Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The World Cup as an Example of Christ’s Teaching

Michael Neal
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…
Matthew 28:19, New International Version of the Bible

The FIFA World Cup 2014 has delighted and saddened fans all across the world, but prior to reaching its global stature; contemporary association football (soccer) had its origins in 1863 England. According to FIFA, that year saw the formation of the first Football Association in England, which became the sport’s first governing body. There is little doubt that the future spread of soccer throughout the world was partially facilitated by the British Empire and its expansion

Today, as the FIFA World Cup has demonstrated, soccer remains immensely popular throughout the world. In the United States, viewership of the 2014 World Cup will set a record. Meanwhile, more than 70 countries host one or more professional men’s soccer leagues. In contrast, professional basketball is played in close to 40 unique countries (the United States and Canada as represented by the National Basketball Association are counted as individual countries), around 15 countries host a  professional baseball league (the United States and Canada as represented by Major League Baseball are counted as individual countries),  while about 15 unique countries host a  professional rugby league or rugby union, slightly more than nine countries are home to professional cricket leagues, and four countries host a professional gridiron football (American football) league. Clearly soccer, above other sports, has been spread across the world.

Yet Christ asks his followers to do the exact same thing. Following His Resurrection, but prior to His Ascension, He instructs his followers, both then and today, to “make disciples” of Him in all nations. To modernize this language, we are asked to “make fans of Christ”.

Fortunately, the spread of football by the English has given us an excellent example of how to carry out our mission: 
  • Play soccer (Christianity) in the areas that you visit
  • Converse with others about your love of soccer (Christianity) in every day and normal conversation
  • Accept and encourage an interest in soccer (Christianity) among non-fans
  • Educate yourself and others about the stars of soccer (Christianity) and the importance of what they accomplished
This list of examples is not exhaustive and nor is it meant to be, but I hope that you will agree that the parallels are compelling. Moreover, like soccer, an embrace of Christianity can materialize differently in individuals across the world. Nevertheless, as both Argentina and Germany have shown, there is more than one way to play soccer effectively. Despite our differences, we are all united under the generally held principles about God, Christ, Christ’s birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His return.

The FIFA World Cup, the manifestation of soccer discipleship around the globe, has excited a passion that permeates the daily lives of its fans. Similarly, Christianity can have the same effect on individuals, but on a more meaningful level. At a time when many people are searching for answers to their deepest questions and concerns, the demand for our solution has never been greater. The time is ripe for us to carry out Christ’s directive to make fans of Him.

The fixture of Germany and Argentina was played this past Sunday to decide the 2014 World Cup Champion, and one might consider this match to be a celebratory competition between Europe and South America, or as an example of talent across La Liga and the Bundesliga, but it could also be interpreted as a reminder of the rich and diverse Christian heritage as exemplified by Lutheranism and Catholicism. A goal for Christianity!

As a fan of Christ, Michael Neal worships at the Washington National Cathedral. As a fan of Manchester United Football Club, Michael may be found at Union Jack’s of Bethesda rooting on the Red Devils.