This week, the bane of preachers everywhere returns. When the clock strikes noon on Sunday in America's heartland, anxious Christians will clear their throats, shift positions in their seats, and hope the pastor's next words are "in conclusion." Some Christians living in the Mountain West and on the Pacific Coast might decide to skip church altogether. Because the NFL is back. And pastors will once again wonder privately how members can forget everything about that morning's sermon but recall detailed statistical information for scores of players they "own" in fantasy football leagues.

Few preachers I know would dare mention this frustration in a sermon. You might as well complain about the weather as lament the NFL's popularity. You can't do anything to change either. Pastors don't want to come across as puritanical or legalistic. We have moved beyond previous generations' complaints about card-playing, dancing, theatre-going, and Sunday sports. What many Christians may not realize, however, is that these pastoral concerns run all the way back past the fundamentalists, beyond the Puritans, to the early church. Even those of us who love to watch the pigskin fly would be wise to consider the warning from the most famous preacher in early Christianity.

Born in 347 and raised in Antioch, John earned his famous surname, Chrysostom, for a lifetime of faithful, courageous preaching. But the man with the golden mouth didn't always have a golden touch with his opponents. And the opponents mounted as John, who became patriarch of Constantinople in 398, turned his gift for rhetoric against the decadent Roman rulers. Facing illegitimate charges of heresy, Chrysostom was sent into exile. The strain of transport at his advanced age during ...

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