Members of the church today face increasing pressure to participate in sports on Sunday. Often it’s simply a matter of scheduling. The powers that be schedule games on Sunday. Sometimes these schedulers are willing to accommodate those who do not participate in sports for religious reasons. Other times they are not, and then the Christian faces the temptation to break the fourth commandment in order to participate. In a day when many who carry the name of Christian play sports or allow their children to play sports on Sunday, I am happy to report about Covenant College’s decision “to forfeit the women’s tennis conference title match rather than to play on Sunday.”*
Covenant College is an agency of the Presbyterian Church in America. The decision of the college not to play on Sunday stands in contrast with other “Christian” universities in their league. In the semi-finals Covenant defeated North Carolina Wesleyan, whose coach questioned why Covenant even participated in the tournament knowing that the women would not compete for the championship.** Evidently the Wesleyan institution planned to participate in the finals had they won the semi-finals. The team that left the tournament with the championship because of Covenant’s forfeit was from Methodist University—they were also willing to participate on Sunday.
Covenant joined the USA South Conference in 2013 knowing that the league holds sporting events on Sundays. However, the South Conference accepted Covenant’s membership knowing the College’s policy of not participating in sports on Sunday. As it has done in the past, Covenant submitted the proper paperwork to request a change of date for the finals before the tournament. The USA South Conference denied the request. At the tournament the women’s team won the semi-final and qualified for the championship. Many Christian institutions would have caved in to the pressure of this situation (many already have!). Covenant withstood the temptation.
What about the women who missed the opportunity to compete for a championship? Should we feel sorry for them? The USA South Conference certainly could have been more reasonable and simply switched the date for the finals. Apparently the conference’s fall and winter championships occur on Saturdays. But the women probably joined the Covenant team knowing the policy of non-participation on Sundays and its possible repercussions. If winning tennis championships meant more to them than the Sabbath Day they could have attended other colleges. They and their parents should be thankful that they attend a college where decisions are made based on scripture. And if the women and their coaches missed out on possibly winning the conference championship because they used the day instead to attend divine worship services, hear the preaching of the word, and rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ, then there is no reason to feel sorry for them. God’s blessings, which are far richer than a tennis championship, flow to them who gather with their fellow saints for worship on the Lord’s Day (Ps. 84:4, 10).
* Covenant College’s announcement about the forfeit can be found here.
** A news report about the forfeit can be found here.
This post was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.