Entertainment and Worship

Article by Pastor Joe Thorn of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois. (original source here)

In every church and every generation of Christians, there is the potential to lose our focus on the things that are most important (Heb. 2:1). We must constantly remind ourselves and re-center our churches lest we find ourselves trusting in something other than the gospel of God and the Word of God.

One of the more dangerous drifts happening in our local churches today is within our corporate worship. In many churches there is a de-emphasis on the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments or ordinances), and a reliance on entertainment. Some try to balance the two in the name of reaching more people with the gospel, but there is an inescapable danger in overvaluing entertainment and implementing it in corporate worship.

This is not a new phenomenon. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” It may not be new, but it is increasingly popular, especially in light of our entertainment-driven culture. We see this in secular songs played by worship bands to wow the crowd. It’s hard to miss the value of amusement in the comedy-full but theology-empty preaching of many pulpits. Many of us have felt it in elaborate performances for the congregation to observe, but not to participate in. For some, Sunday morning more closely resembles a variety show than an offering made to God. The danger in bringing entertainment into gathered worship lies in the aim of entertainment and its work against the aim of worship.

I am not suggesting that church should be boring or that every church should have identical worship services, as if there is only one appropriate form in which to worship the Lord. Corporate worship from church to church varies in many ways. The styles, music, and liturgies developed in particular contexts and traditions lead to different flavors in worship. The church of Jesus Christ is made up of people, and therefore congregations, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and this means diversity from church to church. This is often a good thing, something we can celebrate, as long as the church’s worship is ordered according to the parameters of Scripture and offered by faith.

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at.

Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

While worship is to be directed at God, it simultaneously offers much more than entertainment can ever deliver. As the church draws near to God, the Lord draws near to us, and we receive grace. Grace—regenerating grace, renewing grace, reviving grace—is offered to the congregation through the means of grace. The result of worshiping God in spirit and truth is transformation. Entertainment cannot lead to edification. Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Entertainment might draw a crowd or captivate a congregation, but only the means of grace will draw people to Christ and conform them to His image.

The beauty of worship is that it is infinitely more powerful than entertainment. Entertainment seeks to replicate drama and awe. But the grace of God in worship unveils the deepest drama in the world and produces authentic awe in the light of the revelation of God.

True worship may be painful one moment and joyful the next, as we encounter God’s law and gospel, confessing our sins and resting in the pardon we have in Jesus Christ. What is more dramatic than condemned sinners being forgiven by a holy God? Than slaves’ being set free by the Savior? What is more thrilling than the Son of God’s standing in the place of the ungodly to save them from God’s wrath? The church doesn’t need a performance of any kind to aid us in worship. We need the Word of God read and preached, prayed and sung, for in this we exalt and experience our triune God.

Entertainment has its place and serves a good, if earthly, purpose. Our local churches will do well to be careful of drifting toward it in an effort to draw or address the needs of sinful men and women. The Scripture is what God uses to penetrate the soul and change the heart. May we give ourselves to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, rather than mere emotion and amusement.

Raise Your Expectations for Sunday Morning

Dr. John Piper:

Audio Transcript

The word, under which you will now gather week in and week out, applied to you for the direction of your souls, is infinitely — I choose that word carefully — infinitely more authoritative than all presidential directives put together. The word of God in Scripture that will come and break over you week after week is infinitely wiser, deeper, sweeter, purer, stronger, more effective, more transforming, more durable, more lasting, more satisfying than all the directives and all the legislation that will come out of Washington for the next four years. Every week.

Not only that, but as you gather as the eternally loved people of God, under the word of God, in the power of the Spirit of God, you will in fact — in reality, in this room — meet God. God will come to you. There is a unique and manifest presence of the living God reserved for his family gathered in worship. I know whereof I speak, personally.

He will be enthroned, uniquely, on your praises (Psalm 22:3). He will reveal himself to you as you love him together in this room.

He will heal broken marriages as a husband and a wife singing together in the presence of God feel the impossible become possible.

He will humble the most arrogant sinner who walks through these doors. He will humble him, and he will walk out after meeting God in worship as a little child.

He will shine his light on your utter confusion as you walk in, and you will leave knowing what way to go.

He will catch you falling over the cliff of hopelessness as you walk in here, and by the end of these services you will feel ground under your feet.

He will convict you of the ugliness of a hidden habit that is quietly destroying your life. And you will walk out after meeting him under the word, by the Spirit in worship, not resolving to be free, but free.

I wonder if your expectations are that high. This is what he does when his people gather in worship.

Who Is Lord of the Church?

Article by Dr. John MacArthur – This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. (original online source here)

The truth that Christ is Lord of His church may sound somewhat benign to a casual listener in our generation, but the struggle for Christ’s authority in the church has come to us through the ages on a sea of blood. Thankfully, literal bloodshed over the issue is no longer very common. But faithful Christians are still waging a fierce moral and intellectual battle for Christ’s lordship over the church.

One of the major early catalysts in the Protestant Reformation was a book by Jan Hus, a Bohemian Christian who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. The book was De Ecclesia (The Church), and one of Hus’ most profound points was proclaimed in the title of his fourth chapter: “Christ the Only Head of the Church.”

Hus wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the [true] holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.” Pointing out that most church leaders in his era actually despised the lordship of Christ, Hus said, “To such a low pitch is the clergy come that they hate those who preach often and call Jesus Christ Lord.”

Hus’ candor cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burnt at the stake in 1415.

More than a hundred years later, already at odds with the papal establishment, Martin Luther read De Ecclesia. After finishing the book, he wrote to a friend, “I have hitherto taught and held all the opinions of Jan Hus unawares; so did John Staupitz. In short, we are all Hussites without knowing it.”

Emboldened by his reading of Hus, the reformer took up the fight for Christ’s honor as true head of His church. Luther wrote, “I am persuaded that if at this time, St. Peter, in person, should preach all the articles of Holy Scripture, and only deny the pope’s authority, power, and primacy, and say, that the pope is not the head of all Christendom, they would cause him to be hanged. Yea, if Christ himself were again on earth, and should preach, without all doubt the pope would crucify him again.”

In many ways, the question, who is Lord of the church? was the over-arching issue of the Protestant Reformation from the start. (That’s what Luther was tacitly acknowledging when he said “we are all Hussites.”)

Of course, Roman Catholic canon law still insists that the pope is her supreme earthly head and the ruling vicar of Christ in that capacity.

But the historic Protestant commitment to Christ’s lordship over the church has also subtly eroded, and that is a trend that deeply concerns me. It’s an issue I have written much about over the years.

For example, some evangelical leaders aggressively teach that it is not even necessary to confess Jesus as Lord in order to be saved. That’s what the so-called “lordship controversy” is about. It would be hard to imagine a more obvious attack against the lordship of Christ over His church, but “no-lordship theology” has thrived for years and seems to be gaining strength.

Evangelicals also gave birth to the “seeker-sensitive” movement wherein church services are tailored to please trend-savvy unbelievers. Novelties ranging from circus acts to slapstick are deliberately injected into corporate “worship” in order to keep worldly minds entertained. That is a practical denial of Christ’s lordship over His church, relegating His Word and ordinances to secondary status while granting hedonistic fashions the right to determine even the order of worship.

Feminists want to redefine the idea of headship, eliminating the idea of authority from the concept altogether. That, too, is a frontal attack on Christ’s lordship over His church.

Bible translators and paraphrasers who tamper with the true sense of God’s Word; emergent church leaders who question the clarity of everything Christ has said; and above all, preachers who seem to talk about everything but Scripture — all of them do what they do in direct defiance of Christ’s rightful authority over His church.
One thing would do more than anything else to answer every challenge to Christ’s authority: the restoration of clear, powerful, expository preaching to its rightful place at the center of all the church’s activities. If we truly believe Christ is Lord of the church, then the church needs to hear His voice. His Word must be proclaimed and its content taught accurately, systematically, and unrelentingly whenever the church comes together.

Jan Hus said the same thing. Declaring that the lordship of Christ over His church means emphatically “that the Christian ought to follow the commandments of Christ,” Hus then cited Acts 10:42 (“[Christ] commanded us to preach to the people”) and called on church leaders of his day to preach the Word of God at every opportunity — even though a papal bull was then in force, strictly limiting how and where the Scriptures could be proclaimed.

The church today is badly in need of reformation again. And Christ’s lordship over His church is still the central truth we must recover, which requires the unleashing of His Word among His people again. We cannot merely float along with the latest evangelical trends and expect things to get better. Like Jan Hus and Martin Luther, we need to fight for the honor and authority of Christ as Lord of His church.

The Christian & The Church

Dr. John MacArthur

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 1:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 2:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 3:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 4:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 5:

Christ, the Head of the Church

God’s Strategy for Church Growth

The Bible and “Youth Ministry”

Voddie Baucham on Youth and Age Segregated Ministry:

Time Stamp – For Questions:
0:01:13 Institutional Sacred Cows
0:02:14 Follow the Money
0:05:15 History of the Sunday School Movement
0:06:43 Expansion of the Youth Ministry
0:07:37 What about kids whose parents don’t teach them?
0:11:19 If you get rid of youth ministry, how do you justify similar ministries?
0:12:59 You claim to be an abolitionist, what do you mean?
0:15:00 We’ve created a Church within a Church
0:17:14 Are high numbers of kids really leaving the church?
0:18:53 On foxes guarding the hen house
0:20:33 How do we reach the lost if we get rid of youth ministry?
0:22:02 Why can’t we have youth ministry and parental involvement
0:24:12 Don’t kids who leave the church eventually come back?
0:25:12 Give and example from the Bible for how you train your youth.
0:28:08 Didn’t Jesus get trained in the Temple when he was twelve?
0:30:10 Why is it wrong to gather youth together to worship and pray and be taught?
0:31:37 What is the real issue?
0:32:54 Does the church have freedom to innovate?
0:35:59 What is your message to fathers?
0:36:59 What is your message to pastors??

The Church and the Reformation

Article: Ecclesiastical Eclipse: Evangelicalism and the Reformation by Bruce Baugus (original source RI. This is a good thing; however, my expectations are limited because the broadly evangelical discussion of the Reformation often reduces its legacy to a set of disembodied ideas about salvation (e.g. sola gratia and sola fide) and theological method (e.g. sola Scriptura). While the cultural and political implications of these ideas are much discussed (and sometimes exaggerated), the centrality of the church and the character of the Reformation as a fundamentally ecclesial affair are often neglected or under appreciated.

In fact, Evangelicalism, as a loosely confederated movement of extra-ecclesial institutions such as parachurch ministries, schools, publishing houses, websites, speakers, bands, and conferences, has a rather awkward relationship with this aspect of the Reformation’s legacy.

Churchly Character of the Reformation’s Legacy

From the beginning and throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the object of reform was not so much the doctrine debated in universities but the institutional church–its worship, ministry, discipline, and government. While the Reformation was certainly marked by profound doctrinal development within prolegomena and the loci of soteriology and ecclesiology, the central ideas of the Reformation were neither as unprecedented nor distinct as they are sometimes portrayed.

This, at least, was the argument advanced by the next several generations of Protestants who argued their interpretations and teachings of the gospel were not only true to Scripture but also in line with the best strands of the catholic tradition. Unprecedented, new, distinct, or other adjectives that suggested genuine novelty of thought were close to condemnations at that time; being a reformer was a delicate and often dangerous vocation.

Conversely, even the most defining and unifying Protestant claim, that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone, found several defenders among Roman Catholic loyalists at the Council of Trent. Giulio Contarini and company (Ranke, History of the Popes, counts seven in all; I.138), at least resisted the push to anathematize this view. They obviously lost the argument, but the fact they made the case at Trent in 1546-47, while pope and emperor were waging war against Protestants, is telling.

I am not suggesting, of course, that doctrine was inconsequential to the Reformation (or that the gospel is just some set of ideas); on the contrary, the Reformation was driven by evangelical convictions preached in pulpits and taught and debated in classrooms and writings. What I am suggesting is that the distinguishing characteristic of the Reformation as a historical development is not found in the ideas alone but in the transformation of the church across swaths of Europe as the institutional embodiment of those evangelical convictions. Without that there would have been no Reformation and no heritage for us to commemorate and debate five hundred years later. Continue reading

3 Reasons Why Every Christian Needs the Church

Article by Nicholas Davis (original source you are not the only disciple in this world. There are others whom Jesus has also called, but once we do, it is no longer “I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 3:20). Christ has a visible body, and he calls it his “church.”

Christians were never meant to live apart from other Christians—we were made to be part of the same community. Here are several reasons why every Christian needs the local church.

1. Every Christian needs spiritual care.
It’s common for people to attend a church regularly without officially belonging to that particular church. What this sort of church attendance fails to understand is that all sheep need a shepherd. Jesus is, of course, our ultimate Shepherd, but he leads his sheep through under-shepherds who are specially called to care for his people. The biblical warrant for the spiritual care of every Christian comes from the following passage:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:1–5; emphasis mine)

It’s clear from passages like this that God desires every Christian to be under the spiritual care and authority of flesh and blood elders (see also Heb. 13:7). Elders are those whom God has called to shepherd his people, and they are to give an account of their spiritual care to Jesus—the true Shepherd—on the last day.

Additionally, Paul charged Timothy and Titus to “entrust” the apostolic teaching to “elders in every town” where there is a church (Acts 14:23; 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:5). He expected each church to have people who were called and appointed to serve in every place that people gathered.

Who really wants to live life unprotected and alone, anyway? Unfortunately, this is what Christians are functionally doing when they forgo the ordinary care they would normally receive from a local church.

2. Every Christian needs accountability.
When I was in college, I had accountability partners with whom I could share my deepest struggles. As great as that fellowship was with other Christians, it only went so far. It wasn’t until the end of college that I experienced the benefits of belonging to not only an accountability buddy but also to a group of real men to whom I could look up and learn from in both doctrine and life experience.
Additionally, when I had an accountability partner, I could only be held accountable to what I shared. Furthermore, if I did share something really “bad,” my friend could only tell me that it was wrong. He didn’t have any more authority than that. If we are members of a church, however, then the leaders of that local church will have the ability to hold me accountable to my profession of faith. If I am denying the gospel outwardly, I’m rebuked and corrected. This is necessary for Christians, so that we don’t become hard-hearted or leave the faith altogether.

In Matthew 18, Jesus describes the practice of church discipline. This may sound like a scary term, but it outlines the process a believer should take when another believer sins against him. If the sin cannot be resolved between the two Christians, then the last step is to “tell it to the church” (v. 17). The only way Christians can faithfully obey Jesus in this life is if they are part of a broader body than their own Christian group: they need to actually belong to a Christian church.

3. Every Christian needs others.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he tore down the walls of hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:13–16). The body of Christ has many members—it is multigenerational and multiethnic. It has always been this way. In Hebrews 11, Paul describes how Rahab, the non-Israelite prostitute, was engrafted into the people of God by faith. It is also always going to be this way in the new heavens and new earth:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)

As sinful human beings, we tend to hang around people who are most like us. But God calls us to something much greater and grander than this when he knits us together as one body in the church. In this new community that God creates by his Word, we are forced to be around people whom we may not always like—but we are still called to love.

We are surrounded by older and younger Christians, people who are barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, those who are independently wealthy, and those who are racially or culturally very different from us. The gospel brings all of these differences together, and it shows forth the beauty of the entire creation that God is redeeming. God created variety, and he is redeeming variety.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14–15, Paul wrote to encourage a mature church with these words: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” We really do need one another, and we are always better off when we’re together.

Church Member! Fight to Attend Your Church Weekly!

church_16a_smallArticle by Geoffrey R. Kirkland (original source indeed! We live in such a swirlingly busy age with countless distractions and endless entertainments and overly-busy schedules. How easily and how quickly it can be that the gathering together with the people of God in your local assembly can be missed one week because of a scheduling conflict. And then it becomes easier the next week. And the next. And so on. So the title is intentional and the motive of this essay is pastorally & compassionately exhortational: FIGHT and make it a priority to attend your local church on a weekly basis.

I understand things come up. Illness happens. Vacations occur. There are providential workings of God that may cause a child of God to miss church. But please hear this: missing church should not be the norm; it should be the exception. It is your local church where Christ promises to walk amidst His people and bless them by speaking to them and ministering to them in very real and special ways.

Additionally, this essay is for the true Christian. This is not just another paper urging the unsaved to just ‘get to church’. This essay is for those whom God has saved and who have obediently committed themselves to a local church and submitted themselves to the leadership of that church. This is an essay for the saved to reorient the focus on the Lord and on His church because this in our culture can distract and disrupt and cloud our minds at times.

My argument? Fight with all your might to attend your church weekly. I’ll provide 7 simple reminders.

1. For the sake of your HEART.
Dear Christian, bought with the precious blood of Christ, as a newborn baby long for the pure milk of the Word so that you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2). O child of God, have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? Have you partaken of the sweetnesses of His love for you? Do you hunger for Him and thirst for righteousness? Attend church for the sake of your heart so that you can grow as you receive the food of the Word. No matter what you tell yourself and how you seek to justify it, it’s impossible for you to grow spiritually if you continually find yourself absent from the body of Christ. For the sake of your heart, attend your church to be fed God’s Word through the preaching and to hear Christ address you and the Spirit to mold your heart through the truths heralded.

2. For the sake of your CONGREGATION.
Dear Christian, Christ never called you to a life of lone-ranger isolationism. Christianity is never my Christianity. It’s always a community, joint, shared journey. And that journey is with other predestined travelers who are progressing and traveling to glory just as you are. Don’t neglect them! No matter what you tell yourself, private times in the Word (as important as that is!), and family worship (as important as that is!), and listening to sermons online (as helpful as that can be!) is not a substitute for actually going to the gathering with your fellow believers to worship the crucified & risen & interceding Christ together. Your fellow believers who have covenanted together love you. When you’re not there, they wonder where you are (at least, they *should*). They care for you and wonder if everything’s OK. We minister together as a body. A body has many members. When one member is absent, there’s something incomplete about the body. So make it a point, a deliberate point, to attend worship with your congregation.

3. For the sake of your LEADERSHIP.
You, dear Christian, submitted yourself obediently to Christ and willfully from your heart to membership in your local church (if you haven’t done so yet, you should). They are called by God to give watchcare over your soul. As a father cares for his children, so a leader loves and gives oversight to Christ’s people. As a husband leads his wife and protects her, so undershepherds are to care for Christ’s Bride by giving biblical leadership to her. As a shepherd leads and guides the sheep, so your pastor-elders must give biblical guidance and counsel to the sleep bought with the blood of Christ. Your leadership cares for you. They watch over you. They are to minister to you. One of the *primary* ways your pastors care for you is by praying regularly for you and preaching God’s Word faithfully to you. If you miss church, you’re neglecting one of God’s chiefest ways for your pastors to care for your soul — through the feeding of God’s Word. If a child didn’t come to meals, wouldn’t a loving parent wonder what’s going on and whether the child is sick? So you, dear Christian, receive the feeding and nurturing and loving and guidance from Christ as His appointed undershepherds tenderly love your soul by praying, studying, and preaching. You should attend & receive.

4. For the sake of your TEMPTABILITY.
Dear Christian, still growing in godliness, fight sin and temptation with zeal. Have you forgotten you have a cunning enemy who would love to distract you and put obstacles (enticing and entertaining ones!) so that you don’t attend church? Don’t isolate yourself! If you miss one or two or three weeks, how easy it is (and Satan loves to underscore this in your mind) to miss just *another* week. After all, no one has called and (you may think) no one notices or cares. But how temptable we are — even as children of God. We are not to abandon the gathering with the saints and we’re not to let worldly endeavors take precedence over, or priority over, the Word of God. To help guard you from temptation and to help keep you alert to your sinfulness, sin’s attractiveness, Christ’s beauty, and heaven’s nearness, fight to attend corporate worship as a safeguard and as a blessing to fortify your soul in grace & in the gospel weekly. Continue reading