Looking back over our first year of blogging, it is clear that the most visited feature of this site is our Discernment in Music (DiM) where we take a Biblical look at the most popular songs being played on “Christian Radio” today. The concern is that we’ve allowed our minds and hearts to be filled with anything calling itself “Christian” without carefully examining what is being conveyed by these songs either directly or by inference. Many of these songs are working their way into Churches for “Praise and Worship”, so we really need to make sure what we preach (with or without musical accompaniment) is in keeping with sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Toward the end of the Fall, we here in the Georgia started getting a lot of concert events hosted by local Churches and Christian Radio stations. There are some Artists who draw large crowds these days all on their own: Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Toby Mac. In some of the more remote/rural areas, it’s hard to get one of the big names to do a concert so what event planners will do is set up Music Festivals to bring several artists together. Local stations will often promote these events heavily, offering free tickets as incentives for community engagement, but for the most part tickets to the event are purchased for anywhere from $15 to $35 per adult. Touring, ticket sales, and Album/iTunes sales are the basis for the careers of these musicians and their production team. This is their job. This is what they do to earn their salaries. Yet, within the Christian Community, we also include all of this as their Ministry. Is that true in every case?
***Edit: Some artists do the concert events for free so that ticket sales can go toward a local Charity or fund raiser. These should still not be sold as “worship”, but I wanted to make it clear that the money isn’t always going to the artists***
At the close of one such musical event last fall (2014), there was a comment made that seemed to stop everything in its tracks… like in the movies where someone makes an awkward comment in a huge house party and everyone freezes and you hear the Vinyl Record come to a screeching halt.
“…So come on out and join us on [Day] starting at [Time] for a night of worship and celebration…”
Are we paying for the opportunity to worship God, or are we paying for a night of musical entertainment? I can understand if you just rolled your eyes, or let out a sigh of exasperation… but while you are still here and reading, think about the question one more time. What are we paying for to attend one of these concert events? What is the advertisement on Christian radio actually selling? Are they selling a chance to experience skillful music and dazzling lights or are they selling “worship”? Let’s pause that thought for the moment, to consider its implications.
I’m not implying that there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment. I attended a Tim Hawkins comedy show at a local church on a Friday night. Nothing wrong with laughter, and Tim Hawkins is a professing Christian. His theology for the most part is sound, and he’s quite skilled as a musician and he understands comedy well. However, despite the fact that he plays the guitar, his event wasn’t advertised a worship event. The call to attend was to enjoy a night of comedy. Laughter isn’t a form of worship found in the Bible. Tim does try to present the Gospel during a set or between bits, but we aren’t buying tickets to a sermon, and they aren’t trying to sell sermon tickets. I can’t imagine anyone in attendance thinking to themselves, “wow, I’m really worshiping Jesus right now by enjoying these jokes”. It simply isn’t what we consider to be an act of worship, and rightly so. Can the Gospel be preached at such an event? Absolutely. Can something funny be shared in a sermon without drawing away from the Word of God? Yes. But we don’t confuse the two categories. One is entertainment, the other is Church, but everything can point to Christ (and we should endeavor to point to Christ in all that we do).
Let’s talk a little bit about Worship as it is described in the Bible. Searching (admittedly I’m not searching in the Hebrew) in the ESV for “worship”, the earliest mentions of the word are in conjunction with offering of sacrifices to God.
Genesis 22:1-5 (ESV) | The Sacrifice of Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
There isn’t always a mention of a burnt offering. In place of a burnt offering, there is sometimes a prayer of thanksgiving or of praise clearly uttered to the Lord God, such as in the case of Jacob’s servant when tasked with finding a suitable wife for Isaac.
Genesis 24:12-28 (ESV) | A Wife for Isaac
12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink.19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.
22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” 28 Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.
Before the Law, and the Mosaic covenant, this is what the Lord God considered to be Worship. We know this, because this portion of the Law was dictated to Moses by God. But we also know that the Laws within the Mosaic Covenant defined right Worship, and that God made clear that Israel was NOT to worship God ways that they learned from the fallen world. Rather than pick through the Old Testament, let us jump to the book of Hebrews, to see this explained after the cross of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 9:1-14 (ESV) | The Earthly Holy Place
1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Let’s unpack this a bit. The Laws, the specific rituals of the priesthood and of the people (offerings, washings, consecration/fasting, etc.) and the blood of animals where all regulations of worship. This is what it was to Worship the Living God under the Old Covenant. All of these forms of worship pointed to Jesus Christ whose blood would finally succeed where previous forms of worship failed, in that it would purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. What are we to do now? We still offer sacrifices to God in our worship, but what sacrifices do we offer?
Hebrews 13 (ESV) | Sacrifices Pleasing to God
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.
Declaring the mighty works of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and bearing the reproach of the world are pleasing acts of worship. Music isn’t even mentioned here. Does that make music sinful? Nope. It doesn’t make music anything. We’ve over-cooked the role of music in our modern-day understanding of “Worship”. We’ve done it in our churches and we’ve done it on the Radio, and we’ve done it in our Entertainment.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being entertained, especially not in a God-honoring format. That doesn’t mean that such entertainment also qualifies as “worship”. But how you conduct yourself in such environments matters. We were created to worship God, but our sinful nature is eager to worship anything other than God. Most often our sinful flesh urges us to worship ourselves and our desires. And we tend to do so much more flamboyantly than we do for God… and this was true even in the Old Testament (Exodus 32). Christians who attend concerts for entertainment simply need to guard their hearts from false teaching and false worship. Having a “praise band” in your church is fine, if what they are doing is indeed an act of worship to the Living God and not a form of entertainment for the congregation (that’s a very difficult “if” to evaluate by the way). The “praise band” does not worship God for the congregation, even when they are doing it well with the right heart. The call to worship is for everyone, not just the ones on the stage, and we dare not “sell” opportunities to Worship a Living God. Can ministry happen at such events? Yes. Can worship take place at such events? yes. Is that what we should be selling? No.
Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
3 thoughts on “Worship or Entertainment?”
Why do you think these tours happen at the end of the year? Tax purposes?
Touring happens nearly year-round. There might be more Christian touring concert dates near the major Christian Holidays (Christmas, Easter) but really the evangelical industrial complex has amassed substantial resources to push concert tours throughout the year. The larger artists have tour dates planned several years out. Securing the largest available venue they can fill is likely the primary factor in when/where a concert date can be established for any given city. Stadiums and Megachurch complexes are probably booked first, with smaller venues along the route added when demand meets a feasibility threshold. I worry that the conflation of “entertainment” and “worship” might have been a more deliberate marketing ploy rather than sloppy language.
Most of these artists answer not to a ministry, but to Nashville where their record labels are headquartered (most of them anyway). The bottom line there is not “what is the message of your music?” but “how many records will you sell?” I think it is impossible to be associated with Nashville musicians and not fall into this trap. So yes, I agree that megachurches and ministries are helping to funnel the marketing strategy when they advertise a “concert” and call it “worship”. The ministries themselves may not be counting on how many people attend those concerts, but Nashville sure is. I think the remedy is simply being more original, and using our own networks to have corporate worship. I find it hard to believe that believers in the same God who gave wisdom to Solomon cannot find a way to do things better than corporate recording labels.