Worship and television

by Stan Mitchell

“In faith, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, charity.”
(Alexander Campbell)

Who decides what format our worship will take?

Does our taste and preference enter into the discussion at all? I think it does, given that we have satisfied whatever guidelines the Lord has left for us to follow. It seems that these days young people and old, the left-wing and the right have an opinion about what worship should be like.

The old Restoration motif once again demonstrates the wisdom of the early leaders of our movement. Where God has taken the trouble to leave us instructions we should respectfully and rigorously apply. Where he has not given guidance, we are left to our own wisdom, so long as the result is loving and deeply respectful toward others.

One thing we need to ensure, however. Whatever our worship looks like, it should not take its cues from the world. Ours is the most entertainment-centered culture in history, and the most prominent entertainment influence of all has to be television.

For good or ill, education or disinformation, it has had an incalculable effect on our lives. Television burns images into the brain; in fact, when the average length of a picture on television is 3.5 seconds long, that is all that television needs to deliver its message — an image, not an analysis, nor an examination of the subject.

Neal Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death devotes a chapter to religion on television. After viewing hundreds of hours of the likes of Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, (his sanity survived!) he concludes:

“On television, religion, like everything else is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment.”

Quentin J. Schulze in his book Televangelism and American Culture declares:

“It appears that Televangelism does not compete so much as it subverts the local church.” Then he adds, “While Televangelism alters America’s concept of the church, it also transforms our notion of worship … local congregational worship seems more and more like a Hollywood production.”

John McArthur says:

“Churches, zealous to attract the unchurched have utilized virtually every form of amusement. More and more churches are eliminating preaching from their worship services and opting instead for drama, variety shows and the like.”

The church apes nearly every fad of secular society. Heavy-metal rock, rap, graffiti, break dancing, body building, brick smashing, jazzercise, interpretive dance and stand-up comedy have been added to the evangelical repertoire.

Many assume that without some gimmick the gospel message just won’t reach people, and unless we accommodate it to the fashion of our day, we can’t hope for it to be effective. “The compromise,” McArthur concludes, “has resulted in churches doing everything possible to cater to the appetites of the unchurched.”

So who decides what form our worship will take? It might be good to lend an ear to what the one whom we worship has to say.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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