Standing at the back the gymnasium, a “praise team” of teenagers prepared to display their praise for the first time before the Christian high school where I served as a Bible teacher. Knowing the words of Christ, I was not happy. With my arms crossed in confusion over this contradiction, the worship director called me out before the student body for being so displeased. He knew why, and I remained cold. I wondered, “Why such influential leaders disregard Christ’s teachings about true worship to make a show out of worship?” I was not standing alone among teachers and students. That event led to the school president requesting my resignation to which I did not consent, so I remained to finish the year. Therefore, I have always been concerned about sincere Christians being led to worship God for the display and amusement of others.
Jesus’s Warnings about Show Religion
Jesus taught not to give benevolence or worship for others to see (Matt 6:1–7). Jesus also warned of spiritual leaders who went around in long robes, loved greetings with titles, wanted the best seats at spiritual gatherings, and made a show of their worship (Mark 12:38–40; cf. Matt 23:6–11). Was this only a first-century occurrence or do religious leaders do the same today? Should Christians listen to Jesus and be aware today?
Religious television testifies of the existence such worshipers. From traditional to contemporary and from highly ritual to charismatic “healings,” many churches have been seen for making a show out of their worship. Why then do churches permit their “pastors” special titles, set “choirs” in robes, give others the best seats before everyone, and make a show out of worship? Why do churches have “praise teams” in which many dress in edgy contemporary clothing and sing praises for display? Have not these churches replicated and modernized this pattern the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees that Christ spoke against? Did Jesus not warn us about religious leaders who make a show out of their worship?
The Tradition of Show
By the tradition of men, grand churches fill their assemblies with the old pomp of long robes, wear ornate clothing, take the best places before all, receive greetings with titles equating themselves with God, and assume the foremost part in overseeing such worship. How can any church permit their leaders to be called “Pontiff” meaning “High Priest” when Christ is the High Priest (Heb 4:14–15; 8:1–2)? How can any person allow oneself to be equal in greeting to Jesus Christ by bearing the titles of “Reverend Father,” “Archbishop,” or “Pope”? These are such titles that Jesus spoke against giving to men, and these are all a part of such displays of false worship (Matt 23:6–11). True worshipers desire to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:20–24). Certainly, they want to make a show out of what they have made of themselves.
However, modern reformation preachers also take on titles like “Reverend” or “Senior Pastor.” The meaning of “Senior Pastor” is the similar to Jesus’s title as “Chief Shepherd,” which belongs to Christ alone (1 Pet 5:4). Have not people been preaching Christ for pretense since the first century (Phil 1:15–18)? As contemporary churches start filling cities, they are following the old traditions by making a show out of their worship.
In the last year of Jesus’s life, he warned in Luke 20:46–47, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a show make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” Jesus declared that condemnation comes to those, who crave self-righteous display and worship to be seen by others.
The Focus of Worship
Who is really being worshiped in these churches? Are not people worshiping egos, talents, traditions, rituals, and titles? They have no right to call themselves Christ’s Church when they refuse Christ’s plea for true worship. What is being communicated about worship by altering the Lord’s Supper or removing it from the Lord’s Day assembly? What really is the point of replacing congregational singing with a choir, a “praise team,” or a musician’s solo? Why replace Scriptural teaching and Jesus’s parables with emotionally shallow stories (1 Tim 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim 4:3–4)? When did Jesus’s teachings of true worship quit being enough? When did His words quit being perfect and complete?!
The Church and Entertaining Worship
How can so many believers neglect Christ’s words against making a show out of worship? The vast numbers of such churches that do worship for display are bewildering. There is certainly no shortage of amusement parks, and there are certainly no shortage of religious amusement centers in any city or town in this country. When an amusement park or any theater produces a show, what does it look like? Would they not have excellent lighting, a grand facility, and a large stage? Would they not have trained performers, professional musicians, and a humorous storytelling host? Is this the work of the church of Christ to consider how to make praise in song more entertaining, the Lord’s Supper more appealing, or the speaking more amusing to people? Again, when did the words of Jesus Christ quit being enough? When did scripture reading, praying, singing, teaching, learning, giving, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship quit being enough for simple Christian worship in assembly?!
The “Missional” Talent Show
Jesus’s words do not lack in warning of such false teachers that lead astray. Many believers are simply not aware of Jesus’s teachings or what is really happening. When the plea is accepted from a group of church members for a more engaging and “missional” worship, worship is most often changed into a talent show. Are not the talents that are shown most often exclusive of the talents of others? Why do the talents for the arts receive exclusive attention over glorifying God with craftsmanship and sportsmanship?
When considering society’s desire for entertainment, some contemporary quotes come to mind, “Here we are now, entertain us.” and “Are you not entertained?” These quotes are quite insightful witnesses of our world, and yet society glosses over meditating on these observations. What falsehoods amuse the masses! We were warned that people will not endure sound doctrine, but would gather numerous teachers for their own desires for a form of godliness without power (2 Tim 3:5; 4:3–4).
Feeding the Masses
Jesus knew very well that some people will pursue worldly desires by misusing the faith. Remember that after Jesus fed the 5,000, Christ addressed those who sought him saying,
Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him. (John 6:26–27)
What happened to these followers? “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). Jesus did not feed the masses everyday, and he did not do it for show. Making a show of faith in Christ is not the mission of His disciples today, His Church. Jesus’ healing was from His compassion, but these signs were foremost to present the food of everlasting life. To strengthen this point, Jesus was not making a display of religion when He died, was buried, and was resurrected from the grave to save us from our sins. Should we honor His salvation with a religious show?
However, are we to judge false teachers and be aware of misleading churches? Christ’s words judge the false teachers and the churches (cf. Rev 2–3). Jesus instructed, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15–16a). Jesus proclaimed, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matt 7:19–20).
Abandoning True Worship
If it is judging to recognize the error of these churches, then let us do as Christ said and judge with righteous judgement (John 7:24). When leaders change the true worship that Jesus commanded to amuse the attendees, they may also change the Gospel (Gal 1:6–9). Another message is being taught when church leaders change part of Christ’s words. Is a believer really a Christian if that person stops following Christ and His words for true worship? One must decide by listening to Christ. Do those changing His words really love Him? Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21). Did ever such people really know Him (1 John 2:4)?
Many change leaders perceive that worship must always consist of rejoicing in praise, and yet worship to God can consist of sorrow and, or cheerfulness (Jas 5:13). Either way, true worship must with the spirit and the mind (1 Cor 14:15), and Christian worship must consist of reverence and awe throughout life (Heb 12:28; cf. 13:15–16). No matter the place or the setting, disciples of Christ must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24). God seeks true worshipers to worship Him. The spirit of the true worshiper must be pure and sincere, and the true worshiper must worship according the to the Truth, Christ’s Word (John 17:17).
Jesus proclaimed, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39). What went wrong in the hearts of these believers, who make a show of worshiping God? Consider that Christ said, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Luke 11:42). The state of a worshiper’s spirit is just as important as the way that the believer follows the Truth. May Christians move away from becoming whitewashed tombs, dishes cleaned only on the outside, sons of Satan, serpents, nor broods of vipers (Matt 23:25–28).
Is our worship for show? Are we just pretending to be Christians? The word “hypocrite” is from the Greek hupocriteis refers to actors who were by the Greek definition “below criticism.” Christians must seek not worship for show as the hypocrites do. This was a problem in the first century as it is now. The church of Christ at Corinth profaned the assembly in the first century when members made a show of their spiritual gifts promoting themselves as spiritually superior to others (1 Cor 12–14). Their false worship was a part of selfish divisions. Christians must do all that they can to oppose such error from arising again. Believers must avoid the deception of false worship and their leaders. True worships need to warn their friends and family as Christ warned of those who make their worship into a show.
May God bless all in the study of His Word.