Art! Drama! Worship?

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J.D. Greear has written Artistry, Excellence, and the Mission in which he asks – What is the role of artistic excellence in a local church’s “production”?

This is not a new question in today’s culture. Nor will it be going away anytime soon. The production factor in the lives of Americans continues to increase. Millions of dollars are spent to produce special effects for movies as a lure to fish for more of the almighty dollar. But should it be a way to fish for people for the Almighty God?

That question won’t be decided here. (Well, maybe someone will decide in the comments!) Greear provides a balanced view of production for a church’s message. He concludes with:

But this is where we’ve ended up as a church… we do spend money on production and art, but only as is necessary to communicate the message and propagate the mission. We know that, at the end of the day, the real power is not in the medium, but in the Spirit and the Gospel.

I appreciate Greear’s conclusion. I probably line-up very well with it. I’m sure some will disagree. It seems a case can be made for the primacy of preaching in the worship service. This means that the message would be lost without preaching. It also seems that if the message is dependent upon the production there could be a loss of its meaning.

Others would argue that in our day of visual productions, a la Hollywood, that such a medium will better reach and teach people. This seems like a good point. It makes sense on the surface. However, as Christians we should seek out what Scripture tell us about communicating God’s message.

I want to look at this issue from a different angle that compares the culture of today with that of the early church. Let’s grant the cultural, pragmatic argument for a moment. Didn’t the early church have a culture in which public productions were popular? If so, why did we not see the early church adapt certain cultural trends of dramatic production to reach more people more effectively?

For example, there are many Ancient Greek dramatists and playwrights long before Jesus and the Apostles. There is also the Septuagint which was translated during the Hellenistic Period. The early church was no stranger to Greek culture i.e. a Greek New Testament, churches in Rome and Ephesus.

Culturally, it’s not hard to find find an article on 14 Ancient Theatres of Greek Roman Antiquity which states:

The theater originates from the city-state of Athens where it was used for festivals honoring the god Dionysus and the famous Athenian tragedy, comedy, and satyr plays. The Romans, being a little bit less philosophical in spirit than the Greek, wanted more pure entertainment with lots of laughs and excitement. Popular entertainments in Roman times included mime plays, acrobatics, jugglers, animal fights and gladiator fights although the later two were more common in the Roman amphitheater.

There is even the Great Theater, Ephesus which is considered a sacred destination.

…this is traditionally where St. Paul preached against the pagans.

Herod’s Theater was a first century theater built in Jerusalem.

Herod the Great built a marvelous theater in Jerusalem’s Upper City. It was a large auditorium with no roof and semicircular rows of seats ascending from the center stage. Wealthy Jews came there to watch the best of Greek and Roman drama.

Given the cultural significance of productions before and during the early church it seems the cultural argument for production in today’s worship service loses some force. The Apostle Paul obviously knew the secular poets of his day cf. Acts 17:28. While we see Paul using these poets in evangelism we don’t see this in corporate worship gatherings.

Using Greek drama and others acts would seem to have drawn in both Greek and Jew to a worship service. Yet it’s curiously absent from the biblical and historical record. I wonder if the early church had an understanding of – what you win them with is what you win them to?

Does this mean churches should use absolutely no production in worship service? Not necessarily. Part of the answer may lie in just what kind of production is being considered. I agree with Greear that the real power lies in the Holy Spirit and the gospel. Of course, God can use any means to win souls. However, the record shows that the norm for winning souls has not been through production but through preaching.

I’d love to hear some other views on this. What are your thoughts?

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in Church Issues,Culture,relativism

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark August 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

This quote from Jared Wilson some how seems to go with this post.

What is profoundly stupid is the sheer amount of innovation, creativity, energy, ambition, and astounding levels of human wherewithal that go into crafting the most amazing worship experiences Americans have ever seen inside churches where the gospel isn’t preached. I can say this because there’s only one thing we hold that the New Testament calls “power,” and that’s the gospel.

2 Richard Mathewson March 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm

While production has since become a norm in the church today, it can be traced back to early Greco-Roman pagan roots. It was the early orators and the traveling performers that produced a desire to “observe” in our church rather than participate. Production is not in the early church of the original eleven apostles and you cannot find any trace of production in the New Testament.

The “sermon” is not biblical at all and cannot be traced to any biblical presedence whatsoever. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount could be the closest prechurch example of a sermon and was not performed in the same homiletical sense that our modern sermons are. Paul spoke to unbelievers in his travels during different situations but never in the sense of our modern sermons of today’s church. Peter gave speeches also in this sense but they don’t even come close to resembling our sermons today. Matter of fact, homilies developed for Greek productions, the orators of their time who traveled around and gave grand performances in front of crowds of people who then responded with aesthetically-motivated applause.

There is no “innovation, creativity, energy, ambition, and astounding levels of human wherewithal” at all in the New Testament and you will not find any other example including these elements anywhere else in the Bible. Why? Because it is precisely this effort to “create” an “experience” that denies the Holy Spirit any possibility of inspiring or influencing the experience Himself as He is tasked with accomplishing.

Simple fellowship between bretheren, gathering together in an attempt to foster an atmosphere of love and unity is the church of Jesus. The “ekklesia” of our Lord and Savior. We would do good to get back to this and stop trying to “create” the perfect “performance” of our time. We must stop competing to be the best performing church body with the best music and most aesthetically-charged worship experience. We must get back to our foundations of getting together to praise the Lord and thank God corporately for what He is and what He does for us daily. God is the purpose for corporate worship so the only way we can be successful in observing this is to come to Him with reverence and humility, not pomp and ceremony.

I have dealt with this more in depth at http://www.theologyoftruth.com

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