? It is true, as I have said, that philosophers have well-conceived the reason of things that are seen in this world. But when men come to the creation, it is so wonderful a thing that they must be brought low and reverence the infinite wisdom of God and confess themselves unable to comprehend it.

John Calvin, First Sermon on Job 28:10-28

 

While obviously not addressing it, Calvin here lays his finger on the greatest problem of all evolutionary interpretations of Genesis 1-2. The normal, traditional, historical, interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (and passages like Ex. 20:9-11; Job 38; Ps. 33:6,9; 148; Is. 45:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11) is that God made all things in moments of time over the course of six 24-hour days. The more one studies the universe and all that is in it, the more one is amazed at such an assertion; and the more one is utterly confounded at such a God. Which is precisely the point of Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

This is the point that Calvin makes in commenting on Job 28, and it is the point that God himself makes in Job 38. Special creation, literal interpretation, Creation science, young-earth interpretation- whatever term you wish to use- has an exalted view of God for a foundation. Such a method of interpretation lifts man’s eyes up to God only to result in man being brought low in worshipful wonder.

Theistic evolution, whether known as day-age, analogical days, literary framework, gap theory, all do just the opposite. They bring God down to man and tell him, “See, he works just like us. He just makes bigger stuff.”

We are told that Genesis 1-2 is not meant to teach ­how God created the universe, but only that he did. Yeah, because without Genesis 1-2 we would have absolutely NO idea where the world came from.

1Chronicles 16:26  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Nehemiah 9:6  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Job 38:4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Psalm 8:3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

Psalm 89:11-12  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.  12  The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.

Psalm 96:5  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Psalm 102:25  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Psalm 104:24  O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 115:15  May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8  Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3  May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 136:3-9  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;  4  to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 146:5-6  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

Pro 3:19  The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;

Isaiah 37:16  “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Isaiah 40:26  Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Isaiah 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 42:5  Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:

Isaiah 44:24  Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Jeremiah 10:12  It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 32:17  ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Jeremiah 51:15  “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Zechariah 12:1  The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:

Acts 4:24  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,

Acts 14:15  “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,

Ephesians 3:9  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Colossians 1:16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

Hebrews 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Revelation 10:6  and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,

Revelation 14:7  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Yes, obviously without Genesis 1-2 we would certainly be in the dark about where all things came. No, I think that Genesis 1-2 might want to teach us a little more than the simple fact that God created all things.

Then we are told that such “non-literal” interpretations do believe in a wondrous God. We are told that they look at the billions of years such an evolutionary process took and can be amazed at such wonderful care and patient providence of a God so meticulously guiding processes of change.

So we are at a theological impasse. I believe in a big powerful God who created all things in mere moments with just the word of his mouth. You believe in a wonderfully meticulous artisan God who guides all things. Who is to say which of us has a “better” view of God?

But it is a false dichotomy. Everything they believe about God, I do too: except for the billions of years.

Because “My help comes from the LORD, who patiently guided billions of millennia of death and mutation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

In some things there is great joy in being a dimwit.

John Calvin on Our Great Savior

Moreover, it was especially necessary for this cause also that he who was to be our Redeemer should be truly God and man.

It was his to swallow up death:
who but Life could do so?

It was his to conquer sin:
who could do so save Righteousness itself?

It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world:
who could do so but the mighty power superior to both?

But who possesses life and righteousness,
and the dominion and government of heaven,
but God alone?

Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us,
became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son.

(Institutes, II.12.2)