To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity.

“Protestant missionaries… had forced surfing deep into the shadows… To Calvinists, surfing was a sinful exercise, leading only to unbridled licentiousness and godless impiety. Go surfing they pronounced from their pulpits, and eternal flames awaited.” Pacific, 131.

Simon Winchester (one of my favorite authors) makes this passing statement  about surfing and 1820’s Hawaiian Calvinism. Calvinism is condemned in less than forty words in the midst of a 492 page book which concerns the ecological, international, and economic importance of the Pacific Ocean. Why did Calvinism get discredited in the midst of a discussion on the ocean? With no footnote or historical anecdote, the assertion was made that Calvinists believe that surfing leads to hell’s flame.

I am not arguing that such condemnations have never been made. Somewhere someone at some time has most-likely condemned wave riding, yet Winchester’s statement demonstrates that outside of the church people have presuppositions about what defines the Christian. People assume they know what is Christianity. That assumption is based on how we reflect Christianity; how we define it. To an unbelieving world, we define Christianity, not in our words only — but also in our actions.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity?

Is it defined by a condemnation of surfing or some other lawful activity? Is your Christianity, your family’s Christianity, or your church’s Christianity defined by what you don’t do or what you condemn?

If that is the case, then you need to rethink your Christianity.

Christianity is not defined by a condemnation of some sport. Christianity is not defined by a condemnation of certain beverages. Christianity is not defined by a cappella psalmody. Christianity is not defined by any particular thing that we do or do not do.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a city worker about the church that I pastor. He was convinced that in the midst of my diverse neighborhood, the word “Presbyterian” meant that our church was for “only white guys.” Somewhere he received that definition.

What defines you?

What perceptions do others have about your Christianity? Are you the “we condemn surfing” church? Are you the “we don’t eat this or drink that” church? Are you the we “only sing this” church? Are you the “such-and-such politics” church?

Although the Christian church does have an ethic and does have a principle of worship and does have a way of life, these things ought not to be what defines us to an onlooking, perceiving, and conclusion-forming unbelieving world.

We ought to be a people who are known as forgiven sinners who are clinging to Jesus Christ.  People ought to see Christ.

As the Apostle Paul ministered to the church in Corinth he wrote:  “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 2:1-5)”

The Apostle had many things to say to Corinth. He spoke of sexual ethics. He spoke of regulated worship. He spoke of interpersonal communication and morality. He said many, many things. But central to all of what was said, his desire was that Jesus Christ and him crucified would be seen.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity? As city workers and unbelieving neighbors look into your life, your home, and your congregation, how will they define your Christianity? What perception will you give?

Will the great take away be that you condemn surfing? Will it be some other aspect of ethics, morality, or applied Christianity? Or will the cross of Christ and the glories of Jesus be seen as central to what your Christianity is about?

What defines you? I hope the answer is centered on Jesus.


  1. Steven McCarthy August 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    Is this laying the groundwork for a new surfer-targeted ministry initiative out of LARPC? In all seriousness … good challenge to us all.

    • Nathan Eshelman August 5, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

      I am hoping for a Pacific Coast Presbytery church plant in Hawaii. It would encourage the brothers in Japan as well, and make a place for both presbyteries to meet. Sounds great to me. 🙂

  2. Jonathan August 14, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

    Could you explain how unbelievers will see Christ in our lives other than through the things we do and don’t do? Perhaps you could give an example.


  1. The Early Bird Gets The Link  – Intersections - August 8, 2016

    […] To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity. […]

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