Stop Playing So Hard?

By Bob Hiller

“You need to tell your boys to stop playing so hard!” That was what the opposing coach yelled at my son’s rugby squad last year after one of our boys, a bit too aggressively in her opinion, knocked one of their’s to the ground. “They need to take it easy!” That’s right. She yelled this at a rugby match! Rugby! I mean, in every other sport, when you are playing rough, someone will say, “Hey back off. It’s not like this is rugby!” The rugby pitch is the place where you are supposed to play rough. That is part of the beauty of the game! It is organized rough play. If they can’t play rough when they play rugby, when are these kids supposed to play rough? In soccer? (Ha! I know I made Koch smirk with that one…)

Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up (Ecc. 3:1, 3). There is a time for aggressive play, and there is a time to dial it back. We live in a society that doesn’t believe in either of these options. Instead, we fight dirty, not aggressive. We’re passive aggressive when either kindness or anger is necessary. When we are bold and courageous enough to stand for truth, someone stands on the sideline and yells, “You need to stop playing so hard! Take it easy! Be more open minded!”

To be sure, there is a time for open-minded dialogue. And of course, there is never a time when disrespect or blind hatred are okay. But there are things worth fighting for in this world, and aggressively so. In the Church, we are watching the Word of God be undermined and mocked left and right. God’s Laws, written into the creation, are being treated as outdated guidelines. Many in the Church are guided by some spirit apart from the Word. God’s gifts and promises are mocked or shamed.

Think of the gender discussion. To be a male or a female is a result of God’s good creation work. To have a sex is a gift. Sexuality is a promise of the gift of the continuation of life. We are created man and woman “without any merit or worthiness” in us, as the Small Catechism might say. Sin distorts the gift, but now, it seems, many cater to the sin so as not to hurt anyone emotionally. To further complicate matters, we’ve so politicized the issue that necessary Law and Gospel preaching is being forced onto one side of the aisle or another. If we preach the Law to those who are embracing gender confusion, we’re considered hateful. If we preach the Gospel to those who are feeling defeated and ashamed by it, we’re considered to promote licentious behavior. And so, you preach God’s Word to this or any number of other issues and are told, “Stop playing so hard!”

I wonder what St. Paul would have said to the opposing coach’s plea for weak rugby. This past week, I began teaching a class on the book of Galatians. In that book, Paul certainly sees it as a time to tear down, to be aggressive. A group of false teachers had come in and attacked the Gospel of free forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s blood. They undercut the work of Jesus for sinners by trying to impose works of the Law upon the Gospel. This would destroy faith and create despair among the churches in Galatia. And Paul had no time for it. With the Gospel at stake, it was time to play rough with these blasphemous Judaizers. The Law and the Gospel needed to be proclaimed. False notions about the sufficiency of Christ’s work needed to be shattered to pieces with the hammer of the Law. Terrified consciences needed to be granted new life with the full-throttled proclamation of the Gospel. Paul holds back on neither!

Or think of Luther with Zwingli at Marburg. In an effort for a united theological front against Rome, the magistrates brought these two leading reformers together along with their compatriots to try to forge some sort of unified confession. But Zwingli would not budge on his view of the Lord’s Supper. Nor, of course, would Luther. I’ve heard historians decry this moment, suggesting that if they had just played nice at the colloquy, we’d have a more united Church to this day. Politically, it would have been useful to find unity here, but it would have been disastrous for the Church because it would have established a Church that compromised on the very Word of God itself. Luther knew that, though the consequences were huge, this was a time to play hard.

The devil, the world, and the flesh don’t play nice. So, in this battle we face daily as Christians, there is no time to ease off the Word of God. It is time to play hard! It’s time to preach hard!

 Later in the year, my son’s squad was in a tournament in which the other team was playing dirty. Our coach said, “If that’s how they’re going to play, we’re going to play harder!” He didn’t tell them to play dirty, but he also didn’t tell them to lay down, to ease up. Those boys played tough as rugby players should. It was wonderful. In a day when we are told to ease up and stop playing so hard, let us not forget what is at stake if we compromise on the Law and the Gospel. Today, just as much as in Paul’s day and Luther’s day, we need a Church that is ready to play hard!