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There was a song made famous by Neil Diamond many years ago. It was a song about the days, before TV etc., when medicine shows, circuses, and other traveling showmen would wander from small town to small town across America, open their wagon or set up a tent, and provide a little novelty and entertainment for the farmers and townsfolk. Sometimes those showmen would attract their audiences through a little bit of "Gospel preaching". We find this a little odd, perhaps, but in a more religious America this was a great way to gain a sympathetic audience to what you really might be selling -- the traveling salvation show! When these traveling shows came through town, farmers and townspeople would come in from miles around (Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies, and everyone goes; 'cause everyone knows 'bout brother Love's show). How could you beat this deal: a little Gospel, a little song and dance, a little "good for what ails you" tonic -- for the low, low price of... It's a little bit of Americana from yester-year -- which hasn't really gone away.

It was reincarnated as televangelism: the Jim Bakkers and Oral Roberts'. "Yes sir, step right up and listen to heart wrenching testimonies of salvation, redemption, and healing. Listen to a melodramatic rendition of a old-time hymn. And hear a good-news sermon to lift the spirit. Watch as an invalid is returned to perfect health. And, oh yes, don't forget to send in your prayer request along with your faith-donation of $1000 and you, too, can experience the miracle in your life that you really need." Some entertainment, a little Gospel preaching, and a pitch for what I really wanted to sell you.

And it is reincarnated yet again in many of the mega-churches of our day: some (or in some cases, a lot of) entertainment (special songs and performances complete with full bands, lights, and a theatre setting), a little Gospel, and a pitch for your money. Brother Love doesn't operate out of a wagon or a tent anymore; he's working in 2000 plus seat theaters with professional singers, actors, writers, comedians, and technicians.

"What's your point," you might ask. Just that Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show -- in all of its incarnations -- is not real Christianity; it is a show, just like the name says. It still remains popular; and why not? It's the entertainment that everyone seems to be be starved for (imagine 100 plus channels and a virtually infinite internet and nothing on worth watching!) with a brief flavor of religion and lots of schmaltz-y sentimentality. But contrary to popular belief, it doesn't qualify as "church" in the biblical sense of that word; it is still a show, and it really provides no salvation.

This is not to say that true worship must be grim, dull affairs to be real or authentic or "count with God". It is simply to say that when entertainment becomes the primary focus of the preacher, and holding an audience and competing with the mainstream media becomes the point of assembly something has gone dreadfully wrong. It is God who must be the center of all that is done in a worship assembly, whether it is entertaining to us or not; it is He who must be pleased, obeyed, and honored. And edification of the worshippers must happen only within the perimeters of the first priority, pleasing God.

Otherwise, it is just another travelin' salvation show -- a little song a little dance, and a side of snake oil.

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