Should Christian Young Men Engage in Amateur Wrestling?
Each generation tends to look at the upcoming one and think of it as soft. When I began college at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, the upperclassmen thought that our plebe system was “soft” and “easy” compared to theirs. When they went through there was a “real” system. My class began with 750 freshmen and slightly over 200 of us graduated.
I tell us this because I am preparing to address a somewhat delicate subject that is firmly ensconced in both Canada and the United States: the feminization of males. Many cultural analysts have chronicled this phenomenon but few have done it as effectively as Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth.
In light of our current society many men are confused about true manhood; masculinity. The opposite extremes are effeminate men (metro-sexuals) or the proverbial macho-man. Within the context of Christian marriage, some men are “control freaks” and dominate their wives in a tyrannical fashion while others are uninvolved and distant.
The confusion extends to men who are self-absorbed and would rather be on the golf course than doing something spiritual with their wives and children, to those who cannot distance themselves from their work, to those who are so involved with “church-related” matters that they have little or no time for their families. All of these men are confused about what it means to be a biblical man.
I have long been an advocate that sports, played according to the rules, teach us a lot about life. One of my favorite sports is amateur wrestling (not the silly, fake WWF where anabolic steroids swear and where scantily clad women prance around in a manner that would make waitresses at Hooters blush). I wrestled in high school and college and found wrestling to be one of the greatest sports to teach lessons about life than any sport I played (I played baseball, football, and wrestled). In part, that is why Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California has begun a youth wrestling program for ages 4-15.
Wrestling is a sport that requires mental toughness, conditioning, technique, desire to win, and not being afraid to get your nose bloodied or your neck tweaked. It is a man-to-man contest, pitting your skill against your opponent. It is a test of your manhood to lace up the shoes, put on the singlet and the head gear, and get out on the mat and “leave it all there.”
Many texts of Scripture are directed to males and females alike, but the words are in the masculine. There are, however, certain texts that focus on men and need to be seen as such. Those texts, that we’ll look at in a moment, have a definitive purpose for males and their meaning needs to be emphasized to the modern Church—now more than ever.
Personally, when I think of those beings that have given me insight into what it is to be a biblical man, I of two beings in particular. The first is the Lord God Almighty and the second is David. In Exodus 15:3 part of the Song of Moses describes the Lord as a man of war or warrior. We do not need to be pacifists to be Christians. King David was truly what we could call a Poet Warrior. In 2 Samuel 23:1 he is given the title of the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (ESV). And yet, this same man wrote equally freely about how the Lord trained his hands for battle (cf. Ps. 144:1; 18:34, 39). In the modern Church we seem to have some difficulty with reconciling being both a poet and a warrior.
While it is indispensable to know your Bible and learn your catechism (adults, this applies to you as well) there is also a great deal to be said for being physically and mentally tough and yet gentle and tenderhearted. Joshua, the successor of Moses, is called upon to be strong and courageous (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18) and lead as God called him to lead.
But the text that I keep coming back to is found in 1 Corinthians 16:13. It reads: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” The sentence uses the second person plural for all the verbs, but the one translated by “act like men” (ándrídzesthe) cannot be taken for females as well.
The modern evangelical church is almost beyond hope. A generation that was raised on the fluff of the mega-church movement had no spiritual legacy to pass along to its young people, so it should not surprise us that the young people attracted to the Emergent Church movement are spiritually rudderless and bereft of the knowledge of Scripture. This should not, however, be the case of those who are Presbyterian and Reformed. We should be conversant with Scripture, our Presbyterian and Reformed confessions, and be prepared to pass a spiritual legacy along to the next generation (cf. Ps. 71:17-18; 78:1-8).
At the same time, we must raise up a generation of young men who are men. Wrestling is one way to accomplish the physical prowess and fortitude that young men need in life. We all know that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but are we aware of those times where if we had just been more tenacious victory and accomplishment was just around the proverbial corner? Wrestling is a sport that teaches you not to quit; not to give up. It is an ideal sport for training young men to grow into young adults and then on to mature manhood.
Our program at Grace Presbyterian Church has been very well received and, Lord willing, we will launch our second training evolution on September 30th. I would like to close with these words from Theodore Roosevelt that encapsulate what wrestling, life, and trying is all about. He wrote, “It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.”