“Are Hymn Recordings Entertainment?”Categories: Worship
A couple of weeks ago, the most recent Sumphonia recording session wrapped up. As the Sumphonites often do, they released video of one of the songs they recorded (“Before the Throne of God Above”), which you can find here.
I have many friends who participated in the recording, so I watched as the video made its way around social media, generally to appreciative commentary.
However, there was one exception. Someone whom I do not know (I’m withholding his name for reasons that will become obvious) asked, “Is this singing for entertainment?” When others responded, he added, “My final post in this string. You sing, you record, you sell, even have venues, people buy... That's singing hymns of worship for entertainment.”
This is certainly a serious charge. It is tantamount to accusing the Sumphonia organizers and singers of taking the things of God and commercializing them for the sake of material gain. For that matter, it is tantamount to accusing everyone who listens to worship recordings of reducing sacred song to an avenue for fleshly pleasure.
Now, doing so is certainly possible. I suppose there could be someone associated with song worship in the churches of Christ who does it for the money. I think it’s even more likely that people might listen to hymn recordings for aesthetic rather than spiritual reasons.
However, to argue that this necessarily _is_ what is happening, without knowing anything about the people involved, far exceeds the evidence. It’s impossible when it comes to Sumphonia. Sumphonia is a nonprofit, its board members are unpaid (indeed, the cashflow arrow tends to point in the other direction!), and the equally unpaid singers travel to the recording venue and find lodging there at their own expense.
Even if that were not true, is it somehow less legitimate for someone who produces worship recordings to be paid than it is for someone who preaches gospel sermons to be paid? Does getting income from some godly activity automatically render it ungodly? If so, lots of brethren are in trouble, from the apostle Paul on down! It seems wise to me, then, to refrain from judging hearts without very, very good evidence.
The same holds true for those who listen to hymn recordings. In fact, that’s about all I listen to these days. I have no interest in giving the sin merchants in the secular entertainment industry more space in my head than they’ve already got.
I don’t know what goes on in anyone else’s head when they listen to worship recordings, but I know what goes on in mine. It is true that I enjoy the beauty of the singing (though to say that I am “entertained” by it is a stretch). I believe, though, that such enjoyment is part of God’s plan for worship. Why would He command us to engage in that which is beautiful if we are not supposed to find joy in it?
Even more than that, though, I enjoy the beauty of the message. For instance, in the car yesterday morning, I was listening to Psalom’s recording of “My God and King” (which you can find here). Lovely to listen to? Sure! Those Russian brethren really can sing!
Nonetheless, what has stuck with me all day was not the harmony, but the meaning. For those who haven’t spotted it, “My God and King” is a paraphrase of Psalm 84, built around the opening line, “How beautiful are Your dwelling places, O God!” I meditated on that all morning: how much I enjoy moments of fellowship with God, and how much I long to spend eternity where He dwells.
If that’s about entertainment, then Christianity itself is about entertainment too.
Obviously, anything, no matter how good, can be misused. That holds true for sacred song. However, those who are quick to level accusations of misuse are probably saying more about themselves than they are about anybody else.