How The Church Went Showbiz
"And it came to pass
on a certain day, as he [Jesus] was teaching,...the power of the
Lord was present to heal them." [Luke 5:17]
"And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he [Jesus] preached the word unto them." [Mark 2:2]
"And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he [Jesus] talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" [Luke 24:32]
"Now when they [the crowds at the feast of Pentecost] heard this [the message that poured forth from Peter], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" [Acts 2:37]
"While Peter yet spake these words [some years later in the House of Cornelius the Centurion], the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." [Acts 10:44]
The Scriptures above reveal something important concerning how Jesus and the early church did ministry. That early work needed BUT ONE SUPPORT, the Holy Spirit. Those First Century believers, and some in the Second Century, and perhaps a few in the Third Century were moved upon DIRECTLY by the presence of the Spirit of God Almighty. Their support was so totally complete and efficient that they had no need for what we, today, consider essential for ministry. The atmosphere of the field, room or spot where God's people came together became charged with a presence that overcame all things negative. Those hungry for God found themselves in a realm of ecstasy. Those who had no use for God found themselves in a kind of misery and would vacate the premises, if they could.
This phenomena is exceedingly difficult to explain or to illustrate to the modern "Christian." It is even more difficult, if not impossible, for non-believers to grasp this invisible work that God can and has done. To the natural mind such a truth is superstitious foolishness.
Nonetheless the reality of the anointing of the Holy Ghost is very hard to erase from the mind of a believer who has had the privilege of experiencing this supernatural occurrence.
The very, very early church moved by the power of that anointing, because at that time and in that era the Holy Spirit was inaugurated and established as the absolute controller and governor of the Church of Jesus Christ. Today the Holy Spirit is demoted. Men demoted HIM long ago. He may only arise, on a good day, to a position similar to Queen Elizabeth, as a spiritual figure head. But often the Spirit is not even allowed that! The Spirit of God is kept away from the driver's seat. Clergy and committees run the church. At best the Holy Spirit finds Himself offered the back seat of a religious limousine, as an honorary Grand Marshall of some Christian parades.
As the First Century came near to a close John the Beloved Apostle, the last of the original twelve, was told through the Heavenly vision to warn that some in the church of that time had left their first love. [See Revelation 2:4] Way back in 90 A.D. the church was experiencing the beginnings of the cool down that would eventually thrust much of the World into what some have called "The Dark Ages."
First Century church worship was a far different thing than we know today. It was something glorious which needed few if any props. The presence of God would come on the scene so fully that nothing was needed but for the people of God to show up! We find no hint, in Scripture, of First Century speakers "preparing" sermons. We know that they studied the Word and spent time with God in prayerful intimacy. But we see no evidence that speakers cooked-up a sermon through the week. Instead we see more indication that those who ministered did so as the Spirit of God gave them "utterance." In other words, a message on the spot, direct from the Throne Room. Stephen's sermon to the Sanhedrin is an example of that kind of preaching. [See Acts Chapter 7] More than once Saint Paul asks his fellow believers to pray that he would be given "utterance." [See Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 4:3]
Somehow those early believers realized that what they would deliver through preaching was entirely beyond the ability of a human mind to conjure up. They yearned for and received fresh manna from Heaven, directly from Heaven. They spoke of the "foolishness of preaching." [See 1st Corinthians 1:18,21]
The giving of a prepared speech HAS NEVER, AND WILL NEVER be considered foolishness to the secular mind! Politicians are considered very wise, very crafty when they formulate a winning speech. But, First Century preaching had to be something completely different from a prepared monologue, in order for it to be considered foolishness by the secular mind! All through human history speaking before a group of people, while avoiding the benefit of any advance formulation, would be considered foolishness of a grand kind. But that is exactly what those early Christians were empowered to do. They were given utterance, words directly from the Throne Room, by the Holy Spirit of God. Not only did they receive their monologue from Heaven, but they received their order of worship from Heaven too!
Their worship services were very non-preprogrammed events. The people would show up, and God, by HIS Spirit, would show up. The presence of God would move upon HIS people and various things would take place. Someone might sing a hymn or a song to the group. The song might have lyrics and tune never heard before, but of amazing beauty. Someone else might be moved by the Spirit to share a revelation. Another might quote a passage of Holy Scripture that the Spirit had underlined. Someone else might speak in an unknown language followed by another someone giving the gist of what was communicated in that message. Someone else, perhaps the pastor, would find himself filled to overflowing with a sermonic exhortation from Heaven. Another might speak of future events with warnings and encouragements. Others shared needs and received prayers, miracles, signs and wonders. Each service must have been totally a new and fresh event, completely orchestrated and choreographed for that particular congregation by Heaven. The governor, orchestrater and implementer was the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit.
These services were different in another way. There was no spotlight effect, as we know it today. Today when someone does something in church, most eyes turn that way. The focus moves to that person. But in the First Century Church much, much less focus was on the individual. Instead all attention was upon the Divine Presence that filled the room. Each exhortation, song or ministry was just a beautiful passage in a symphony conducted by the Holy Spirit. The focus was on Jesus whose presence was manifested in the place by the Spirit of God. Looking around was detracting. Instead the eyes of the inner man were focused on the Christ who was present in Spirit. Words fail when I attempt to explain this. I suppose this truth can only be better understood by the revelation of the Spirit of God.
Between 100 A.D. and 300 A.D. the Holy Spirit was exiting from more and more congregations. Pride had arisen in God's people. Wrong intentions began to rule. The Holy Spirit will not remain where HE is not welcomed. The clergy began to assume more and more of the command structure. The church became a human institution, a social agency of a kind. With the departure of the pure presence of God the worship services began to have less and less of Heaven to offer. There was no power to deal with sickness. There was little conviction to bring sinners to repentance. There was no fresh manna from Heaven. The Word of God began to become dry and only a "dead letter." A spiritual vacuum began to develop. Darkness started to fill the void. Men and not God were at the controls.
By 300 A.D. Rome was the center of gravity for western Christianity. Jerusalem had long since been destroyed by the Roman legions, way back in 70 A.D. The Roman World was heavily influenced by Greek thought and Greek Culture. The language of the Greeks had become the common denominator communication tool of the Roman Empire.
Greek Theatre and Greek drama largely influenced the Roman Stage and Theatre. In fact Rome's world of theatrical show business improved on the Greek Theatre. Rome was all too familiar with Greek Theatre and had been familiar with Greek Theatre for several hundred years prior to 300 A.D. 300 A.D. is about the time that the change in the church from Holy Spirit control to full clergy control had fully culminated.
The Greek Theatre, being such a significant part of the cultural heritage that Rome welcomed could have influenced the dignitaries of the church. Perhaps it brought an idea into the thinking of the cooling church. The way the Greeks gathered people and congregated them in a theatre layout made it possible for many to hear, many to see. Remember, they lived in a world where those who spoke to a crowd had to be their own amplifier, their own personal public address system! It was not easy for a large crowd to hear one person speaking. The Greeks had learned some secrets of making voices heard through special layout and construction of their theatres. These were secrets that I don't believe were missed by the early Roman church."There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." [Proverbs 14:12]
It is my firm conviction that even the layout of the furniture in modern churches today can be traced back to the Church in Rome. And Rome was heavily influenced by Greek culture. By about 330 A.D. modifications in the church had taken place that made everyone in church either an actor or a spectator. All action moved to the front, stage center. The clergy was placed on stage. The non-clergy became the audience. Gone was the priesthood of all believers! All eyes looked to the clergy. The removal of the Holy Spirit as the director, controller and implementor was underlined by a visible conductor and director. The clergy stepped into the visible spotlight of the worship, where the Spirit of God had been.
Since actors had been placed on stage and before the eye of spectators, it was now necessary to give the spectators something to spectate upon. Eye-catching apparel clothed the actors. These royal robes constantly grew in glory and sparkle. Then, too, came pageantry, processionals, holy objects to be carried about, special physical activities. Smoking censers were transported and reverently swung about by clergy. "Holy" water was sprinkled upon "holy" objects. The new church advanced theatre to new highs. A "playhouse" was needed for this drama. The house church faded away, replaced by a theatre of sorts, the cathedral.
Today this concept has been carried to unbelievable extremes. Sometimes when I view an advanced worship extravaganza, I am amazed to see stage managers, directors, complex lighting rigs and trusses, people concealed in black outfits operating cameras, sound booms and lighting. The church has become a production company!
Showbiz is a powerful tool from the secular realms! God has even put up with showbiz, because HE is so intent on saving lost men, women, boys and girls. A century ago the Lord blessed the efforts of believers who brought the band out on the street corner. They would strike up the band in a rousing "Onward Christian Soldiers," or "Rescue The Perishing" to draw a crowd to an "open air" preaching service. Then they would invite any and all back to a hall for further indoctrination. They had to use showbiz to get a crowd. Much of the church has had so little of that First Century power of the Holy Spirit that they needed something to get a crowd. The showbiz tool works on the level of men. The showbiz tool is man's replacement for the precious Spirit of God. Today showbiz is the accepted cultural norm of the church.
A modern church service is almost pure showbiz. Theatre ushers seat the people. The foremost churches have multi-colored program brochures given to each attender. Hymns or worship songs are skillfully led. Musicians and/or a worship team create the best music the church can afford. Some churches even hire professional musicians in order to boost the quality of their worship sound. Then there is a solo, or maybe a choir number and/or special music. Some churches have a dance team. Everything is geared to create a mood and an atmosphere in which the prepared keynote address is to be delivered by the pastor or some visiting speaker. The most modern pastors are now delivering their sermons with the added color of computer graphics, film clips and sound bytes from recent movies or newscasts. Sermons are illustrated art forms, designed to hold the audience's attention to the max.
Centuries of showbiz have taken a great toll on the body of Christ! The worst aspect of that toll is the fact that "showbiz" has become an extremely entrenched granite feature of the visible church! The modern church knows no other way.
"There's no business like show business
Like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing
Everything the traffic will allow
Nowhere could you get that happy feeling
When you are stealing
That extra bow
There's no people like show people
They smile when they are low
Yesterday they told you you would not go far
That night you open and there you are
Next day on your dressing room they've hung a star
Let's go on with the show..." --Irving Berlin
When I've entered or watched many worship services I immediately see the worship team on stage. I see the attractively dressed and beautifully made up faces. I often look away from the pretty people, because it is hard to think of Jesus when I see the dashing figures before me. The soloist steps forward to entertain me with a moving rendition. At times the soloist glimmers and shimmers. Then the pastor comes to the pulpit. He is so well put together. Every hair is in place. He's been trained by experts in how to get my attention. He tells a joke that makes me laugh. He gives me a story that loosens a tear. He is quite the salesman, quite the orator, but most of all he's quite an actor.
When I hear the biographies of many, many entertainers of the world I am no longer surprised to discover that they made their opening debut in the Church! There they first learned how to move an audience. There they developed their stage presence. There they were discovered to have "talent." But the church was only a proving ground for them. Soon they were too special, too talented, too gifted to remain on that minor league stage.
The World noticed that they were ready to move on to "bigger" things. What a heart break that the Church of Jesus Christ has been one of the "entertainment industry's" biggest minor league feeders! The churches have fed the "major league" entertainment structure with car loads of talent.
Will the church ever wake up and see that it will always be a minor league team, a minor league theatre when it operates in showbiz?? The secular world will always be far, far ahead, far, far better at showbiz. Showbiz is the world's way, the worlds most comfortable medium. The world is a natural at showbiz. But the church isn't a natural in that medium. Why will we not return to the ways of the Spirit of God?? More than that, why will we not return to the Spirit of God and yield to HIS total control?? In the Holy Spirit you need no props, no playhouse, no theatre, no costumes, no pageantry. When the church walked with only the Spirit of God and the Word of God it turned the world of that time up-side-down. It reached it's world. It pleased God. It was in the will of the Almighty.
Make any excuse you want, but the Church of the Twenty-First Century is mostly "Showbiz!"
January 22, 2006