Entertaining the Comforted
No matter how you may attempt to argue against it, entertainment has taken over the modern church. From music and movies, to lights and smoke, the masses are looking more for emotional overflow than cornering conviction, and are willing to sacrifice a great deal of theology to get there. Meanwhile, we have the traditional-style church firing back, attempting to pull away from the show of it all, and get back to a more “serious” mindset while worshiping. However, I have found that both sides tend to lean one way or the other, but miss the error entirely.
Both sides have their form of entertainment. The modern church, as mentioned, has a good deal of visual effects to mess around with, from smoke pouring off the stage to changing soft lights drifting downwards as the music begins to build. They take pride in their ability to look fantastic, catching the eyes and ears of the youthful (and those striving to be like them), and primarily trying to draw in the unsaved, in an attempt to squeeze “the gospel” into their presentation, making sure they don’t overwhelm the listeners with too much offensive theology, and enough tear-jerking atmosphere to turn any pagan into a loving follower of Jesus.
This side is, perhaps, one of the most fought against, primarily because it is so easy to go after. Its lack of any true theological substance and overall appearance make it very clear that it is appealing to the masses more than anything, and is nothing more than an attempt to win as many people while offending as few as possible. In the movie “God Is Not Dead,” an appearance is made and the movie is concluded by one “Christian” band in particular, who articulate the Gospel message as accurately as a Mormon and as enthusiastically as a Catholic, all while avoiding any offensive content for the viewer to question. This is nothing more than a picture of what the modern church is capable of presenting, as they water down the Message so thoroughly that there is little left.
There is, of course, the other side to the argument, which attempts to strip away the light show and popular music and replace it with good ‘ole Christian music, making sure that no demons will be summoned due to the obvious lack of drum sets and satanic beats. However, they too also fall short in their theological content, as they focus on the version of the Bible one uses (KJV only, anyone?), while ignoring the clear teaching of that Bible about doctrines such as, oh, God’s sovereignty and our lack of truly free will. They find their holiness in their clothing and their righteousness in their instruments, and rush for the attention of any evangelical super-star, should they visit the area. They trip over each other to hear the words of men who travel the country, and belittle the man God has put right in front of them, simply because he lacks obvious fame.
The True Issue At Hand
The obvious, and I think unavoidable issue at hand, is not as much the style (although there is certainly a time and place to debate over this), as much as it is people’s unwillingness to come if there are no means by which their focus is kept through variation, activity and novelty. Simply put, if there is no entertainment, there is little reason to come. They are unwilling to try and maintain their own focus on their own, and simply fall back in the pew and fall asleep if they fail to be interested in the content. People fail to see the relevance of the Bible, and must constantly pull it and mold it to suit their ever-changing desires and lusts. And thus the modern preacher and church leader(s) are left with three questions: If there is no way to entertain them, what else can we do? Should we even entertain them at all? In fact, why should people even come to church at all??
What the Bible Says
This is the first place we should arrive in the quest to discover why we should even come to church, and more particularly, whether or not we should seek to be entertained at all. There are three points to consider, I believe, and they should not be difficult to understand nor apply. In fact, when we read through God’s Word, from which many people claim to be arguing for, there is a common theme throughout, and a good deal of its content should point us back to very Gospel itself, since (if we were given it accurately the first time around) it deals with these points already. Although few actually know the true Gospel, this should be an excellent point to begin, since many in the professing church are not actually, genuinely saved. Their need to be entertaining scream this fact, but their ignorance of God’s actual Word declares it louder than anything else.
Entertainment Is the Priority of the Sinful World
Really, this is a clear point, and Paul was not vague about this in his letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 10:7, he writes “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’” The context of this passage, and the text from which Paul was pulling this, was about the people of Israel, who had been freed from Egypt and were provided for by God, both in hunger and thirst, and war against their enemies. And yet, despite all that God had done for them, they were not pleased, and their fleshly desires took over. In their displeasure with God, they made for themselves idols, and worshiped them, and after making sure their were full with food, they stood up and proceeded to entertain themselves, dancing around and exalting all methods of immoral behavior their perverted minds could come up with. Now one may ask, “What does that have to do with the church today? You don’t see professing Christians being like those Israelites, do you?” Well… yes and no.
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that all the professing Christians in a modern church actually know the true Gospel, 100%. They are far, far, far more accountable than the Israelites, since we have the fulfillment of the Law, which was a mere shadow of the “things to come.” The Israelites were condemned because of their idolatry, in that they forsook what was so obviously the one true God for that which they made with their own hands. The church today is practically tripping over itself to make as many alternatives to the one true God as they can, found not in golden animals, but in what, or who, they seek to please the most. Rather than sitting down to study the Word of God, to see what He actually says, they fall on their face, hoping that He will tell them something apart from what He has already said. Instead of falling on their knees in fervent prayer and repentance to God, they jump into the air and fall flat on their face, blabbering out words they themselves do not even understand, in hopes that it will make them more holy and righteous in God’s sight (and more importantly, in the sight of others). Instead of a quiet, thoughtful place to consider God’s Truth, they seek to flood a building with thousands of people and build the music so loud and tense that nobody actually considers what causes the feelings, and instead simply let themselves drown in their own emotion, so as to feel holy and loved. In other words, instead of sitting down, waiting patiently as God instructed the Israelites, they get fed up with being content with what they have, forsake God’s commands, and entertain themselves, all while still worshiping what they believe to be God. As far as the Israelites were concerned, they were worshiping the same God that rescued them from the land of Egypt. It is not as though they suddenly became atheists or agnostics, but rather, they simply exchanged the Truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
And why shouldn’t they play? When they forsake, or simply just ignore, the Gospel and God’s Word, they become as the rest of the world. As Paul also says in the same letter to the Corinthians, “If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.” (15:32) As far as the modern church is concerned, “small points of theology” need not be considered, since God is more concerned about our love and satisfaction in this life. You must understand, dear reader, that the modern church has fallen into the same trap as the Israelites, not in that they do the same actions, but in what they prioritize: they need to be kept awake. Entertained. Happy and satisfied. If God’s Word bores them, does not seem applicable or helpful, or they simply do not care to hear more words, but instead want feeling and emotion, than they will naturally run to the music and movie industry to fulfill these lusts. And thus they have done very clearly.
What Should They Want?
It makes sense then to ask this question. If, after all, they should not seek to be entertained, what should they strive for? And this would be an excellent question, if only more people would ask it…
What is the primary purpose of life? To glorify God. Any true Bible-believing Christian should happily acknowledge this to be true, and anyone who fails to is already outside of the Christian belief. Nevertheless, the glory of God is the reason why all things exist, and is the end-result of the Gospel. One may then well ask, “Can’t we glorify God in our emotional music and wonderful events?” Well, look first at the Christian life, before we look to the emotional and the music…
To better understand how this works itself out in the life of a true Christian, look to the life of the apostle Paul, who (needless to say) did not live the most comfortable, nor popular, life. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians finds him defending himself in chapter 11, and we find the culmination of his lifestyle in verses 21-31…
“But in whatever respect anyone else is bold- I speak in foolishness- I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?- I speak as if insane- I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”
There are two things that should capture our attention when reading this verse (concerning entertainment in the church, and the Christian’s life overall): firstly, what was lacking. Notice a lack of concern that Paul wasn’t “having a good time,” but rather quite the opposite. He was venting about his pains in life, and yet did not consider that he was not entertained. He did not mention the need for an emotional boost through any sort of entertainment, but rather, his focus was something else entirely, which leads to the second thing we must see in this text: his priority was outside of himself entirely. More importantly, it was Who he lived for, and endured all of these things for, which is found in the 4th chapter of his second letter to his disciple, Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
It is clear what Paul lived for, and if we compare what most professing Christians live for today, it is shameful, to say the least. Many can hardly get up without some emotional boost via music or good news, and should an inconvenience come along, we practically break. After a week of constant repetition in the secular workplace, and when the guilt begins to build inside, it comes time for church on Sunday, in which people will find their emotions recharged, and their minds reset for another week of life-as-usual. There isn’t any suffering involved, since there is little worth suffering for. There is nothing in particular to live for, since their version of God is nothing more than a general, lovable point of comfort when the going gets tough. And yet, for Paul, God was far more than this. The Truth was his lifestyle and his motivation, and he was driven daily to live for God, after dying to himself and learning all the more that “power is perfected in weakness.” The concerns of this life grow strangely dim when the glory of God is our hope and sure foundation, as all other trials seem to pale in comparison. We need no music, no gather, and no visual effects, much less a false sense of security, to glory in our pain and suffering, since God’s Word is so clear and powerful, never being of any empty use to those who believe. When we truly understand and believe the Gospel, it only makes sense that we should suffer, and ought to expect to suffer more. In Matthew 19:27, Peter is found asking our Lord a question: “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And the Lord’s response is, perhaps, too often glossed over: “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” Before we can jump up and down and sing about all the rewards (and yes, the twelve thrones are for the apostles, not us), we must not overlook all that He says about life on this earth. The cost of following Him could even include our very lives, and certainly ought to include our desire to be entertained. In fact, our entire nature of what entertains us must go through a truly radical remodel, as we are molded after Christ, not the latest trend in music and style. It is called “death to self,” not “enjoyment of self.”
The ultimate joy of the Christian is not music, nor the accomplishments of “Christian” groups sneaking into Hollywood, nor even squeezing thousands into a stadium to hear a person proclaim what they think is the Gospel, but rather, the glory of God is the greatest joy. In fact, in Heaven, there are “four living creatures” that are specifically designed for one purpose- to glorify God forever. God did not send them a savior, nor did He bless them with mansions and friends and talents beyond measure. Rather, He gave them one task, and it is one they are genuinely excited about as they proclaim His glory to the ends of Heaven. “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME!’” (Revelation 4:8)
In fact, all of Heaven will be glorifying Him. “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a [singular] loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying ‘Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14)
How We Truly Glorify God
It is important, however, to ask yourself the question: HOW DO I GLORIFY GOD?!? Thankfully, the Bible does not merely hold the answers to that question, IT IS THE ANSWER. You see, it is impossible to glorify God honorably and joyfully if you have no idea WHO He is, much less what He commands and expects of us. If we claim to worship and glory in Him, and yet do not actually read what He says, we are liars and hypocrites, and are worse than the sinners of the world, and the Israelites, since we are without excuse, since we have the revelation of the Old Covenant, the utmost clarity of His Word, and the countless resources to understand it. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) It truly is that simple: if you want to glorify God (truly), then you are free to study His Word, learn how to glorify Him, and then proceed to do thus.
The issue with today’s church is that it is so absorbed in the method, and fails to ever consider the reality that it is found in God’s Word, not in the setting, nor even emotion. It is not a matter of being entertained, as the Spirit of God was never designed to do that. Instead, He convicts us, cornering us with the Truth of God’s Word, and thus leads us to it. And even when the Spirit comforts us, it is not through entertainment, but through His Word, knowing and trusting in Him who judges righteously.