Recreation (Mennonite Church, 1961)

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Recreation (Mennonite Church, 1961)


A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 25, 1961.

The Mennonite Church has a deep concern regarding changes and trends in the recreational ideals and practices of our brotherhood. In 1954 a committee appointed by the Mennonite Commission for Christian Education initiated a study in this field. A study conference in 1956 brought together the thought and experience of the church on the subject. Through the present statement Mennonite General Conference is expressing its convictions for the guidance of the brotherhood in the area of recreation. This statement seeks to identify the changes which have affected our patterns of recreation, and to declare the abiding principles which must always direct Christian practice in recreation.

The following definitions are offered for terms used in this statement:

Work-those activities we engage in to provide the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter for self, family, and community.

Leisure-the time left over after the basic necessities of life are taken care of.

Recreation-the wholesome use of leisure time.

Play-the experience of free activity engaged in for its own sake.

Changing Patterns of Recreation

Recreation in the broadest sense of the term is not new among Mennonites. The pioneer living of our fathers required long hours of unremitting labor. Industry was a cardinal, because a necessary, virtue. Although play may have been uncommon among them, our fathers escaped boredom through genuine interest in their varied tasks and enjoyed fellowship as they helped one another. They needed, as we do, to find renewal for tired bodies and minds.

In recent decades however, subtle and rapid changes have brought to the members of the church new conditions and new problems. Industrialization and urbanization, in which increasing numbers of our people are involved, have brought release from long hours of labor, but often at the expense of repetitious and tedious tasks with a rigid time schedule away from family contacts. Oftentimes father and mother see little of each other and, indeed of their children, who, when not in school, may be engaged in organized play activities or, what may be worse, in unsupervised pastimes. The media of mass communication powerfully suggest that the good life consists in enjoying various forms of spare-time pursuits. Long evenings, long weekends, and annual vacations force most of us to some solution of the problem of leisure for ourselves and our families.

Therefore we believe that the church must give guidance in today's world, where, in many cases, more waking time is spent off than on the job.

Basic Considerations

In the area of recreation and the use of leisure time, as in all of life, Christians seek to bring all things under the dominion of Christ. True Christian discipleship cannot admit of the separation of life into relgious and secular compartments. Christ is Lord of both our leisure and our working hours. This basic loyalty to Christ and his Word leads us to the following considerations:

  1. God is the Creator of all forms of life, including man, with his physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual aspects. After the creation of all things the Bible records: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good ..." (Genesis 1:31).
  2. Though this good creation was marred by sin, it was redeemed by the work of Christ. Those persons who by faith choose the Saviour become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Christian's whole being, including his physical body and his use of time, money, and energy, becomes a sacred stewardship from God. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20.
  3. God gave man work to do, thereby hallowing this part of man's experience. God made it clear that work is to be the means of supplying our needs for food, clothing, and shelter (Genesis 3:17-19), as well as providing for the needs of others. Ephesians 4:28. However, the Bible nowhere states or assumes that all of man's time is to be consumed in work. It condemns the materialism of those who find nothing worth-while in life but the production of physical things.
  4. God has made man with a built-in need for recreative activities which are pursued for the joy and refreshment they bring, activities which may have no other immediate value than the enhancement of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Since the Christian is one who has come back into harmony with the creative purposes of God, he ought to be in the best possible position to enjoy the good creation of a good God. Asceticism is not a Christian virtue as a direct end in itself. All Christians ought to practice self-denial for the sake of God's kingdom, but not to the point of regarding as wrong whatever they enjoy. It is a dynamic faith-union with Christ, effected by the Holy Spirit, which sanctifies Christians, not ascetic self-denial. Colossians 2:20-3:2; Galatians 5:24, 25.
  5. Recreation (re-creation) plays a very important role in life. God desires man to enjoy health of soul, mind, and body. Through re-creation God has made possible the regaining of power and purpose in each area of man's being. The highest form of re-creation is worship, when man's spirit is renewed and made whole again. Psalms 51:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17. Such re-creation and renewal in the spiritual realm also assumes the need for recreative activities on the mental and physical levels. 1 Timothy 4:7, 8. The physical, mental, and spiritual levels of life are closely interwoven and none can be excluded. However, we do recognize the physical as least important, the mental as more important, and the spiritual as most important. Therefore the recreative processes necessitated in these three levels must have a similar gradation in importance. The amount and type of recreation and renewal must be determined by individual needs and it should be sufficient to keep the total person in the best possible physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. But recreation must always remain subordinate to the main purpose of Christ for His church: the salvation of men and their edification in His church. Ephesians 4:12; Matthew 28:19, 20.
  6. In choosing his recreation the Christian will keep in mind how it will develop enjoyable skills, useful in the present and, at least in part, during older age. He will attempt to make his leisure-time activities constructive in strengthening the life of his home. He will emphasize being a participant rather than a spectator.
  7. Since the Christian realizes that in everything he does he leaves a witness for or against his Lord (Colossians 3:17), he will diligently seek to leave a strong positive testimony for Jesus Christ through good use of his leisure time. He will be considerate of the feelings of new Christians and the influence of his choices upon them. Romans 14:20. He will respect the counsel of more mature Christians.
  8. The Christian's recreation may be tested by such questions as the following:
    1. Does this activity either directly and/or indirectly help the Christian glorify God?
    2. Does this activity promote, or is it excessively dangerous to, the health of soul, mind, or body?
    3. If it is a group activity, does it foster true co-operation and fellowship among the participants? Does it encourage the participation of the entire group?
    4. What are the stewardship implications of the various kinds of recreational activities in a world where the majority of people are in spiritual and physical need?
    5. Does this activity foster respect for persons, parenthood, and love, or does it instill unwholesome attitudes toward sex, love, and responsible family life?
    6. Does the activity develop the kind of spirit that leads easily into worship or service?
    7. If the activity is competitive, does it safeguard or exploit the loser? Does it promote strength or vanity in the winner?
    8. Does our Sunday recreation contribute to the spiritual character of the Lord's day?
    9. Does this activity foster dependence on chance and luck, or strengthen prudence, self-reliance, and appreciation of God's providence?
    10. Will participation in this activity help or hinder one's testimony for Christ to the church and community?

    What Should the Church Do?

  9. The church should use the media of preaching, teaching, literature, and radio to make clear the Christian principles concerning the use of leisure time.
  10. It should help its members to understand the varied needs of our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual nature.
  11. It should set up standards for judging the helpful and the harmful uses of recreation.
  12. It should speak out against forms of sinful pleasure, and warn of present and eternal consequences.
  13. It should provide the spiritual understanding and motivation that will choose the better and reject the wrong.
  14. It should give Biblical guidance regarding Christian stewardship in recreation.
  15. It should encourage recreation in the family setting rather than those which disrupt the home.
  16. It should through its schools develop leaders who can implement Christian ideals in recreation.
  17. It should provide local leadership to give positive direction, not just negative control, to group recreation.
  18. It should help its adults to prepare for retirement years through the development of skills and interests adaptable to those years.
  19. It should assist in the provision of hobbies, crafts, and activities for the aged, the ill, and the convalescing.
  20. It should recognize the variations in tastes and appreciations due to cultural and spiritual backgrounds, and seek to bring all under the guidance of the Word and the Spirit of God.
  21. It should use its club and camp program to supply some of the recreational needs of our people.
  22. It should help all members to apply to their recreation the criterion, "to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ray Bair, Chairman

Elmer G. Kolb

H. Clair Amstutz

Harold Lehman