On just about every TV screen across the land, at some time or other, you cannot help but see two or more massive bodies throwing each other down upon, across, and even out of the ring. These melodramatic characters put on quite a show as they prance, strut, taunt, yell, and generally over-act their predictable roles of "good guys" and "bad guys."
There is always a villain; the crowd hisses at him. He is pitted against an all-American hero; the crowd always cheers for him. And, finally, there is a totally inept "referee" who can neither "see" the "cheating" that is going on "behind his back" nor can he prevent matters from "getting out of hand." Soon, varying degrees of mayhem ensue.
As strange as it may seem, their audiences really eat this up. Judging from the sheer volume of TV time that is devoted to "rasslin'" a sort of "planned" entertainment it must be quite lucrative for all the promoters and the "athletes." People pay big bucks to see these bigger-than-life human caricatures act out their collective fantasies. And, they have the names to go with it too "Gorgeous" George, "Haystack" Calhoun (from a different era), "Hulk" Hogan, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Sergeant Slaughter, et al. I'm sure that you know more about them (more than you would care to know; they are hard to ignore!). They've also got butchy, hair-pulling "ladies," midgets, tag teams, battle royales, chains, cages, bent metal chairs, fake blood, and every kind of gaudy costume imaginable.
It wasn't always like this. In fact, TRUE wrestling has a long, honored history from ancient times. The Sumerians started the whole thing 49 centuries ago!
Wrestling has been a true sport in which two unarmed opponents were matched in a contest. The object was to try to get the physical advantage through various holds. Wrestling has been one of the most primitive of all athletic activities. It was practiced in ancient China and Egypt.
The 18th Olympic Games in 704 B.C. included this GENUINE sport. Wrestling champions were second only to discus throwers in popularity. Wrestling was also mentioned by the famous Greek author, Homer, in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Milo, a Greek athlete from Croton (who lived in the latter part of the 6th century B.C.), won many prizes as a wrestler at the Olympic and Pythian games. And later he led a great army. Many stories about his legendary strength were told. He was once said to have physically hand-carried a four-year-old heifer from one end of a stadium to the other. Then he allegedly killed it and consumed all of it in a single day!
For centuries, SERIOUS wrestling has been practiced in local forms throughout the world. It was known in Switzerland as schwingen. In Iceland it is the sport of glima. In Turkey it is called yagli, and the contestants smear themselves with grease before starting! In Russia they call it sambo, where they jerk one another around by the jacket, like judo. And, there is also Cumberland-and-Westmoreland, an ancient style of wrestling that still survives in England.
During the 19th century, free-style and Graeco-Roman wrestling regained popular interest. In the United States, circuses and carnivals sponsored serious wrestling matches, and this activity was directly responsible for the revival of wrestling here. In 1880 a man called William Muldoon was declared to be the first REAL American champion.
When the Olympic Games were revived in 1896 (they had been abolished in 394 A.D.), sports in general were on the verge of entering a true golden age, surpassing anything before that time. The Graeco-Roman style of wrestling was included in the first modern Olympics in 1896 but was removed as an event in 1900. Then it was reinstated in 1904 and freestyle wrestling was added. But there was only one division in the 1904 Olympiad the heavyweights. (Today there are 10 weight-class divisions, ranging from 105 lbs. to 220 lbs.)
However, following World War I, fixed "professional" wrestling matches threatened to DISCREDIT the whole activity, but an official governing body (the F.I.L.A.), founded in 1921, saved the sport from public disgrace. They have codified the rules, set standards, and organized competitions for all AMATEUR wrestlers ever since.
Of course, the most well known ancient form today is sumo wrestling, the national sport of Japan. According to some sources, it may date all the way back to 23 B.C., but most agree that it rose to prominence during the early 1600's through the influence of the famous samurai (the military class).
Like our Super Bowl, sumo is very popular in Japan. In fact, six major sumo tournaments (bashos) are held there each year, attracting national TV coverage.
These wrestlers usually weigh more than 350 pounds. The matches are QUASI-RELIGIOUS in nature and are fought with much ritual. For example, each match is preceded by a special ceremony in which the competitors: (1) clap their hands to awaken the gods; (2) throw salt in the ring to signify the purification of the ground; and (3) stamp each foot to crush everything that is evil. At the referee's command the scantily-clad participants charge each other with such a tremendous crash that it would make Vince Lombardi proud!
The goal is either to throw the opponent to the ground or to force the opponent out of the 12-foot, sand-and-clay ring which is surrounded by ropes. Sumo has no weight classes, and many wrestlers, although less than 6 feet tall, weigh much more than 350 lbs. (like the grand champion named Konishiki, a 512-pound mountain of flesh). Their huge stomachs assure them of a very low center of gravity. A sudden opening charge can send one of them careening in a matter of seconds.
None of this is really new. It is merely giving the public what they demand. Folks everywhere crave this kind of stuff. But now the nagging question comes: WHY are people so enamored with "professional" wrestling? WHY do they have such a felt "need"? How did such charlatans emerge from genuine sport?
It is rather easy to explain, when you really think about it. In the 20th century, all professional sports have become a very PROFITABLE business. There is lots of money in it. And, industrial progress has given people more money and the leisure time in which to spend it. Such events have thus become an important diversion for increasing numbers of people. Some want the REAL thing. Some don't.
As we have seen, there is a huge difference between SILLY wrestling and SERIOUS wrestling. The second kind ("the professionals") descended (degenerated) from the first. Many states even prohibit "professional" wrestling from being advertised as a "sport." It must be billed as "an exhibition," because the outcome is obviously rehearsed. I have often wondered how these "athletes" got their start. Earlier in their lives, they were probably pretty good at competitive sports.
However, somewhere along the line, they succumbed to the alluring temptations of MONEY easy money. All they have to do is follow "the script."
It is beyond my comprehension as to why anyone would pay good money to see such trash, but they do. That is a fact. And, they come in droves to see it again and again. WHY? Because they like it! But now, let us try to better understand this phenomenon and draw some interesting parallels with religion.
Is there really that much difference between the structural format of "professional" wrestling and that of man-made, organized, institutional religion? No! I think the two "professions" are very similar. For example, in both cases, consider these parallels:
By definition, PAID preachers (the "hirelings" of John 10:12) can never be true "pastors" because MONEY has entered the picture. Once monetary compensation is part of the quotient, it can no longer be truly called "VOLUNTARY." It becomes an OCCUPATION. Terming it "a calling" merely camouflages it. Don't blame God for this sad state of affairs. He never set it up that way! If God truly "called" one to be "THE MINISTER," then how did a third party (the church employers) become so heavily involved? Make no mistake about it the ones who PAY the piper DO call the tune! If a preacher can be PAID to preach, he can also be paid NOT to preach, that is, about certain subjects which would surely be offensive to key members of the congregation.
And, of course, NEGATIVE preaching would have a very negative affect on the weekly church BUDGET. The religious industry will have none of that! And so, these PROFESSIONAL preachers soon learn how to pull their punches, but, at the same time. to make it LOOK very real and hard-hitting. They can punch out straw men with the best of 'em from their lofty pulpits! However, the "fight" IS fixed! Deep within themselves, they KNOW that if they ever spoke out as GOD dictates, they would LOSE their religious jobs immediately. They'd be FIRED and their families would suffer the effects in a hurry. This ethical DILEMMA is too great a burden for them to consider. Therefore. they begin to rationalize it away something about: "the system's not perfect, but I feel quite certain that God wants me to do as much good as possible WITHIN the system.
These preachers and their wives fail to realize that such reasoning is slow suicide! They should HONESTLY consider their only alternatives: Either (1) admit that they are completely BOUGHT AND PAID FOR by their religious employers, acting out the expected roles of their job descriptions; or (2) they are GOD's men and women who must speak PLAINLY about the truth, letting the chips fall where they may! There is NO middle ground (1 Kings 18:21)!
When Jesus walked the earth, he encountered a very similar situation to our own. There were numerous, conflicting Jewish "denominations" all vying for popular and/or political support. Jesus knew that, beneath it all, was the haunting spectre of MONEY (followed closely by THE DESIRE TO CONTROL).
Of course, some of the most prominent leaders were from the Pharisee sect. Once, in Luke 16: 13-15, after Jesus had just spoken about no servant being able to serve two masters at the same time (God and Mammon [= the god of Money]), the Pharisees were carefully listening to Jesus' words. They began to criticize him because almost all Pharisees (about 6,000 businessmen) were money-grubbers. Jesus blasted them: "You make yourselves LOOK GOOD in front of people, but God knows what is REALLY in your hearts! The things which are very important to people are worthless to God!"
On another occasion, Jesus accused them of "devouring widows' houses" (=legal theft) after saying long, sanctimonious prayers to make themselves "LOOK GOOD" (Mark 12:40), like an unscrupulous probate judge today. There's a big difference between LOOKING GOOD and BEING GOOD! The Pharisees and Sadducees cared more about the GIFT on the altar than the holy altar of God itself (Matt. 23:17-22). They only wanted to COVER UP, but Jesus told them to CLEAN UP: "Outside you SEEM GOOD to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and sin!" (Matt. 23:28, SEB). Jesus warned: "How horrible it is when everyone says GOOD things about you. Their ancestors always did that to the FALSE prophets!" (Luke 6:26, SEB).
The most famous wrestler in the Bible was JACOB. That grandson of Abraham once wrestled with an angel who was in the form of a human being. Jacob must have been rather TOUGH because he was then given the name of "Israel" (meaning, "prince of God") because he PREVAILED (Gen. 32:22-32).
Like Jacob, we too are engaged in a contest, not with flesh and blood. It is a SPIRITUAL battle, not a physical one. In John 18:36 Jesus stated, "My kingdom does not come from this world. If it did, my servants would be fighting (egonizonto) to keep the Jewish leaders from giving me to you. My kingdom is not from here." (SEB)
Paul said, "Our fight is NOT AGAINST MEN. No, it is against rulers, against authorities, against world powers of this darkness, and against evil spiritual beings in the heavenly world." (Eph. 6: 12, SEB). We are in a pitched battle against evil spirits in dark political and supernatural domains.
We don't fight with carnal WEAPONS to pull down strongholds of the Devil, because we make war with the foes of God and Christ. Paul said it this way: "For our fight we are not using weapons which come from this world. No, our weapons come from God. They are powerful enough to break down strong forts. We break down false logic and anything which rises up against what we know is true about God. We capture every thought to make it obey Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4-5, SEB). We employ "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6: 17), the Word of God, to accomplish this. The gospel is supposed to be DEFENDED (Phil. 1:7). We are commanded to earnestly CONTEND FOR the faith which was delivered to us once for all time (Jude 3). It is a noble conflict (agona) which must be fought to the very end (2 Tim. 4:7), never yielding an inch of ground to Satan, even if it means dying for the cause (Rev. 2: 10).
We are not supposed to be in the entertainment business, to PLEASE people (Gal. 1: 10), so that they'll come to "OUR church services" instead of a different one. No, we must be people of deep INTEGRITY. We are not the enemies of people just because we tell them what they NEED to hear the unadulterated gospel truth! (Gal. 4: 16). Merely because they shut their ears (cf. Acts 7:57), doesn't mean that we should stop telling the truth! We are obligated to say OUT LOUD what people have been AFRAID to utter for years what you'd never hear from most pulpits. The intrepid apostle Paul wrote, "Preach the message! Be ready in good times and times that are not so good. Prove sinners wrong. Correct and comfort, with all kinds of patience and teaching. The time will come when people will NOT put up with healthy teaching. Instead, following their own evil desires, they will gather to themselves many, many teachers TO SAY WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR. And, they will turn away from listening to the truth. They will go after myths." (2 Tim. 4:2-4, SEB)
We are like soldiers (Phil. 2:25; Philm. 2) engaged in a war. Therefore, we must be PREPARED to endure whatever hardship is required to win EVERY battle so that we can be GOOD soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Paul warns: "No soldier gets mixed up with the world of business; he wants to please his superior officer." (SEB, 2 Tim. 2:4). We are supposed to be waging CONSTANT guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines. The "religious establishment" is only caught up in continuous parade practice!
In another passage, 1 Cor. 9:26-27, Paul used the imagery of pugilism to carry his point: "I'm not shadowboxing; I really punch! [cf. working with the heavy bag] I make my body TOUGH, bringing it under complete control" (SEB).
The writer of the Hebrew letter yearned for the good ol' days: 'Do you remember those days when you first received God's light? You WON a great contest (athlesis) of suffering." (Heb. 10:32. SEB). The earliest Christians never knew anything but STRUGGLE! That is why they were able to ENDURE such terrible persecutions for so many years.
INDIVIDUALS sinned in the Garden of Eden by attempting to become God (Gen. 3). Later, in Gen. 11: 1- 11, when they tried to build the Tower of Babel, a SOCIETY sinned in the same way against God but, this time, they did it as a GROUP. I fear the identical thing has happened today with our denominational Babels. The rallying calls of COUNTERFEIT Christians are the same: "'Let us make brick!"; "Let us build a city and a tower (=another expensive church building] whose top may reach unto heaven; .... We must make a name for ourselves!" The Lord concluded that if this were permitted to continue unchecked, " ... now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." It must be stopped.
Babel was built from baked bricks, but the prophet Isaiah said that Jerusalem was made of hewn stones (54:11) as directed by God. But, even that holy city was taught a bitter lesson by God during the Exile that "the Highest One does NOT live in houses which men build with their hands" (Acts 7:48: Isa. 66: 1-2; Amos 5:25 27). The real return and re-building of David's house (Amos 9:11 - 12) had little to do with Zerubbabel's temple (Ezra 3:7-13) or that of Herod the Great (John 2:20). In actuality, it was referring to God's acceptance of ALL people Jewish or non-Jewish (the new ekklesia) who would believe and obey Jesus as the Savior (cf. Acts 15: 13- 15).
The home of worldlings is here on earth, but true believers look for a city which has "foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11 : 10, KJV). We are REALLY citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). Paul concludes. "So, since you were raised with Christ, search for things that are above, where Christ is sitting at God's right side. Think about things that are above, not things on the earth. Since you have died, your life has been hidden away with Christ in God. When Christ (your life) appears, then you will appear with him in glory, too." (Col. 3:1-4, SEB).