The Olympic Movement (Religion?)

Like some of you, I enjoy watching certain Olympic events.  For example, last week we enjoyed watching the swimming, rugby and volleyball.  I’m delighted to see gifted athletes use their gifts and abilities.  We also enjoyed watching the Opening Ceremonies (OC).  But as I did so, I couldn’t help but think I was watching a religious ceremony unfold.  The parallels between a Christian worship service and OC were striking.  Some churches have some sort of processional (i.e., Anglican).  There was a long processional of athletes in the OC.  After that an official spoke and welcomed the people and talked about the Olympics movement.  It struck me that he acted like a sort of worship leader.  Then, after the people in the stadium were good and excited, another Olympic official got up and gave a talk that sounded quite a bit like a sermon.  Then various athletes and coaches were invited to make an oath that they would abide by the rules of their sport.  This sounded somewhat like a Prayer of Response after the Message.  And then the music began, which was probably intended to be entertainment, but it sounded a bit like worship singing.  I don’t want to take this too far, but I think you can see the connections.  So, what do we make of these sort of religious rituals and words in the OC?  Pastor Timothy Keller helpfully explains that as Christians we are called to affirm what we can in our culture, and then expose the idols that exist.  Most of us can affirm many positive aspects of the Olympics: exercise, character development, discipline, community-building, etc.  But the OCC reminds me that there is a risk of taking a healthy cultural activity like sport and letting it become a potential idol.  The Olympic movement preaches their own sort of gospel, which says winning a gold medal in a certain athletic event is the ultimate human achievement.  The glorification of the body.  There is some good to this movement and message.  But it is not the gospel of grace proclaimed in Scripture.  As Paul says in 1 Timothy 4: “Physical training has some value, but godliness has value for all things.”  The Olympics are enjoyable and inspiring, and I intend to keep watching certain events, but let’s remember to keep first things first: the gospel and the pursuit of godliness.

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