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Tozer’s Third Concern – Worship and Entertainment

Perhaps Tozer used more ink on the topic of worship than on any other. As Tozer watched the heritage of Christianity being exchanged for a religion that sought credibility in its intellectualism and popularity through its pragmatism, he saw the ultimate casualty was Christian worship. For as genuine illumination of the Scriptures dissipates, and as fervent obedience to Christ’s lordship weakens, what must suffer is the church’s very concept of God. So he would write, “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.”

Pragmatists use whatever means to achieve their ends. The problem for a pragmatic Christian is that worship is not a means to some other end. Worship has no instrumental use. Worship is an end in itself. Indeed, it is the chief end of man.  So, what does a pragmatic Christianity do with this activity, if the ends it is pursuing happen to be greater numbers, increased budgets, greater publicity, or an enlarged ministry? It faces a dilemma, for worship claims to be an end greater than these. The answer of 20th & 21st century Christianity has been to turn worship into a means for one of these other ends. Specifically, as Tozer pointed out, worship was now becoming a form of entertainment.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf. (Man, the Dwelling Place of God)

Tozer knew then, as few seem to know today, that the act of adoration and admiration is very different from the act of amusement. Amusement, as Tozer meant the word, means mere time-wasting, passive boredom-relief with anything lightweight, banal or fun. Amusement, by this definition, cannot be serious, demanding, or humbling – all the things that the adoration of God must be. Tozer saw this in the atmosphere of the religious meetings, the abandonment of the hymns of Watts and Wesley for the hymns of Sankey and Peterson, the preference for the casual and informal over the sober in prayer and preaching, the entrance of the erotic and romantic into the music and lyrics of Christian songs, the popularity of games and the comic in Christian meetings, and the growing phenomenon of the religious movie. Tozer saw the sad irony that liberal churches retained the form of beauty while denying its power, and those that professed the supernatural gospel were capitulating to the cultural ugliness of popular culture.

Religious music has long ago fallen victim to this weak and twisted philosophy of godliness. Good hymnody has been betrayed and subverted by noisy, uncouth persons who have too long operated under the immunity afforded them by the timidity of the saints. The tragic result is that for one entire generation we have been rearing Christians who are in complete ignorance of the golden treasury of songs and hymns left us by the ages. The tin horn has been substituted for the silver trumpet, and our religious leaders have been afraid to protest.
It is ironic that the modernistic churches which deny the theology of the great hymns nevertheless sing them, and regenerated Christians who believe them are yet not singing them; in their stead are songs without theological content set to music without beauty.
Not our religious literature only and our hymnody have suffered from the notion that love to be true to itself must be silent in the presence of any and every abomination, but almost every phase of our church life has suffered also. Once a Bible and a hymnbook were enough to allow gospel Christians to express their joy in the public assembly, but now it requires tons of gadgets to satisfy the pagan appetites of persons who call themselves Christians. (The Size of the Soul)

The remedy for this is both simple and painful for the entertainment addict. Obtain a Bible and an older hymnbook. Meditate on God Himself in Scripture. Use the vehicle of the hymns of Watts, Wesley, Tersteegen, Gerhardt, Clairvaux, Newton, Faber to express (and shape expression of) admiration for God. Adore God for who He is. Understand that you will have to be silent, submissive, humble, and earnest. Know that the true experience of worship is “to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.”

This will not drive out entertainment from the church, but it may do so for your own soul.

David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (M.A.T.) and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

4 Responses to Tozer’s Third Concern – Worship and Entertainment

  1. Andrew Giannelli All God asked the people coming out of egypt was to obey his voice. That is the highest form of praise or worship to God, obedience. Many are saying i believe but do not obey his voice so they are fooling themselves and others. if you do not obey you do not believe.. When we come together let the prophets speak 2 or 3 then test what is said . you all may prophesy. where is the obedience in your ministry, church, fellowship etc. You say you love God but assemble and allow him to do nothing but listen. just because water came from a rock the second time it was not the way God wanted it done. So are most services things could happen because of the gifts on people but then God used an ass so who are you if God uses you. seek to hear and obey if you want to really praise God. get through the courts and into the holy of holies.

  2. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (1 Cor. 14:2)

    Today is this Scripture fulfilled in my hearing.

  3. I am richly benefited by Tozer every time I encounter his writing. I do appreciate the old hymns and often find them to be beneficial in their richness and conformity of the pattern laid out in Colossians 3:16. I am also aware of the commands to sing a NEW song Psalm 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, etc. I am grateful for those who have eschewed the limp wristed shallow entertainment that besets too much of 21st century Christianity and write substantive Biblically authentic material. It is a false dichotomy that says the only place to find quality is in history because all of those writing today are doing it poorly. No one can top the Psalms. However not one Psalm expresses the hope and joy of the resurrection or the exaltation of Christ’s completed work at Calvary. Not one speaks to the rich fellowship of the body of Christ that binds all ethnicities of resurrection faith together as one. Nor could they as they were written before these boys were experienced. I do understand these truths are all richly foreshadowed in the Psalms but certainly we can continue to write new expressions of praise as we move through an increasingly broken wworld towards home.

  4. Hi, Jonathan. I don’t think any of us here would disagree with you that we can and should be writing new songs; in fact, we made that explicit in A Conservative Christian Declaration.

    However, the point here is that the only way we will be able to write new things of a quality and depth fitting sacred worship is if we immerse ourselves both in the psalms of Scripture and the great hymns of times past.

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