Joe Ed Furr, Texas Normal Singing School
I have a friend who is a preacher for a 400 member Baptist church. His wife is his office secretary. The preacher and his wife eat lunch at a restaurant where I occasionally dine. One day they invited me to dine with them. I had a conversation with them that would be of interest to you.
I asked, “Does your church have a choir, organ, and piano? Or, does your church have a praise team, string band, and drum set?” They quickly answered, “We have a choir, organ, and piano.”
“Why?” I asked. They replied, “Because a choir, organ, and piano is real worship. A praise team, string band, and drum set is nothing more than entertainment!”
I then asked, “How do you differentiate between worship and entertainment?” Both the preacher and his wife responded with silence. They looked at each other then said, “I don’t know how to explain it, but I know the difference when I see it.”
I responded to their confessed ignorance with several observations of my own. I told the couple that the subject of worship and entertainment has a strong cultural dimension. His church was persuaded that the blend of choir, organ, and piano was real worship. Most members of the church of Christ would define a choir, organ, and piano as entertainment. Many members of churches that specialize in Baby Boomer members would define a praise team, string band, and drum set as being worship.
What is “entertainment”? Some aspects of the definition of entertainment fits a high quality public assembly. Entertainment includes the idea of holding people’s attention. It includes an event that people enjoy. A good worship service should capture everyone’s attention. The term “delight” is used often in the book of Psalms to describe the pleasure we should find in our worship of the Lord (Psalm 111:2). Songs of praise, joy, and thanksgiving are a delight to the heart. Is it wrong to enjoy praising the Lord?
The largest chapter of the Bible (Psalm 119) uses the term “delight” to describe the pleasure that the song writer experienced when he was focusing on what we might call “a good sermon” or “Bible lesson”. Is it wrong to enjoy a good sermon?
When we use the term “entertainment” as a derogatory term to describe abuses of public worship. What is the “dark side” of entertainment as it might apply to a public assembly?
Let us begin with a visit to a pop music concert. The purpose of a pop music concert is to indulge the senses with video and audio sensations that delight us but do not accomplish anything constructive in our lives. Pop music concerts present flashing lights, video images, and staged dancing to delight the eyes. The music is loud and follows the beat that delights the audio senses. Those who attend pop music concerts express their ecstasy with their own gyrations and applause. Pop music appeals to the senses. It is a delight, but nothing more.
Some churches imitate pop music concerts in the name of “praise and worship”. Lights flash, videos fill the screen, singers engage in “liturgical dancing.” The music is loud and its beat is strongly similar to that of secular music. Worshipers wave their arms in the air and applaud.
When the emphasis is on audio-video stimulation, then God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit become “excuses” to indulge the senses in “worship” that does not lead to a higher plan of godliness, spirituality, and Christian maturity. In this environment people become totally enamored by the phenomenon of “worship” rather than being enthusiastic about serving God. The worship “experience” is their focus rather than the work of God which is by faith.
Religious sociologists indicate that they can see a rising fixation on worship experiences rather than a fixation on fruitful godliness. Persistent immaturity and carnality among Christians is the fruit that proves that something dysfunctional is happening. These people are never willing to volunteer to participate in works of service because their schedule is filled up with praise concerts.
Extremes tend to beget extremes. The abuse of emotions in worship has led some to speak out against any kind of emotionality in worship. The key virtue in worship is truth (orthodoxy) and tradition (worship styles and forms from the past). Emotionality is seen as disorder and vice.
1 Cor. 14:40 declares, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” “Decently” is seen by some as a subdued atmosphere where emotionalism is shunned. “Order” is defined as stoic behavior. No loud, fast songs. No excitement. No clapping.
The extreme interpretation of “decently and in order” has produced assemblies that are boring. People sing halfheartedly. They doze through communion. Sermons are bland. Such monotony does not produce spirituality or maturity. These churches often have bad reputations for being filled with strife, arguing, and complaining. It is commonplace to find a long-term practice of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy among the members. The decline in the membership of these churches is a scandal. These things are the fruit that signal dysfunctionality in these churches.
People should enjoy going to church. Praise, joy, and thanksgiving should be a delight. Sermons should be motivational and life-changing. We should enjoy God’s Word. We should be uplifted. We should be inspired to grow, develop, and become more productive in God’s kingdom. We should be moved to put away our carnal nature. If all of this is “entertainment”, then church should be entertaining.
The assembly should not substitute audio visual-stimulation and sensational excitement for genuine worship. Bright lights and hyper-emotions should not replace the delight we have in the Word of the Lord. If we need fast, loud music, stimulating videos and liturgical dancing to get people to church, then we are abusing the assembly. If this is “entertainment”, then the church should not be entertaining.
The church needs to strike the middle-ground between sleepy boredom and excessive sensual stimulation. We need to create encouraging assemblies that do not run to excess to achieve that goal.
Some people are (by nature) more emotionally expressive than others. Some are more rational-intellectual than others. 1 Corinthians 14:40 does not outlaw emotional expressiveness, neither does it mandate a highly subdued and sleepy assembly. We can have decency and order in the middle-ground where people can be expressive and/or quiet. 1 Corinthians 14:40 does not eliminate the possibility of finding a moderate solution to the problems we face in today’s world.