June 28, 2017

Is It Worship or Theatrics?

Gordon Sears

[FrontLine MayJun 1994]

Today the world is demanding changes, expressing an attitude that exclaims “Anything Goes!” Well, “Anything Goes!” might be acceptable in the secular world, but it is certainly not true in the Christian realm. God has given us definite guidelines in His Word so that we can know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in every area of our lives, including music. For this reason, the apostle Paul described the believer’s walk as “proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). Yet many believers continue to seek that which satisfies their selfish motives and appetites, and they do it in the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A disturbing lack of discernment in spiritual things is evident among today’s Christians. Forty years ago the music of the church was distinctively different from the music of the nightclub. Back then even an ungodly person could identify a hymn of the church. Today’s contemporary Christian music makes no distinction between Christian and non-Christian. The decline in moral and spiritual values in our country has taken its toll on the church: many seem to have no discernment in determining what is holy and what is profane. On page 10 of my book titled Is Today’s Christian Music Sacred? I point out that one step away from Bible separation only leads to another and another. An article in the Calvary Contender substantiates my statement:

In the early 1970s, many churches adopted a new worship style. The [February 1994] Charisma [stated], “They traded in their hymns for praise songs accompanied by guitars, drums, clapping and even dancing.” It said, “Today, praise music has entered the mainstream. Songs that were only sung in charismatic churches a few years ago are now heard throughout mainline and non-charismatic churches.” Southern Baptists and traditional evangelicals such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance are adopting charismatic worship styles too. A March for Jesus coordinator says: “Through praise and worship, we’re seeing all denominations — Methodists, Baptist, Catholics, charismatics — come together to proclaim the most important points of the gospel.”

This trend may make ecumenists happy, but it ought to shock every Bible-believing fundamentalist. We might expect to see this style of worship in the end times; nonetheless, it is alarming to see pastors and churches who have previously stood for fundamentalism falling into its trap.

“Give the Lord a hand!” they say, but is this applause worship or theatrics? Is a tape-recorded accompaniment, often recorded by people who have no interest in spiritual things, more important or acceptable to worship than a dedicated Christian pianist or organist who is there in person to participate in the ministry of music? Is it not more of a blessing to see a person ministering as the instrumental accompanist along with the soloist? Is it not an insult to the church musicians to use a taped background? Is this not theatrics? The use of such methods only caters to the carnal preoccupation with performance rather than ministry. Is it not theatrics when a Christian singer struts around like a performer, with microphone in hand, copying all the gestures of secular entertainers? May God open our eyes, bring us back to our senses and make us realize that what we had before was far better than this new style of worship. Perhaps it would cause less confusion if the places that offer a steady diet of this new music and entertainment would just change their names from “church” to “theater.”

Recently the network news reported that studies now find a close relationship between music and violence. Why does it take researchers so long to discover something so obvious? The youth rebellion that began in the mid-60s certainly proved this relationship beyond any doubt. Yet we find many Christian leaders permitting this sensual, ungodly, even heathen music into their worship services, along with the drums, the body movement, the loud amplifiers, the electric guitars, and the applause. Could this display be the underlying cause for so much of the division, rebellion and carnality in many of our churches today? Could it be that by opening the door to the world’s style of music, we have also opened the door to the lifestyle and thinking that goes with it?

I do not believe applause for performers is appropriate in church. A definite difference exists between the clapping of hands in worship to God as was practiced in the Scriptures, and what is done today in applause to men for Christian entertainment. Whenever the Bible refers to the clapping of hands, the clapping relates to the worship of God. The Jews still use the clapping of hands as they pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. This distinction is also true of dancing in worship, as King David did (2 Sam. 6:14, 16). To be sure, King David’s dancing was nothing like the sensual dancing done today.

I also believe Christian music is a ministry and a vital part of worship; therefore, any applause given to men robs God of the praise that belongs to and should be directed to Him. What ever happened to the “amens”? Let’s not fool ourselves by thinking that when applause or a standing ovation is given for a performance in a worship service, those who applaud or stand are really giving praise to God. Certainly applause is appropriate to use at times to express appreciation but not in response to a musical ministry in worship to God.

There can be little doubt that the radical changes in Christian music and the theatrics that have become a part of Christian worship are a part of Satan’s work in these last days. Because of the importance of music in everyday life and especially in worship, Satan is at work in this area. It is disheartening to see how many fine pastors are being deceived into thinking the modern trend in music is all right and are ignoring the harmful effects. Since music is an essential part of Christian worship, the contemporary style of music demeans true worship and the spiritual life of the church.


The late Gordon Sears was song leader for many years with such well known evangelists as Hyman Appelman, Ralph Neighbor, Jerry Sivnksty, Fred Brown and others. Mr. Sears later travelled to local churches presenting a musical package called a Songfest.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 1994. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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