Defining “Entertainment” in Worship

James C. Guy


Of all the Bible subjects Christians may disagree on, none seem as controversial as those related to worship.  There are disagreements on the meaning, purpose, and definition of worship.  There are disagreements on the nature and frequency of worship.  We disagree as to whether or not worship requires both form and function, and whether it is individual or collective.  But if we really stop and think, don't most of our most hotly debated topics on worship concern style?  Though we may seek more "meaningful" worship and desire at least an equal emphasis on function as on form (and rightly so), we seek to accomplish our goals in worship by focusing on our choice of style and form.  One says to worship "in spirit and in truth", we must have traditional, liturgical, meditative, and orderly (as we define it) style.  Another suggests that such makes worship rote and meaningless and calls for a more modern, celebrative, and free style.  The modern considers the traditional "legalistic" and the traditional considers the modern "entertainment."  The traditional is often the more outspoken (though not always), claiming that those who support a more modern style are more interested in entertainment, and that their worship is about themselves.  Ironically, most who propose a more modern style say they do so in order to make worship more spiritual, meaningful, and more about God.  So who is right?  Perhaps neither and both!  Consider what worship is really all about:



First, is something that is "entertaining" necessarily done "for entertainment"?  When someone allows, or even promotes a more modern style of worship, others often condemn them for "making worship entertaining."  If we define entertainment as enjoyment, where does God tell us that it is wrong to enjoy worship?  Where does He tell us the only way to enjoy worship is with a particular style?  Where does He tell us that being entertained (accidentally or on purpose) is wrong?  Where does He teach us that worship should be boring?  The Bible does often associate worship with joy (Psalm 122:1; Psalm 27:6; Ephesians 5:18-19; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 19:7).  If the traditional style expresses joy for one – fine.  If a modern style expresses joy for another – also fine.  That does not mean either is done for the primary purpose of entertaining ourselves.  True, if God does regulate something in worship, we should follow that.  But, because someone wants to worship in a style different than we want, whether it be traditional or modern, we should not assume that their worship is entertainment or self-focused.  Man looks on the outward appearance.  Only the Lord can look on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).      


Second, worship should be participatory.  Though the debate as to whether or not we can truly worship alone as individuals will likely continue, there is a time for corporate worship together.  We can certainly honor and meditate on God by ourselves.  That may be sparked by a song we hear, one we sing by ourselves, or by something we see or read.  But, if our idea of worship is to watch and listen to others worship, that may indeed be entertainment oriented.  God calls us all to give Him of ourselves in worship and all of life (whether or not all of life is considered worship).  No one else can be saved for us, go to heaven for us, or live the Christian life for us.  So, neither can anyone else worship for us.  You must give yourself to God in worship.   


Third, styles are neither traditional nor modern.  Those who claim traditional is the only accepted style do not themselves worship in the traditional style of the first century.  Most of what is now called traditional was considered modern (and rejected by many) only a few years ago.  For example, the four part harmony that has now become "traditional" was actually introduced sometime around the 1600's.  Our "traditional" style of preaching is a different style than what seems to have often been done in the first century.  What is now considered modern such as hand-clapping, raising hands, jubilant singing, and what are called "praise songs" are actually from other centuries before us.  In fact, the so-called "modern" praise songs that have become very popular are really much closer in style to the singing of the first century than the so-called "traditional" four-part harmony.  New "innovations" such as projecting words on a screen may utilize modern technology, but are really based on the age-old principles of visual learning that Jesus often used (i.e. "lift your eyes to the harvest," "look at this city, Jerusalem").  Isn't it interesting that Jesus used visualization to teach the truth, and Satan used it to tempt Jesus (e.g. took Him to a high place and showed Him the city).  Perhaps it isn't the style or method that is right or wrong, but the heart and purpose of the one using it.  Perhaps it isn't the modern or traditional style in worship that makes worship God-focused or self-focused, but the one doing the worshipping. 


Finally, we must keep in mind that worship is indeed about God.  The very meaning of the Greek words translated as worship to God (proskuneo, sebomai, latreuo, and eusebeo) all have the same idea to bow down before Him, humble ourselves before Him, and pay homage to Him.  While the Bible does require us to do that, it doesn't require us to do it with a particular style.  Styles are in the realm of opinion, and in matters of opinion, there should be liberty.  When we forbid others to worship in a modern style that God does not forbid, are we not the ones who are really self-focused?  We attempt to force others to be like us and follow our rules.  Or, if we attempt to require a modern style (our style) and forbid the traditional, how are we any different?  The only way we can limit worship to a particular style is if God has limited to such.  He hasn't, so we shouldn't.    


We can't make God any greater with our worship.  Rather, we can only allow Him to show us more of His greatness.  Worship should be joyful and reverent, celebrative and meditative, encouraging and convicting, and perhaps both modern and traditional.  After all, we are modern people saved by the traditional gospel.  Worship should be for those who are Christians, but it should also consider those who are seekers, showing them that "God is truly among us" (I Corinthians 14:23-25).  We are the ones who benefit from it, but it should never be about us.  It is a good thing for worship to be "entertaining" to us, as long as the purpose is to entertain God.  He is the only audience.  We are the participants.  Regardless of whether or not we are entertained in worship, worship should be done to entertain God.   

2006 ©Copyright; James C. Guy – all rights reserved. -Permission granted to copy, use, and distribute for not-for-profit purposes (please include copyright).

Click Here to return to the HOME PAGE
Click Here to return to ARTICLES
Click Here to return to ILLUSTRATIONS

COMMUNION CUPS CLICK HERE for communion cups
powered by