In the past if you were to ask someone why they attended a certain religious body they would usually say they attended to study the bible and worship God. We are living in a world today that is highly entertainment oriented. There is an erroneous idea today that the main reason people attend worship is to get something out of the service, rather than going there to worship God. This is selfish motive and many are not satisfied with the worship service because their emphasis is not on the proper object of worship which is God. Religion has given in to the allurement of entertainment to get people in. Religious people try to justify this by saying, “We must do whatever it takes to get them in.” People insist that everything must be fun or they will not participate.
There are many denominations and digressives that try to convince themselves and others that offers of food, fun, and prizes is only a secondary offering, trying to get us to believe that the real emphasis is Jesus Christ and the Word of God. There are those who tell us that we cannot reach the young and the un-churched unless we have something exciting and fun. The question is does God really want us to get people to worship at any cost? Is God a god of bribery and entertainment? The answer is no. God wants people to come to Him because they love Him and appreciate the gift of His Son.
In John chapter 6 we are told how the crowds kept coming to Jesus. Jesus performed the miracle of taking a young boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and fed 5000 men, not including women and children and had 12 baskets left over. When the crowds saw this they were convinced “This is truly the prophet who is come into the world.” They wanted to take Jesus and make Him their King. Jesus would have none of this. He sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee and He left the crowd to be alone. Later that night He met up with them by walking on water to the boat, during a storm. When He got in the boat the storm disappeared and the boat was immediately where they were going.
The next morning, back on the other side of the lake, crowds began to gather waiting to see Jesus. They knew that His disciples had gone to the other side leaving Him behind. There were several small boats that were nearby, so when the people realized that Jesus was not there, they got in the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for Him. When they got over to the other side and found Jesus, they began to question Him, as to how he got there. Now you would think that Jesus would be happy that this crowd went to so much effort to follow Him. There’s not a preacher alive who wouldn’t be pleased to have a crowd of people following him around. Instead of giving the crowd what they wanted, Jesus rebuked them and said, “The truth of the matter is you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you believe in me.” Instead of giving the crowd what they wanted, Jesus spoke words to them that they needed. He reminded them that there are some things more important than the physical. He told them that he was the bread of life that everyone must eat. This was a hard saying for these people, so instead of seriously thinking about what Jesus said they began to grumble. Now mind you, the day before, they wanted to crown Him king and were proclaiming that he was the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy. Now because He was speaking some difficult things they began to grumble. Why? The answer is really pretty simple. They were following Him because he had fed them, not because they wanted to serve God first. When people seek an emotional high from worship and don’t get it they are disappointed. Many want their worship experience to be entertaining. They want to get something out of it. They fail to worship God in spirit and in truth.
These people were not too pleased with what Jesus had to say. Jesus continued to speak some difficult words to these people. He told them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Soon many left and no longer walked with Jesus. When He offered them the physical they were willing to follow. They were even willing to cross Galilee. When he offered Himself to them, they lost interest and went home. Only a few remained when they realized He was not going to continue to hand out free meals. Jesus could have kept the crowds by continuing to feed them. Instead He let them walk away. He refused to cheapen the call of the Gospel for the carnally minded. Christianity is a serious and demanding religion, and to give people the impression that it is all fun and games is a mistake. Worship to God is holy and sacred. To pervert and corrupt it with entertainment and what we can “get out of the services in trying to please and gratify ourselves” is nothing short of blasphemy. The sacredness of true worship must not be sacrificed on the altars of entertainment. In worship we are to be the participant and not an observer. Many want to be pleased and entertained.
What method does God use to draw men and women to Him? The answer is found in John 12:32; Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.” When we see the love that God has shown us through the crucifixion of His Son, we will be drawn to Him. If that is not enough, He will let us walk away. God has never asked His people to try to bribe or entertain people to get them into the church or to keep them there. There are some people who are always demanding a handout. Many religious bodies are no more than a social club or recreational center. They offer family life centers, divorce groups, singles groups and youth groups. This is a blatant attempt to gain members without concern for true conversion and holiness. These things may draw a crowd, just as the multitudes followed Jesus when they thought loaves and fish were available. You let these religious bodies stop these things and the crowds will quickly disappear, just as they did in the first century.
God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save those who are lost 1 Corinthians 1:21. The early church offered the world nothing but the Gospel. It was not a message of fun. It was a message that called for a life of sacrifice and obedience. They offered nothing physical. There were no games, no retreats, and no amusements. They offered the opportunity to come to God, be forgiven of sins, and have the privilege to be a child of God. Nothing was offered as far as the world was concerned, yet the church experienced unprecedented growth. This message will still bear fruit today among any with a good and honest heart. The message of the Gospel when adulterated with physical appeals will draw large crowds, but it draws crowds, whose “god is their belly”. Keep them entertained and they will stay. Talk of hardship, self-discipline and sacrifice and they disappear.
The Lord’s work simply cannot compete with temporal activities at the level of fun. We need to recognize the fact that when it comes to the physical we cannot compete with the denominations and digressives of this world. In our efforts to gain the crowds, we cannot let the physical become the focus. There is a place for recreation and good times, but that is not what God has chosen to draw men to Him. The Church has a divine purpose. That purpose is not political, environmental, educational, or social, it is spiritual. The church has the God-given purpose of making known to the entire world that salvation is in Christ Jesus. The Lord was all the early church had to offer and that is what we must offer today.
We are living in a day and age of entertainment and fun. It’s “fun, fun, fun for everyone”. We see marriages that don’t last because all the “fun” has gone out of them. We see people who can’t hold jobs because work is just not “fun” any more. Students can’t succeed in school and complain “we never have any fun” and some have embarrassed the church by just wanting to have “fun”. We are like the Israelites of old. Exodus 32:6 “And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”
Published in The Christian Informer, April 2005