Ethos Education

Chariots of Fire: Why does a dedicated Christian faith lead some Christians to regard Sunday as different to the other days of the week?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the concept of keeping Sunday special.
  • Explore issues surrounding morality in sport.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the ways that people mark special days (e.g. birthdays) as being different to other days.
  • Analyse the arguments about sporting participation on a Sunday in a clip from the film Chariots of Fire.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine different Christian perspectives on keeping the Sabbath day holy.
  • Synthesise learning by compiling a questionnaire on attitudes towards the Sabbath, and possibly asking members of one or more local church to provide answers for it.


Ask the students to brainstorm a list of special days. Possible answers (if they need prompting) might include: birthdays; Christmas Day; wedding anniversaries; dating anniversaries.

Ask the students to think about how people mark those days as special. What is different about what they do on their birthday compared to other days? Draw out as many things that they do specifically because it is their birthday (for example, do they get to choose their favourite meal?)

Explain that today’s lesson is about the concept of marking certain days as special and treating them differently because of it. Many Christians regard Sundays (in some cases, Saturdays) as a Sabbath day, to be set apart and treated differently to the other six days of the week.


Introduce the clip from the film Chariots of Fire (20th Century Fox, certificate PG) This clip is taken from the digitally remastered version of the film, which was in UK cinemas in July 2012. Click here to buy the DVD online:

Explain that the film follows a number of athletes competing for Great Britain at the 1924 Olympics, including the Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell. Liddell was a devout Christian. Unfortunately, the qualifying heat for his event was scheduled to take place on a Sunday and he was unwilling to run. In this scene, a number of high ranking members of the British Olympic committee – including the then Prince of Wales – confront Liddell to discuss the matter. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the reasons and arguments put forward on each side of the discussion.

Play the clip from Chariots of Fire.

  • Start time: 1.23.19
  • End time:  1.26.48
  • Clip Length: 3 minutes and 29 seconds

The clip shows the Prince of Wales (David Yelland) and members of the British Olympic committee trying to persuade Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) to change his mind about not running on a Sunday. They appeal to his sense of patriotism, arguing that he should put his country ahead of his God, but Liddell refuses to be moved.

Ask the students to summarise the arguments that were used to try to persuade Liddell to run on a Sunday. How persuasive do the students think these arguments were? Was Liddell right to put his dedication and obligations to God ahead of his obligations to his country?

Explain that the concept of treating the Sabbath day, or last day of the week, differently to other days dates back to Judaism, and was adopted by the early Christians. Whereas the Jewish Sabbath was (and is) Saturday, Christians soon began the practice of celebrating Sunday as ‘the Lord’s Day’, because Sunday was the day of the week when Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Today, different Christian groups hold a wide range of beliefs about how the Sabbath should be celebrated. While the majority of Christians regard Sunday as their Sabbath, there are still many denominations and individual Christians who observe Saturday as their Sabbath.

Give out the Sabbath cards (which you will need to cut out from the Sabbath Cards worksheet in advance of the lesson). Taking one card at a time, students should read the relevant Bible passage or passages before discussing how a Christian might seek to act on the principles of Sabbath observation implied by this card. Once they have done this for all four cards, the students should discuss whether they think the cards are contradictory or complementary – that is, do they add up to a view of the Sabbath that makes sense, or do they seem to disagree with each other.

Sabbath cards:

  • Sabbath is for honouring God (Ezekiel 20:10-12)
  • Sabbath is for rest (Genesis 1:1 and 2:2-3)
  • Sabbath is not for work (Exodus 20:6-11)
  • Sabbath is for people’s own good (Mark 2:23-27; Matthew 12:9-13)


Ask the students to devise a questionnaire about attitudes to Sundays. Their task is to discover what individual Christians will or won’t do on a Sunday (or Saturday) which they normally do on other days of the week, as well as the reasons for their Sabbath observation. You may want to suggest some particular activities that the students should find out about. If so, use some or all of the list below:

  • Attending church services.
  • Buying things in shops.
  • Playing sport.
  • Watching television.
  • Going to work.
  • Spending time with family.
  • Reading the Bible and praying (other than at church).

If possible, arrange for the students to interview several members of one or more local church, possibly after a Sunday service. If you do this, ask the students to analyse the results and write a report on their findings. If students do go to local churches, encourage them to go in pairs or small groups rather than on their own, and try to include a range of different denominations and styles of churchmanship in the churches that you survey.


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