Sunday, August 12, 2012

Basketball and The Church. Did You Know?

The Americans defended their title in the gold-medal match that went down to the wire...what an exciting game! But here’s something you may not have know about the game. Basketball was invented more than 100 years ago by a Christian theologian as an evangelical outreach tool!

USA Basketball Wins Gold. Source.

As Breakpoint mentioned in a recent article, John Murray of The Wall Street Journal recalled the story of the game's founding. The inventor of basketball, James Naismith, became convinced that he stood a better chance of exemplifying the Christian life through sports rather than through preaching. So he took a job as a physical education instructor at the YMCA's International Training School for Christian Workers in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith's vision was "to win men for the Master through the gym."

In 1891, Naismith set out to invent a new indoor game that students could play during winter. He spent weeks testing various games, including versions of soccer, football, and lacrosse, to no avail. "Finally," Murray writes, "Naismith decided to draw from all of these sports: with a ball that could be easily handled, play that involved running and passing with no tackling, and a goal at each end of the floor." In short, he came up with basketball.

From the beginning, Naismith and his athletic director, Luther Gulick, held the players to a high standard. As Gulick wrote in 1897, "The game must be kept clean." A Christian college cannot tolerate "not merely ungentlemanly treatment of guests, but slugging and that which violates the elementary principles of morals."

He recommended that a coach should "excuse for the rest of the year any player who is not clean in his play."

Basketball served as an important evangelical tool during the next 50 years, Murray noted. In 1941, Naismith wrote that "whenever I witness games in a church league, I feel that my vision, almost half a century ago, of the time when the Christian people would recognize the true value of athletics, has become a reality."

In the last 100 years, we've seen no shortage of Christian athletes who use their skill, self-discipline, and sportsmanship as a witness to Christ-from Olympic runner Eric Liddel in the 1920s, to football player Tim Tebow in our own generation.

In fact, so many athletes give the glory to God after a game that sportswriters sometimes get irritated with them. To which I respond: Which would you prefer -- players known for their faith and good sportsmanship, or players who are arrested for assault or drug use?

If you have a young basketball fan in your family, tell him or her the story of how basketball was invented. And pray for Christian players who can use the public's love of sports the way Naismith envisioned when he invented basketball-as a witnessing tool to "win men for the Master through the gym."


Matt Norman said...

The Basketball goals at our church have allowed many opportunities to share the gospel. In fact there is a young man serving my our children's AND youth ministries that came to Christ because of the hospitality we showed him on that basketball court.

Matt N.

Jayma Malme said...

That's awesome to hear, Matt!