By Bob Hiller –
Well, it has finally arrived, a college football playoff! By the time you read this blog, the first round of the playoffs will be over and the championship match-up is set (here’s to hoping its Oregon and Alabama). As you may or may not know, this is the first year that NCAA Division I football has had a playoff. In the past it was writers, coaches, and a computer that decided who would play for the championship. After enough complaining (and realizing just how lucrative this really is going to be) the NCAA has come to its senses and put in a four team playoff so that the champion can be decided on the field. Though some may argue (and I among them) that an eight team playoff would be ideal, this is a great step in the right direction.
But, instead of congratulating the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) on their great achievement this past week, let me take this opportunity to remind you all that the NCAA is among the most corrupt, money-hungry, and abusive institutions in the United States. As a non-profit association, they pull in roughly $12 billion annually, the majority of which comes from men’s football and basketball (March Madness alone will make roughly $800 million). Though it is the athletes and their performance on the field that drives most of the interest of this multi-billion dollar industry, the NCAA has regulations in place that prevent the athletes themselves from receiving a dime of it.
Now, I know what you are thinking, “So what? They get a free education! They are given something for free that many families sacrifice their lives to give their children. These student-athletes receive unheard of benefits that some people only dream of. They get to play on one of the biggest stages in the world and are provided with the means of making a life for themselves when it is all said and done. That is more than enough, isn’t it? Why should they expect more?”
I agree, they shouldn’t expect more. However, they should expect at least what they were promised: an education! According to the documentary, Schooled: The Price of College Sports, of all the athletes whoplay football and basketball in college, 98.5% will not play professional sports. That means that they will need to find work elsewhere. Since colleges and universities pride themselves on educating their student-athletes, you would think that they set a priority on doing just that, educating so that these athletes get jobs after school. The reality is that winning and money matter more to the schools than the education of these student-athletes. Instead of actually teaching these young men, they provide cotton-candy classes which offer little in terms of education, but keep the players eligible. The athletes are used by the universities for their on-the-field abilities, are given no substantial education, and graduate without the resources necessary to either get or sustain a job. They are promised an education first, according to the NCAA, but receive nothing of the sort.
I worry that the church has begun to look like the NCAA. The similarities between how the NCAA and the church fulfill their promises is unnerving to me. The NCAA offers a free education to its athletes, but gives nothing of the sort. The church offers Christ’s free salvation, but gives nothing of the sort. The church goes out and “recruits” sinners by promising Christ. Jesus forgives you, now come to our church and Jesus will change you! So, sinners come to church. They come to receive Jesus, to hear about blood shed for them, and to be absolved. But, when they arrive they are only given lectures on the expectations in the Christian life. Sure, these sinners, after a good level of stewardship training, bring in some money and help build new stadiums, but then they are told to be better, do more. The free Christ they were promised is missing. He’s been replaced by advice for practical, moral living. Instead of hearing of Christ, people are told to overcome their sins, put away old demons, and live in victory. They are told to listen to the Holy Spirit inside of themselves for wisdom and guidance. They are told to perform and God will be pleased. They are turned away from Jesus and back in on themselves. Grace gets you in, but now it’s up to you to become more like Jesus. The Jesus that was used to recruit them is taken away, along with all hope for the (eternal) future.
For many, the church has become nothing but the NCAA: high demands, low rewards, absurd regulations, and empty promises. But, hey, at least the praise band is entertaining.
Sadly, there is little hope of seeing any change in the NCAA. The money is going to continue to pour into college athletics even though so many are fighting for change. Unfortunately, the student-athletes are bound to that system. However, it is not so for you with your church! If your church refuses to give you Christ, you need to find a new church. You may have to fight through hell to find a church that gets out of Christ’s way, but that is fight worth entering.
From what I understand, though they are not that easy to find anymore, there are still churches out there that preach Christ crucified for you. There are still churches that are relentless in putting Christ into your ears. There has to be, for Christ promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against His church. Regardless of how many churches have tried to replace Jesus with something else, Jesus is still at work for you. He is still at work in churches that refuse to preach themselves, but their Lord. They sing of a God who shed His blood and was crucified in your place so that you are now, where you sit, reconciled to God. Christ is still at work through His Word condemning you in your sins and then raising you with himself, to where there is no condemnation left for you. Far from turning you in on yourself, the Spirit is still at work delivering Christ to you in the sacrament of the altar, fixing your eyes on Jesus as His body and blood are given to you in bread and wine. God is at work for you and He promises you a glorious future in His presence. And even if there are churches that try to keep Christ from you, His promise still stands for you.