In our entertainment hungry age, there is a legitimate question as to whether some of what goes on in our churches, thinking of music in particular, is more geared to be entertaining and tickle the emotions than it is to be edifying. What’s the difference?
Edification involves the building up, the strengthening and maturing of the individual. See Eph. 4:29, where “edification” translates the Greek word oikodome, and it has the sense of promoting Christian character: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” This will always be balanced with glorifying God. That is, there can be no true spiritual edification from something that dishonours the Lord (cf. Phil. 4:8).
Further, it should be noted that what ultimately builds us up may not, at least in the beginning, give us pleasure. Part of the edifying work of God is to discipline us when we go astray. The end result will be beneficial, but the process is hardly entertaining! “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives….Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:6, 11).
Entertainment is different. The word “entertain” means literally to hold–that is, to hold the attention, to fascinate. It is similar to the word “amuse,” which means to cause to stare. With entertainment, there is a focus on the performance and the performer’s skill, and on the personal pleasure received from it. These qualities may tend to put entertainment in conflict with edification (and with worship).
Some would argue that it is possible to do both, to edify while we entertain. Maybe. But the two will always be in competition. And the higher the entertainment value the more difficult it may be to derive edification from the experience. As concerns sacred music, we might ask: Will the glorifying of man detract from the glorifying of God? And what is the danger of mistaking personal enjoyment for spiritual benefit (cf. Ezek. 33:32).
Archibald Brown was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon’s in the nineteenth century. But his observations here sound like they would fit many churches today. He wrote:
It is only the past few years that amusement has become the recognized instrument of our warfare and developed into a mission….The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for people, with a view to winning them into the ranks. The human nature that lies in every heart has risen to the bait. Here now is an opportunity of gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others.
Ouch! If the shoe fits…!