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 magazines 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 shouldn’t 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 all right 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 proper. If not, we 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. After all, it is a change.
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 use hymnals, 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 during the worship service.
We really need to stop doctrinalizing issues that are just matters of taste.
Let me share a story that hopefully makes the point. This is the first time my congregation ever applauded.
Our youth minister had talked to the teens about being baptized. He explained that baptism is like being born a second time — except better. This time they’re being born to live forever. Therefore, they should consider this a time of celebration and joy — better than a birthday, a graduation, or even Christmas.
And one of our teens decided to be baptized. He was visibly excited when he entered the baptistry with the minister. As he came up out of the water, he shouted, “Yahoo!” expressing the sheer thrill of being a part of God’s eternal family. And the church applauded — vigorously. Loudly.
The applause was spontaneous. We were so thrilled at seeing a young man whom we had watched grow up celebrate his commitment to Jesus that we couldn’t help ourselves. I mean, you just can’t watch someone truly enjoy the truly joyous and not be moved. And so we did what Americans do when we see something we deeply appreciate. We clapped.
And as we clapped, we realized that we’d broken an unspoken rule — actually expressing our feelings in worship. And so we clapped all the more. It’s one of my favorite worship experiences of all time. I’m smiling as I type, just reflecting on the moment — and how well that young man turned out. He’s now a fulltime minister of worship.
One final point. When the scriptures wish to describe spontaneous expressions of joy at the wonder of God, a favorite image is of clapping for joy.
(Psa 47:1-2) Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. 2 How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!
(Psa 98:8-9) Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; 9 let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
(Isa 55:12) You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
If the nations, the rivers, and the trees clap because of their joy at God’s presence, surely we can do the same. It’s really quite okay.
You know, you really have to wonder at the mindset that finds wickedness in clapping for joy in God.