Recently, we received a complaint that something we were experimenting with at church is wrong because it’s “entertainment. This is not surprising. Many Church periodicals have taken to condemning various practices on the grounds that the practice is entertainment, as though the Bible somewhere makes entertainment a sin. I suppose you can’t sell a magazine unless you have something to harp on. Surely, though, we could find something to write about that’s actually in the Bible.
One Church of Christ web site declares,
We do not use entertainment as a means of drawing people to Christ–we believe the drawing power of the gospel is sufficient. The entertainment of young people is a duty of the home, not the church.
Hmm. When the preacher is boring, we fire him. But if he blends his lessons with a little humor, some nice illustrations, a story or two, then we give him a raise. After all, it helps if the sermon is a little enterta … (oops), I mean, engaging. No one disputes that it’s okay for the preacher to engage our attention this way. After all, it’s just human nature that it’s hard to pay attention if the sermons is just a little too dry–that is, not very entertaining.
On the other hand, if the preacher did nothing but tell jokes, even if he were a great stand up comic, we’d fire him. We’d properly expect his sermons to be of some spiritual profit to us. So it’s not so much that entertainment is wrong. It’s just that entertainment should not interfere with the reason we assemble. In fact, we should expect the entertainment to contribute to the reason we assemble.
And this is what’s wrong with condemning entertainment. It’s neither right nor wrong. It’s right when it furthers a proper spiritual purpose. It’s wrong when it interferes with doing what God wants us to do.
Just so, it’s quite alright to entertain teenagers if we do it toward a proper spiritual end. But if all we do is entertain them, then we have a pretty sorry youth ministry.
Harping on entertainment focuses on the wrong question. In worship, the Biblical questions are: Are we edifying, encouraging, comforting, or strengthening the congregation (1 Cor. 14)? and: Are we spurring one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)? If the entertainment does one of these things, then it’s quite plainly authorized. If not, we likely need to reconsider our plans.
Which leads to the question of applause. Traditionally, we’ve not applauded in church, even when we really wanted to. It just wasn’t done. Lately, though, many congregations have come to approve this practice.
Not surprisingly, many have denounced this practice. One website declares that applause “has the sole purpose of showing that their favorite theatrical performer is overwhelmingly superior to the others.” Really?
In the United States, applause expresses approval and encouragement. At Alabama football games, when a player gets hurt, we applaud when he gets up to go to the sideline to be treated. We aren’t expressing our pleasure at being entertained by his injury! We’re encouraging him, letting we know we appreciate his effort and sacrifice for the team.
When our basketball team goes on defense in a close game, we clap to spur them on to play hard. We are trying to encourage them.
In basketball, when the referee finally calls three seconds on the opposing team, we applaud, not because he’s so entertaining, but to show our (admittedly sarcastic) approval.
Another Church of Christ web site declares, “Worshipers simply lack scriptural permission for hand clapping and therefore it is not an acceptable endeavor in the context of worship.” Now, really, this is absurd beyond words. We do lots of things in worship without specific authority. We build buildings, we buy pews, we have a song leader, we hire a preacher, etc., etc. But, it’s argued, these are simply means of doing what we’re commanded to do. They’re aids in worship. And, indeed, they are.
But we are not only permitted to encourage our brothers and sisters, we are commanded to do so (1 Thes. 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:25). This is more than sufficient authority for applause. After all, the Bible nowhere specifies one and only one way to encourage one another.
In fact, as Heb. 10:25 commands us to encourage one another in the assembly, not merely to be encouraged, applause is one of the few ways we can actually honor the command.
We really need to stop doctrinalizing issues that are actually just matters of taste