"The People Rose Up To Play"


     The title for this article is taken from the apostle Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 10: 7. Here is the full statement: "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." Paul obviously quotes from Exodus 32: 6. In the referenced verse and context, the people of Israel had persuaded Aaron to make them the "golden calf" to worship. The "eat and drink" and "rose up to play" had reference to the activities commonly associated with idol worship. Commentator Albert Barnes wrote thus regarding our study verse:

     "And rose up to play. (paizein). The Hebrew word used in Exodus 32:6, means to laugh, to sport, to jest, to mock, to insult, (Genesis 21:9;) and then to engage in dances accompanied with music, in honour of an idol. This was often practiced, as the worship of idols was celebrated with songs and dances. This is particularly affirmed of this instance of idol worship, (Exodus 32:19) and this was common among ancient idolaters…. All that the word ‘to play’ here necessarily implies is, that of choral songs and dances, accompanied with revelry in honour of the idol…." (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 5).

     Having conceded the original application of …"sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play", let us make some general applications; applications that I do not believe are totally incongruous with Paul’s original application. While false religion in America has not yet reached the degree of manifest debauchery and idolatry as that of the pagan nations in the milieu of Exodus 32, there is, notwithstanding, the propensity toward foolishness and frivolity as opposed to solemnity and reverence. Let me hurriedly insert that the scriptures do not teach a dejected and sad service to God. However, I think some are confusing "joy" with frivolity (see addendum 1).

     One would have to be totally in denial to not know that there have been major changes in religion, especially since the Second World War. Beginning in the forties, the shift began to move away from heaven, hell, sin, salvation, and obedience to the gospel and began to transition to fun, games, food, and frolic. There is more emphasis today on drama plays, bingo, and all manner of juvenile games involving adult players than on Jesus’ death, the Lord’s Supper, sin, and salvation. The "church" has been reduced to a glorified social club and preachers have become social leaders and game organizers.

     The early church, the one that Jesus built and concerning which you can read in the New Testament, is observed in serious, spiritual matters. The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth," wrote Paul (I Tim. 3: 15). Local churches are seen sending out qualified men to preach the gospel to the lost and providing the spiritual edification of the members (Acts 13; Eph. 4: 16). Preachers preached about Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, and how man can be saved from their sins (ex., Acts 2: 14 following, (see addendum 2).

     The climate of the early church was that of reverence as opposed to trivial gayety. The writer of Hebrews thus exhorted:

     "28: Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29: For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12).

     They were taught to look forward to heaven rather than the next church sponsored game night (Heb. 11: 13-16).

     In the preparation of this article, the Internet was researched to see the appeal and focus of a number of churches in America today.

     One large Website that apparently serves as a church source of activities had a section titled, "Fun Things to Do This Summer" (I have wondered where some churches come up with their entertainment ideas). Instead of the gospel oriented church of the First Century having the appeal of Jesus and His gospel, consider the below suggestions for church activities (notice the physical as opposed to spiritual nature of these activities):

     "Stage an outdoor Christian music concert or produce a Christian dinner theatre dramatic production. Invite the church neighborhood for a homemade ice cream party. Do a free outdoor family movie night, projecting on a large exterior wall.

     Challenge every church member to plan a ‘Cookout with Your Neighbors’ at their home sometime during July to develop friendships and invite neighbors to church. Why not morph your church-wide picnic into a city-wide event, with special invitations to VBS and church daycare families? Invite the community to attend your kids' camps, Vacation Bible School or Wednesday night salad suppers.

     For Sunday, July 4th, plan a ‘red, white and blue jean’ Sunday. Invite the community to view local fireworks from the parking lot and provide sparklers for kids.

     Form a jump-rope team for girls, jumping to Christian music or rhymes. Plan day trip adventures for moms and kids. Organize a Wii bowling league with multiple projections on a large exterior wall. Entice local kids who skateboard to attend youth Bible study by building a rack to hold skateboards….Organize a bike ride that ends at the church….

     Invite the community to join you for outdoor tournaments, such as volleyball, horseshoes, softball, bocce ball, 3-on-3 basketball. Plan a father and kids' campout on the church lawn or a huge kids' sprinkler party. Your teens can organize a drive-through to pass out free snow cones and an invitation to Sunday worship."

     I suppose it would be unheard of relative to those thus disposed to have the local church present a special series of sermons emphasizing Bible themes regarding how to become a Christian and how to live as a Christian or special Bible classes that study the Bible verse by verse, activities in keeping with the church being the "pillar and ground of the truth."

     What is the rationale behind all the emphasis on the social, physical, and frivolity? Consider the justification offered by one who has a fun and social concept of Christianity:

     "When church groups gather together for times of fellowship, they often play games. Fun church games help build camaraderie and team spirit. Besides worshipping and serving together, congregations that play games get a chance to let their hair down and build friendships, thereby strengthening the church as a whole. Hosting a weekly, monthly or quarterly game night gives the local church a chance to invite new people into a non-threatening church environment."

     This rationale is lacking any biblical endorsement. Hence, it is not "speaking as the oracles of God," as Peter said we must do (I Pet. 4: 11).

     In all fairness, what sort of "games" are meant? The above quoted author breaks down "games" into "outdoor games" and "indoor games." First, look at his "outdoor games" and try to envision the church at Corinth justifiably engaging in such, the church that was told not to be "carnal," but adult (I Cor. 3: 1, 2; 13: 11).

     "Church groups can gather outdoors to enjoy nice weather and play games. Some popular games are team sports like volleyball, baseball and soccer. A coach divides the church into two groups. The two opposing teams compete to win a game. Often these games are played without keeping score. Some other outdoor games are tug of war and relay racing. Tug of war is played by pulling a rope across a finish line while pulling against the opposite team. Relay races can involve wacky antics like sack racing and tying team members' legs together to pass a finish line. Relay races might involve passing a baton or some other token to the next team member."

     Consider the proposed "indoor games":

     "Indoor games are a great way to enjoy time together no matter what the weather calls for. Card games like Spades, Hearts and Rook are good choices for church groups. Board games like Monopoly, Sorry and Stratego are enjoyed by children and teenagers. Small and large church groups could play Bingo, Outburst and Charades for hours of wholesome fun. If a church has a gym they can play indoor games like Volleyball, Bible Baseball and Balloon Relays. Games like Pop the Balloon are fast-paced fun for people of all ages. Pop the Balloon is simple to play. Give everyone a balloon and sound the whistle. Contestants have to pop the balloon without using their hands. Whoever pops their balloon first is the winner."

     Such activities and lists are totally absent in the New Testament and, moreover, such thinking is in conflict with the spiritual nature of the church. Games, such social matters as visited and associated fun are not the work of the church, but, rather, are more in keeping with the family. The church is not in the "baby sitting" and entertainment business, but rather the saving of souls. I suppose, though, with an arrested spiritual development and interest, the demand for the physical will only increase.  (For related readying, click on "The Social Gospel".)

Addendum 1: Jesus said, "Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven…" (Matt. 5: 12). Notice that this rejoicing and gladness is in view of the reward in heaven. Hence, these emotions result from a substantive cause, heaven, and not some trivial sensation such as simple fun and frolic.

     Addendum 2: It is true that the early Christians were together outside of the assembly circumstance (church) and the Christians at Jerusalem did eat together, but this activity is distinguish from the "church" as such (Acts 2: 46 cp. 42). The "eating" and "drinking" associated with the church is the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2: 42, Luke 22: 29, 30, I Cor. 11: 23 ff.).