Years ago I walked into a church, or, ah... what I thought was a church. I'm still not quite sure exactly what it was, although no doubt many Christians would've been a part of it.
The reason it was so difficult to tell exactly what it was, was an experience I call, 'The Show'.
Where am I?
As I entered 'The Show', ah... sorry, the 'church' for the first time, it was an assault to the senses. The smell of fragrant smoke permeated the air and washed over me in rhythmic and unrelenting waves. Smoke machines were situated on the stage at the front, but—before I had a chance to contemplate the usefulness of such things in a place of worship—my eyes were inexorably drawn to the discovery of more confounding oddities.
Above the stage, and overhanging the congregation area, was a row of lights, like you'd expect to see used in a production or dance performance. These lights illuminated the rest of the meeting place, soaking its features in a kaleidoscope of colour, while also spasmodically targeting random members of the congregation as though to announce a game of laser-tag was commencing.
Still trying to process what I was witnessing, I slowly made my way up the ascending movie-like seating area. I found myself sinking into a luxurious chair—including drink holders either side of me—and for a moment my bewildered mind thought the latest instalment of The Lord of the Rings was about to begin. As the movie... sorry... 'service' began, so did my attempt at worship, but this was easier said than done.
I'm a young person, and have never had a problem with cranking up the sound to a favourite song in the car, but—even for me—the loudness of the music meant I couldn't even think straight, let alone hear myself—or anyone else for that matter—sing and worship the Lord. Despite this, I powered on in an attempt to focus on the Lord and His goodness, but from this point on my attempts did not go well.
As I closed my eyes to concentrate on worshipping, the floodlight-type fluorescent spotlights continuously danced around the room and flickered on and off at random intervals, lighting up my eyelids like Christmas tree lights.
The colourful intrusions, combined with the sweet burnt odour of smoke, heart-attack inducing noise of the music, and the hypnotising moving graphics on TV screens left me in a kind of stunned spectator stupor—rather than help me to worship and commune with the Lord. It rendered me unable to do anything except experience what was happening in front of, and to me.
Although what followed the singing was in its own way quite disturbing, that's a story for another time. By the end of the worship the tone and intent of the service had been revealed and—sadly—spiritually maimed what could've been considered the good and godly parts of the following message.
Unfortunately, for many churches in the west these days, this type of 'showy' church service is not a rare one. Many have decided that entertainment and an experience to dazzle and enthral the senses of church-goers and prospective followers of Christ is the way to go. What a great error! What a tragedy!
Out of place
Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with entertainment (unless sinful in its mode or content). To be entertained is not, in itself, immoral, evil, or even unbeneficial to life or godly spirituality.
Entertainment can be uplifting, informative and enlightening, and can provide another means to enjoy the good gifts God has given—humour, creativity, wisdom and the ability to explore the glorious dynamics and intricacies of human relationships, the world around us, and even life itself.
However, the use of entertainment in church can, at the very least, create the unwanted problem of distraction, and, at the most, create a situation where congregation members passively watch what is being presented to them, rather than actively and meaningfully worship, hear from, and commune with the Lord.
The purpose of church
The reason God instructed His people to meet together was not to be entertained or even transfixed and overwhelmed by their senses, but rather, as the Bible says in Hebrews chapter 10, verse 25, to '...encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' And, to do like the early church did in the book of Acts when they, '...devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.' (Acts chapter 2, verse 42).
In all those things we see what God wants the function and purpose of church to be. He wants it to be a place where His people not only fellowship together and love each other, but also honour, think on, learn about, and pray to Him. We see that Jesus wants church to be a place where we encourage each other to continually love, serve and follow Him.
These are simple and straightforward things, but also incredibly sacred, holy, precious, powerful and fruitful things. It is those Holy Spirit appointed things, and not entertainment, that please and glorify God, work His will, and transform and adorn His Church in the way He desires.
Tim has lived on the Gold Coast in Queensland for most of his life. He has a B.A in Journalism and Writing, a Graduate Diploma of Education and an Associate of Theology degree, and has taught in Christian Education for just over six years. He enjoys writing, bodyboarding and watching movies.
Tim Price's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-price.html