The Public Would Rather be Amused than Uplifted

We called it the Classic Concert Company, but soon changed it to Ringling Brothers Comedy Concert Company.  Even that early, we discovered that there is something in a name, and that the public’s chief desire is to be amused rather than uplifted…

Our appeal is to the elemental instinct, to the child that is in every man.  What they call the “lure of the circus” is merely the great unexpressed yearning of every human being to be young again.

[John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Circus, Memoirs(The World’s Greatest Showmen, produced by WPT & the Wisconsin Historical Society, ’42 & ’51, 2006)].

The Ringling Brothers were entertainers and businessmen.  As businessmen they gave their customers what they wanted: amusements, and as a result, their business slowly changed from giving uplifting musical concerts into a comedy troupe and then finally a circus.  The Ringling Brothers did try to stay true to their Classic Concert Company roots, and became known as the “Sunday School Show,” but they were still a circus.  (Ibid. ’59).

There is nothing wrong with circuses or amusements, unless your “business” is essentially to uplift and mature.  For example, the Church has been called by God to uplift and grow people spiritually.  As St. Paul says,

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  [Hebrews 5:13-14].

Circuses and amusements are good if they are kept in their place, but all of life is not a circus.  If the church starts acting like an entertainment business by giving unchurched customers what they want, then the church also will slowly change from being a place of uplifting service into a circus.


4 thoughts on “The Public Would Rather be Amused than Uplifted

  1. Rick,

    Have you ever heard Charles Bonow, the famed Lutheran organist, play one of his various organ recitals, perhaps in your local church? I have heard him a number of times and have many of his recordings. I can truly say that listening to his God-given artistic abilities have been spiritually uplifting and at the same time, oh oh… entertaining. I never thought of him as being a circus performer. The same holds true for me for those musicians (either from a praise band, pianist, organist, choir, or hand bell ensemble) whose only intention is to play/sing praises of and to the Holy One. Or for that matter, those who use graphic presentations that use PowerPoint, props, plays, skits, or other media effects during sermons, seminars, or Bible studies The key is, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to present the Word of God to us sinners so that we may believe, confess, and be saved. Jesus’ command was to go and make disciplines. It is a silly and legalistic argument to harp on how others present the Word that with which you may be uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. Let’s not be judgmental as to how and by what methods He brings us to faith.

    Semper Fidelis,


  2. PC,

    This post does not harp on how others present the Word of God. You have said too many times that I am opposed to how others present the Word. This is a false accusation. I am opposed to obscuring the word with amusements. I am not opposed to presenting the pure gospel in new ways.

    The original post says that if we start focusing on giving people what they want, then we will lose sight of giving people what they need. The Word of God and the Gospel is foolishness and a stumbling block to unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16). They don’t want it. So we do not focus on what is wanted, instead we focus on what is needed.

    PC says, “Let’s not be judgmental as to how and by what methods He brings us to faith.” However, God has promised to bring us to faith through word and sacrament, not musical notes. That judgment is based on the word and promise of God. (Matthew 29:19-20). Jesus instructed us to teach correct doctrine and to baptize. Trust that word.


  3. Rick,

    My comments about your latest blog concerning being entertained in the church are more directed to those that read yours and similar blogs. There are those, plenty of those who read these blogs that consider anything other than the order of service on Page 5 and 15, accompanied appropriately with an organ, to be the entertainment of which you write. I spoke with one of those this morning, even though his wife and two sons routinely sing and play in a Contemporary Christian Worship Service (he played the organ for the Traditional Service). Since your initial blog was ambiguous about what you meant by entertainment in the church (you didn’t even give one example), my comments (with 10 examples) clarified what I am sure some people were thinking about what you meant by amusement and entertainment in the church. No one argues that the Gospel is presented to us by His word and sacrament. But God has been known to get our attention via other means (Moses and the burning bush, Paul being blinded on his ways to Damascus) so “let’s not be judgmental as to how and by what methods He brings us to faith.”

    Semper Fidelis,


  4. Empty songs performed by praise teams should not be compared to miraculous signs performed by God. Even so, God spoke through the burning bush to Moses. So it would be wrong to compare a song that does not speak the word of God to a bush that does. The speaking bush beats the empty song every time.

    Jesus also spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus. This shows that the Preacher who knocks us to the ground, makes us blind, and preaches God’s true gospel word is far better than the entertainment preacher who preaches about the law of love, but omits the gospel.

    God has promised to bring us to faith through Word and Sacrament, not burning bushes or lights from heaven. That judgment is based on God’s word. (Matthew 29:19-20). Therefore, Jesus instructed us to teach correct doctrine and to baptize.

    Finally, with regard to your accusation against the readers of this blog, I have never received a comment such as what you describe.

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