Berean cogitations

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Turning worship into entertainment -- Is it legalism to complain?

On various occasions, I've expressed concern about the tendency of many churches to use entertainment-oriented tactics in their corporate "worship." In some churches, for example, the musicians may prance about on stage, rather like Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Others may have the guitarists or drummers engage in long, bombastic solos, as though they were performing at a rock concert. Still others use fancy camera effects -- zooming in on the guitar player's wildly twanging fingers, for example, then projecting that image up onto the screen.

Why am I concerned? Because such tactics ultimately focus attention on the performers, rather than on the Lord.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that worship needs to be dry and mechanical. Not at all. Nor do I object to the use of cameras or projection screens per se. Having said that, I don't think there's any reason why the church needs to see a close-up of the lead guitarist's nimble fingerwork, nor is there any reason why the cameras need to circle the drummer, capturing his image from multiple angles. Similarly, when the guitarist launches into a loud, minute-long riff, how does this glorify God? It would be naive to think that the audience respond by saying, "How great is our God!" No, I daresay that most of the will be thinking, "Dang, this guy is really rocking out!"

We need to be careful. Even when our intentions are innocent, we need to avoid making giving ourselves undue focus during worship. I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that when we're worshipping, we must ensure that the focus remains on Christ. I think it's also obvious that certain tactics have a way of drawing attention to the performers rather than to the Lord.

In times past though, when I've observed discussions on this issue, I've often seen people respond by saying "That's legalistic!" or "Let people worship as they want to. Who are we to declare that any time of worship is wrong?"

The problem is that when people choose to do things their way, it's easy for them to cry, "Stop criticizing us! You're being so legalistic!" As one preacher said:

"We like to label people we don't agree with. Anybody who loves Jesus more than I do is a fanatic. Anybody who has more rigid moral standards than I do is a legalist. By attaching such labels we make ourselves feel better. Whenever human comparisons become our yardstick, we come out looking pretty good. But our only true measure is Christ and the Word of God and it is in this light that we shall consider the currently overused label of 'legalist.' ... If a fear of accusations of legalism prevents us from proclaming that God's Word needs to be applied to modern Christians, we have surely reached a sad state of affairs."

- Pastor Brian Watts, The King's Community Church in Langley, British Columbia.

This perspective also assumes that people are free to worship in whatever manner they desire. "After all, " they say, "the Lord looks at the heart. If you're sincere, then that's what counts."

I think that people forget what happened to Nadab and Abihu. Instead of worshipping God appropriately, they chose to worship in the manner that they desired (Leviticus 9:22-10:7). Instead of following God's principles, they offered "strange fire." One might wonder what this "strange fire" was, but the point is that God did not consider it acceptable. Nadab and Abihu were consumed in flame for their actions -- not because they lacked sincerity, but because their actions displeased God!

Does God look at the heart? Certainly -- but this does not mean that sincerity alone is enough. God also demands that worship be conducted in faith (Hebrews 11:4), in spirit (John 4:24), and with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). If the church employs entertainment-oriented tactics, then it is not worshipping in a reverent manner! Besides, actions have a way of reflecting the content of one's heart. If a musician is prancing about on stage, using tactics that draw attention to himself, then it would be naive to believe that his full focus is on glorifying the Lord God Almighty.

Does this sound harsh? Does it sound judgmental? Perhaps... but remember that Christians are required to exercise judgment. We have an obligation to distinguish right from wrong, and if our worship of the Lord God is compromised in any manner.... well, that's a good reason to put our feet down and say, "Enough is enough!"