Humour Online Articles Preaching the Church Theology

Is Church a Good Laugh? – AP

 

 

“And you stand laughing, raising a laugh like women of the world who are on stage. This has overthrown, this has cast down everything. Everything we do is turned into laughing, there is nothing steady, nothing grave. I don’t say these things just to men of the world. But I know those who I am hinting at. For the Church has been filled with laughter. Whatever clever thing one may say, immediately there is laughter among those present; and the marvellous thing is that many do not leave off laughing even during the very time of prayer. Everywhere the devil leads the dance, he has entered into all, he is master of all. Christ is dishonoured, is thrust aside. The Church is made no account of”.

No – this was not some miserable black suited Scottish Presbyterian minister, lamenting an outbreak of laughing amongst his congregation. This was the wonderful Greek preacher, Chrysostom preaching on Hebrews 6 at the end of the 4th Century. One wonders what he would have said about today’s entertainment industry in the church?! Chrysostom asks “where do hear of Christ laughing? Nowhere – but he was sad often. He wept over Jerusalem, Judas and Lazarus. He wept? And do you laugh?”. Christ was human so of course he would have laughed. He certainly knew how to use sarcasm, irony and other forms of humour. But I wonder if he would have been called ‘a good laugh’ – such an essential attribute for any friend, potential partner, workmate or even pastor in today’s culture? I have heard laughter many times in congregations – but rarely have I heard weeping. Surely that is an indication of something wrong?

Chrysostom goes on to anticipate his congregation’s objections:

But you say, what harm is there in laughter? There is no harm in laughter; the harm is when it is beyond measure, and out of season. Laughter has been implanted in us, that when we see our friends after a long time, we may laugh; that when we see any person downcast and fearful, we may relieve them by our smile; not that we should burst out violently and be always laughing. Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometimes be refreshed, not that it may be quite relaxed.

Like so many areas in the Christian life this is a question of wisdom and balance. On the one hand I think of the response of the great Baptist minister, C H Spurgeon, when he was accused by a lady in his congregation of using too much humour in the pulpit: “You may well be right madam, but you should be thankful for what I don’t use.” Humour and laughter are not to be excluded. But the warning of Chrysostom needs to be heeded as well. I think of the well-known evangelical preacher who learned how to communicate by studying 50 stand-up comedians – it showed! He was a superb communicator – but the reverence and awe that we should have coming into the presence of God was often missing.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about laughter: “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Psalm 126 tells us of the laughter that comes from seeing the Lord doing great things for us. There is a time to weep, but there is also a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Jesus tells us that there is a time coming when those who weep will laugh. But Proverbs 14:13 warns us that laughter may be superficial and even in laughter the heart may ache. Psalm 2, 37 and 59 talk about the laughter of the Lord at the wicked. And Ecclesiastes 7:6 warns us about the laughter of fools. It is vanity.

But let’s return to the subject of laughter in public worship. I’m not speaking about the fashion that existed for a while known as the Toronto blessing – where people fell down in fits of laughter. That’s not holiness, that’s hysteria. I’m talking about what we would recognise as laughter – the physical response to amusement, humour and fun. It’s not wrong – but the preacher or praise leaders should not seek laughs. We are not entertainers – we are there to worship the living God…that is both a solemn and a joyful business. We don’t go to church to have a good laugh…we don’t worry if the preacher is not a good laugh and we don’t mind if he is. But we do want to come into the presence of the Almighty Holy God – in such a way that we fall down weeping but return laughing. How good if those who know we have been at church, would also see that we have been with the Lord – and that the Lord has done great things for us – things that cause us to laugh with joy.

(This article first appeared in Australian Presbyterian – you can read the original here)

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11 comments

  1. “Where do hear of Christ laughing? Nowhere – but he was sad often”, Chrysostom doesn’t know what he is talking about frankly. And it is that kind of rhetoric that makes for “miserable comforters” for anyone in their suffering just as it was for Job and makes Christian community and worship unattractive to outsiders and even repulsive. The only offense should be the cross of Christ. And when the Gospel is spoken of as being offensive by the apostle Paul it is offensive to circumcising Jews that are insisting on Gentiles being circumcised. There is no Jew or Gentile in Christ!

    Jesus and the Father are one and anyone who has seen Jesus has also seen the father. Where do we hear of Christ/God laughing? Simple – Google (and Bible Gateway) is your friend.

    “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps 2:4).
    “The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming” (Ps 37:13).
    “But you laugh at them, Lord; you scoff at all those nations” (Ps 59:8).

    And when God returned fortunes to Zion,
    “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them”” (Ps 126:2).

    Sounds a lot like huge belly laughs there.

    And the ultimate being with the divine comedy of “death where is thy sting” the happy ending of the resurrection ang message about eternal life with the joy of the Lord being your strength.

    Laughter in and of itself is neither good or evil but subjective in principle. Rather it is what is behind the laughter that makes it good or evil.

    We would all be a lot better off with a little more joy of the Lord. Some people need to change their minds about this and stop assuming that being serious is reverential and laughing is not.

    And David, I would be happy to send you a copy of my masters dissertation of the transformative potential for humour with reference to Jesus’ ministry to support the vies I express here and if this interests you for some nigh time reading.

    1. Thanks – but Chrysostom did know what he was talking about. It does not mean he was right in all he said or the implications he seemed to draw. But we never read of Jesus laughing – and we do read often of him weeping. There may be no significance to that – but it is a fact. Does it mean that Jesus did not laugh? Of course not – as the article states. Nonetheless I would not be so dismissive of Chrysostom’s point. Nor would I equate laughing with the joy of the LOrd. These are two different things…T

      1. Thanks for your reply David,

        For clarification, when I wrote Chrysostom didn’t know what he was talking about, it was for rhetorical effect, and not intended to be taken literally.

        We don’t read of Jesus laughing literally but it would be very unusual to imagine any human living life to the fullest as Jesus did without at least some laughter and there are verses with his use of rhetoric and word play that could imply that laughter was involved.

        Yes laughing is not the same as joy of the Lord as mentioned in my previous point. In this we seem to agreement of your final point, “the Lord has done great things for us – things that cause us to laugh with joy” as for the Ps 126:2 quote above.

  2. Adam, the three references you give to God laughing are not about a laughter of happiness or pleasure but one of derision and mocking .

  3. David, I do appreciate your exhortations recently to deeper spirituality. If laughter can be caused by hysteria, so too can weeping: I guess we look for the fruit. I mention this because I was humbled to have both experiences.
    In ’91 I was unexpectedly overcome by irrepressible laughing during a Christian meeting which lasted for over an hour. Apart from the amusement it brought to my children and friends seeing an elder in that state, the fruit was equally irrepressible. For around 2 days all I wanted to do was kneel down and pray. I had a busy life but every spare moment I went into a quiet room and prayed: it was searching, moving and heart-changing.
    In ’13 I was also deeply moved following a lady’s exposition of Gideon and our need to re-evangelise our land. This time in the quiet of the Chapel I was weeping for an hour, And again there was this legacy of wanting to pray and seek God at every spare moment. It permanently changed my sense of urgency to pray.
    I appreciate experiences can easily be shallow and fleshly, but wouldn’t want to discard the unexpected especially if it bears Godly fruit.

    1. Peter,
      Thank you for posting that and for David putting it up.
      That too, resonates with me.
      I became converted at the time of, for want of a better short -hand reference, what was known as the Toronto Blessing, which seemed to me something of a mixture, of genuine Holy Spirit movement, release if you like, into swooning, falling – some face – down (in repentance in the presence of a Holy God?) weeping and laughter and some people copying as part of group dynamics with people being pushed to the floor.
      But the presence of God followed at home, in quiet times, times of meditating on scripture, renewing the mind with the washing of the word, times of praise, at home in church gatherings, in a life turned inside out, upside down, a life transformed.
      I recall one meeting where there happened, led by John Arnott, fromToronto, who was never so affected.
      Around that time in the Anglican church I was part of, some openly wept and swooned, fell down (in the manifest presence of God), during the Communion Service along with manifest lightness of joy (as opposed to laughter).
      Although I have it, I’ve not read it through: Jonathan Edwards wrote about manifestations in his book “Religious Affections” in the light of religious awakenings in USA. It is my understanding that manifestations accompanied the preaching of George Whitefield.
      As you will be aware much has been written.
      It all seems so long ago, but still so real, something of a foretaste, all of grace an outpouring: kindling a desire, on fire, for God and to make him known.
      It was said of one Puritan, was it Sibbes? that heaven was in him before he was in heaven.

  4. I am a user of humor, although many people would argue against that, but I write a blog rather than preach a sermon. I think you did a great job of trying to be balanced in this article.

    When we moved to our present Presbyterian church in the Pittsburgh area, the senior pastor was very biblical, but it seemed his sermons were “safe.” Get to biblical truths, but do not offend those that pay my salary (sorry, a bit cynical). He would occasionally preach a sermon that would almost make you squirm in your seat, but each time, he would ruin the mood by telling a joke and changing the subject. As a person who has heard sermons for nearly seventy years, I need to squirm in my seat. Out of that discomfiture, I might just move into action, to being more of the Christ-like creature God intends. I was always dissatisfied with that pastor’s sermons.

    But on the entertainment side, I loved Jerry Clower and love Tim Howkins, Mark Lowry, and Ken Davis. They can entertain and then once the emotions are high, they can throw in biblical truths that stick, because people’s defenses are down. But, they are not pastors preaching sermons. Their job is to entertain.

  5. Who gave us the capacity to laugh uproariously, God or the devil? Who created emotion? What does Jesus ‘rejoicing greatly’ look like or ‘fullness of joy’ or ‘joy unspeakable’? Is it just a beatific smile? Why were the disciples accused of being drunk? Certainly not because they spoke in other languages! Laughter is a God-given part of joy even His joy which leads to strength. What is the fruit of ‘laughter from the Lord ‘, if it’s good judge it by that. Just too easy to dismiss it as hysteria, it can happen in the most unhysteric of circs. True Revival was dismissed as hysteria often. It can break people out of depression, grief, anxiety, discouragement and lead them into a deeper experience of God’s love. Sometimes it comes from taking the Word seriously so that light-heartedness in the face of deep problems is in obedience to the command not to worry etc. Of not taking yourself too seriously. Joy is a part of holiness.
    Sure, over jocularity in the pulpit can and does go too far but mirthophobia isn’t a virtue either!

  6. Did Jesus have ‘a sense of humour’? Maybe, maybe not, but I can’t believe he went round telling jokes. The gravitas and high moral seriousness of the Jesus we encounter in the gospels precludes that. Possibly he used humour to make a point (I say possibly because at 2000 thousand years’ distance and in a different language and culture I don’t think we can be certain), but every point he made was serious.
    Maybe having a sense of humour is intrinsic to our humanity, our creatureliness, in which case Jesus would have had a sense of humour, being fully human as well as fully divine. Or perhaps it is a coping mechanism that has developed since the Fall (and therefore not intrinsic), to help us negotiate the odd and broken world we inhabit. Either way, we cannot work backwards and say because Jesus had a sense of humour God the Father must have one, or because we have a sense of humour our Creator must have one. It doesn’t work like that.
    I follow AW Tozer in this: he said that God in his majesty is transcendent and far above us, and that to ascribe humour to him is an error. I realise that in this I’m probably in a minority, but none of my Christian friends has been able to persuade me otherwise.
    As to references in the Old Testament which ascribe laughter to God, these are surely anthropomorphisms, akin to describing God has having arms. And in any case, as someone has pointed out already, the laughter is not that of good humour but that of scorn.

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