Written by Archibald G Brown
[Editor’s Note: This post is much longer than we normally post; over 4500 words. However, to break it up into smaller sections runs the risk of damaging the continuity of this classic piece. Therefore, we post it in its entirety.
Readers may wish to download a PDF of this article here. Scriptures quoted in the original article are from the King James Authorised Version – we have taken the liberty of converting all Scripture quotes to the English Standard Version. (Where verses are quoted in part, hold the mouse over the underlined link to read the entire verse.)
This article was written approximately 100 years ago, and it was a necessary warning at that time, but it is also very relevant to the present.
Mr. Brown is probably best known because of his association with C.H. Spurgeon. Both these men, with James Stephens and Frank H White, were amongst the original seven who, in 1891, signed the statement against the downgrade controversy.]
“Different days demand their own special testimony. The watchman who would be faithful to his Lord and the city of his God has need to carefully note the signs of the times and emphasize his witness accordingly. Concerning the testimony needed now, there can be little, if any, doubt. An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross, so brazen in its impudence, that the most shortsighted of spiritual men can hardly fail to notice it.
During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, ever for evil. It has worked like leaven, until now the whole lump ferments. Look which way you may, its presence makes itself manifest. There is little, if anything, to choose between Church, Chapel, or Mission Hall. However these may differ in some respects, they bear a striking likeness in the posters that figure upon and disfigure their notice boards. Amusement for the people is the leading article advertised by each. If my readers doubt my statement, or think my utterance too sweeping, let them take a tour of inspection and study ‘the announcements for the week’ at the doors of the sanctuaries of their neighbourhood; or let them read the religious advertisements in their local papers. I have done this again and again, until the hideous fact has been proved up to the hilt, that ‘amusement’ is ousting ‘the preaching of the gospel’ as the great attraction. ‘Concerts,’ ‘Entertainments,’ ,’Fancy Fairs,’ ‘Smoking Conferences,’ ‘Dramatic Performances,’ are the words honoured with biggest type and most startling colours. The Concert is fast becoming as much a recognised part of church life as the Prayer Meeting, and is already, in most places, far better attended.
‘Providing recreation for the people’ will soon be looked upon as a necessary part of Christian work and as binding upon the Church of God, as though it were a Divine command, unless some strong voices be raised which will make themselves heard. I do not presume to possess such a voice, but I do entertain the hope that I may awaken some louder echoes. Anyway, the burden of the Lord is upon me in this matter, and I leave it with Him to give my testimony ringing tone, or to let it die away in silence. I shall have delivered my soul in either case. Yet the conviction fills my mind that in all parts of the country there are faithful men and women who see the danger and deplore it and will endorse my witness and my warning.
It is only during the past few years that ‘amusement’ has become a recognised weapon of our warfare and developed into a mission. There has been a steady ‘down grade’ in this respect. From ‘speaking out,’ as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony; then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she has tolerated them in her borders, and now she has adopted them and provided a home for them under the plea of ‘reaching the masses and getting the ear of the people. ‘ 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 the people with a view to winning them into her 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. The rough old cross can be exchanged for a ‘costume,’ and the exchange can be made with the benevolent purpose of elevating the people.
All this is terribly sad, and the more so because truly gracious souls are being led away by the specious pretext that it is a form of Christian work. They forget that a seemingly beautiful angel may be the devil himself, ‘for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Not in Holy Scripture
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Holy Scripture as one of the functions of the Church. What her duties are will come under our notice later on. At present it is the negative side of the question that we are dealing with. Now, surely, if our Lord had intended His Church to be the caterer of entertainment, and so counteract the god of this world, He would hardly have left so important a branch of service unmentioned. If it is Christian work, why did not Christ at least hint it? ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,’ is clear enough. So would it have been if He had added, ‘and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.’ No such addendum, however, is to be found, nor even an equivalent for such, in anyone of our Lord’s utterances. This style of work did not seem to occur to His mind. Then again, Christ, as an ascended Lord, gives to His Church specially qualified men for the carrying on of His work, but no mention of any gift for this branch of service occurs in the list. ‘He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:11-12). Where do the ‘public entertainers’ come in? The Holy Ghost is silent concerning them, and His silence is eloquence.
If ‘providing recreation’ be a part of the Church’s work, surely we may look for some promise to encourage her in the toilsome task. Where is it? There is a promise for ‘My Word:’ ‘it shall not return unto Me void’ (Isaiah 55:11). There is the heart-rejoicing declaration concerning the gospel: ‘It is the power of God’ (Romans 1: 16). There is the sweet assurance for the preacher of Christ that, whether he be successful or no -as the world judges success – he is a sweet savour unto God (2 Corinthians 2:15). There is the glorious benediction for those whose testimony, so far from amusing the world, rouses its wrath: ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ (Matthew 5:11-12). Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people, or because they refused to? The gospel of amusement has no martyrology. In vain does one look for a promise from God for providing recreation for a godless world. That which has no authority from Christ, no provision made for it by the Spirit, no promise attached to it by God, can only be a lying hypocrite when it lays claim to be ‘a branch of the work of the Lord.
Antagonism to the Teaching of Christ
But again, providing amusement for the people is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all His apostles. What is to be the attitude of the Church towards the world according to our Lord’s teaching? Strict separation and uncompromising hostility. While no hint ever passed His lips of winning the world by pleasing it, or accommodating methods to its taste, His demand for unworldliness was constant and emphatic. He sets forth in one short sentence what He would have His disciples to be: ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13). Yes, the salt: not the sugar-candy nor a ‘lump of delight.’ Something the world will be more inclined to spit out than swallow with a smile. Something more calculated to bring water to the eye than laughter to the lip.
Short and sharp is the utterance, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60). ‘If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’ (John 15:19). ‘In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’ (John 16:23). ’I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.’ (John 17:14). ‘’’My kingdom is not of this world…‘ (John 18:36).
These passages are hard to reconcile with the modern idea of the Church providing recreation for those who have no taste for more serious things—in other words, of conciliating the world. If they teach anything at all, it is that fidelity to Christ will bring down the world’s wrath, and that Christ intended His disciples to share with Him the world’s scorn and rejection. How did Jesus act? What were the methods of the only perfectly ‘faithful witness’ the Father has ever had?
As none will question that He is to be the worker’s model, let us gaze upon Him. How significant the introductory account given by Mark, ‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mark 1:14-15). And again, in the same chapter, I find Him saying, in answer to the announcement of His disciples that all men were seeking for Him, ‘“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”'(Mark 1:38).
Matthew tells us, ‘When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.’ (Matthew 11:1). In answer to John’s question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.’ (Matthew 11:3-5). There is no item in the catalogue after this sort, And the careless are amused, and the perishing are provided with innocent recreation.
We are not left in doubt as to the matter of His preaching, for when many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door, He preached the Word unto them (Mark 2:2). There was no change of method adopted by the Lord during His course of ministry; no learning by experience of a better plan. His first word of command to His evangelists was, ‘As you go, proclaim’ (Matthew 10:7). His last, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.“’ (Mark 16:15). Not an evangelist suggests that, at any time during His ministry, He turned aside from preaching to entertain, and so attract the people. He was in awful earnestness, and His ministry was like Himself. Had He been less uncompromising, and introduced more of the ‘bright and pleasant’ element into His mission, He would have been more popular.
Yet, when many of His disciples went back, because of the searching nature of His preaching, I do not find there was any attempt to increase a diminished congregation by resorting to something more pleasant to the flesh. I do not hear Him saying, ‘We must keep up the gatherings anyway, so run after those friends, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service to-morrow -something very short and attractive, with little, if any, preaching. Today was a service for God, but tomorrow we will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it, and have a happy hour. Be quick, Peter; we must get the people somehow; if not by gospel, then by nonsense.’ No, this was not how He argued. Gazing in sorrow on those who would not hear the Word, He simply turns to the twelve, and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67).
Jesus pitied sinners, pleaded with them, sighed over them, warned them, and wept over them; but never sought to amuse them. When the evening shadows of His consecrated life were deepening into the night of death, He reviewed His holy ministry, and found comfort and sweet solace in the thought, ‘I have given them your word..’ (John 17:14).
Antagonism to the Teaching of the Apostles
As with the Master, so with His apostles—their teaching is the echo of His. In vain will the epistles be searched to discover any trace of a gospel of amusement. The same call for separation from the world rings in every one. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed,’ is the word of command in Romans 12:2.
‘Be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you” is the trumpet call in the 2 Corinthians 6:17. In other words it is COME OUT—KEEP OUT—KEEP CLEAN OUT—for ‘what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?’ (verses 14-15).
‘But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Here is the true relationship between the Church and the world according to the Epistle to the Galatians (6:14). ‘Therefore do not become partners with them; Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them’ is the attitude enjoined in Ephesians (5:7,11). ‘that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,’ is the word in Philippians (2:15). ‘If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—’ says the Epistle to the Colossians (2:20). ‘Abstain from every form of evil.’ is the demand in Thessalonians (1-5:22). ‘if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.’ is the word to Timothy (2-2:21). ‘Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.’ is the heroic summons of the Hebrews (13:13).
James, with holy severity, declares, ‘You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.’ (James 4:4). Peter writes: ‘As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,’ (1Peter 1:14-15). John writes a whole epistle, the gist of which is, ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.’ (1Peter 2:15-17).
Here are the teachings of the apostles concerning the relationship of the Church and the world. And yet, in the face of them, what do we see and hear? A friendly compromise between the two, and an insane effort to work in partnership for the good of the people. God help us, and dispel the strong delusion. How did the apostles carry on their mission work? Was it in harmony with their teaching? Let the Acts of the Apostles give the answer.
Anything approaching the worldly fooling of today is conspicuous by its absence. The early evangelists had boundless confidence in the power of the gospel, and employed no other weapon. Pentecost followed plain preaching. When Peter and John had been locked up for the night for preaching the resurrection, the early Church had a prayer meeting directly they returned, and the petition offered for the two was, And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,’ (Acts 4:29). They had no thought of praying, ‘Grant unto Thy servants more policy, that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation they may avoid the offence of the cross, and sweetly show this people how happy and merry a lot we are.’
The charge brought against the apostles by the members of the Council was, ‘…you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ (Acts 5:28). Not much chance of this charge being brought against modem methods. The description of their work is, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:42). Then, if they ceased not from this, they had no time for arranging for entertainments; they gave themselves continually to ‘…devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ (Acts 6:4). Scattered by persecution, the early disciples ‘…went about preaching the word.’ (Acts 8:4).
When Philip went to Samaria, and was the means of bringing ‘…much joy in that city’ (Acts 8:8), the only recorded method is, He ‘… proclaimed to them the Christ.’ (Acts 8:5). When the apostles went to visit the scene of his labours it is stated, ‘Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.’ (Acts 8:25). As they went back to Jerusalem directly they had finished their preaching, it is evident they did not think it their mission to stay and organise some ‘pleasant evenings’ for the people who did not believe.
The congregations in those days did not expect anything but the Word of the Lord, for Cornelius says to Peter, ‘ … we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.’ (Acts 10:33). The message given was, ‘…a message by which you will be saved’ (Acts 11:14). Cause and effect are closely linked in the statement, ‘…men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.’ (Acts 11:20-21). Here you have (1) their method—they preached; (2) their matter—the Lord Jesus; (3) their power—the hand of the Lord was with them; and (4) their success—many believed. What more does the Church of God require today?
When Paul and Barnabas worked together, the record is they, ‘…speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, …’ (Acts 14:3). When Paul, in a vision, hears a man of Macedonia saying, “…Come over to Macedonia and help us. “…And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10). Why so? How did he know but that the help needed was the brightening of their lives by a little amusement, or the refining of their manners by a collection of paintings? He never thought of such things. ‘Come over to help us’ meant to him, ‘Preach the Gospel.’ “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,” (Acts 17:2), not about the Scriptures, mark, but from them ‘explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”’ (Acts 17:3). That was the ‘manner’ of evangelistic work in those days, and it seems to have been wonderfully powerful; for the verdict of the people is, ‘… These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,’ (Acts 17:6). Just now the world is turning the Church upside down; that is the only difference. (emphasis mine)
When God told Paul that He had much people in Corinth, I read, ‘And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.’ (Acts 18:11). Evidently then, he judged that the only way to bring them out was by the Word. A year and a-half, and only one method adopted. Wonderful! We should have had a dozen in that time! But then Paul never reckoned that providing something pleasant for the ungodly was part of his ministry; for, on his way to Jerusalem and martyrdom, he says, ‘But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.’ (Acts 20:24). This was all the ministry he knew. The last description we have of the methods of this prince of evangelists is of a piece with all that has gone before, ‘he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.’ (28:23,31). What a contrast to all the rot and nonsense now being perpetrated in the holy name of Christ! The Lord clear the Church of all the rubbish that the devil has imposed upon her, and bring us back again to apostolic methods!
Fails to Effect Desired End
Lastly, the mission of amusement utterly fails to effect the desired end among the lost; but it works havoc among young converts. Were it a success, it would be none the less wrong. Success belongs to God; faithfulness to His instructions to me. But it is not. Test it even by this, and it is a contemptible failure: Let that be the method which is answered by fire, and the verdict will be, ‘The preaching of the Word, that is the power.’ (Emphasis mine)
Let us see the converts who have been first won by amusement. Let the harlots and the drunkards to whom a dramatic entertainment has been God’s first link in the chain of their conversion stand forth. Let the careless and the scoffers who have cause to thank God that the Church has relaxed her spirit of separation and met them half-way in their worldliness, speak and testify. Let the husbands, wives, and children, who rejoice in a new and holy home through ‘Sunday Evening Lectures on Social Questions’ tell out their joy. Let the weary, heavy-laden souls who have found peace through a concert, no longer keep silence. Let the men and women who have found Christ through the reversal of apostolic methods declare the same, and show the greatness of Paul’s blunder when he said, ’For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ (I Corinthians 2:2). There is neither voice nor any to answer. The failure is on a par with the folly, and as huge as the sin. Out of thousands with whom I have personally conversed, the mission of amusement has claimed no convert.
Now let the appeal be made to those who, repudiating every other method, have staked everything on THE BOOK AND THE HOLY GHOST. Let them be challenged to produce results. There is no need. Blazing sacrifices on every hand attest the answer by fire. Ten thousand times ten thousand voices are ready to declare that the plain preaching of the Word was, first and last, the cause of their salvation.
But how about the other side of this matter—what are the baneful effects? Are they also nil? I will here solemnly, as before the Lord, give my personal testimony. Though I have never seen a sinner saved, I have seen any number of backsliders manufactured by this new departure. Over and over again have young Christians, and sometimes Christians who are not young, come to me in tears, and asked what they were to do, as they had lost all their peace and fallen into evil. Over and over again has the confession been made, ‘I began to go wrong by attending worldly amusements that Christians patronised.’ It is not very long since that a young man, in an agony of soul, said to me, ‘I never thought of going to the theatre until my minister put it into my head by preaching that there was no harm in it. I went, and it has led me from bad to worse and now I am a miserable backslider; and he is responsible for it.’
When young converts begin to ‘damp off,’ forsake the gatherings for prayer, and grow worldly, I almost always find that worldly Christianity is responsible for the first downward step. The mission of amusement is the devil’s half-way house to the world. It is because of what I have seen that I feel deeply, and would fain write strongly. This thing is working rottenness in the Church of God, and blasting her service for the King. In the guise of Christianity, it is accomplishing the devil’s own work. Under the pretence of going out to reach the world, it is carrying our sons and daughters into the world. With the plea of ‘Do not alienate the masses by your strictness,’ it is seducing the young disciples from ‘…a sincere and pure devotion to Christ’. (2 Corinthians 11:3). Professing to win the world, it is turning the garden of the Lord into a public recreation ground. To fill the temple with those who see no beauty in Christ, a grinning Dagon is put over the doorway.
It will be no wonder if the Holy Ghost, grieved and insulted, withdraws His presence; for ‘What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? …’ (2 Corinthians 6:15-16). ‘COME OUT!’ is the call for today. Sanctify yourselves. Put away the evil from among you. Cast down the world’s altars and cut down her groves. Spurn her offered assistance. Decline her help, as your Master did the testimony of devils, ‘…But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.’ (Luke 4:41). Renounce all the policy of the age. Trample upon Saul’s armour. Grasp the Book of God. Trust the Spirit Who wrote its pages. Fight with this weapon only and always. Cease to amuse, and seek to arouse. Shun the clap of a delighted audience, and listen for the sobs of a convicted one. Give up trying to please men who have only the thickness of their ribs between their souls and hell; and warn, and plead, and intreat, as those who feel the waters of eternity creeping upon them.
Let the Church again confront the world; testify against it; meet it only behind the cross; and, like her Lord, she shall overcome, and with Him share the victory.
‘O SPIRIT OF THE LORD, BLESS THIS WITNESS!”
Source – Internet. Grace Gems
Related article by Dr David P Murray : Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture