04 March 2013

Where angels fear to tread...

I got an interesting phone call today from a friend about screens. Some folks at her church are wanting to put one up in the nave. She wanted my thoughts.

Well, for what they are worth:

1. First of all, let's recognize that screens are neither commanded nor forbidden in God's Word. That seems like a huge "duh" because they're a result of technology moving in ways that the folks back then couldn't even begin to imagine. Which means they fall into the technical category of adiaphora.

2. That should lead us to the next question: is their use wise? For not all things are wise which we are free to do. And that's where I'd invite us to do a bit more pondering than we are wont to do in such matters.

Here I'd ask a few more questions: What does the use of a large screen suggest about context? It's not a neutral thing. It, like most everything else, has associations in our culture. What are those typically? I would think we could agree that they tend to fall into that form of media consumption we call "entertainment." Is that a context we want carried into the Church?

Nothing against entertainment, mind you. It has its place in our lives. But is that place in that wondrous transaction where God assembles His Holy Bride to lavish upon her the gifts His Son died to win for her and lives to deliver to her?

Looking at Hebrews 12 is always helpful. Check out the summary of the Chapter: our God is an all-consuming fire. Let our worship be acceptable, therefore, that is, offered with reverence and awe. Is it possible to extricate the screen from its cultural setting (think Theatre or Man Cave) and bring it into that holy assembly without carrying along with it something casual, something bordering on the frivolous? Not saying that it cannot be done; but I am saying that it's a lot harder to do than we imagine. Somehow, it shouldn't surprise us that folks are in the theatre type seats, sipping their lattes that they bought (!) in the "narthex" and evidencing no sense of actually being in the presence of the One before whom angels veil their faces in awe; in the presence of the Lord Jesus, before whom John fell at his feet as one dead.

One final reflection: idols. The people of God have always struggled against them, these things. These creations of our own hands from which we expect every good. Surely to any impartial observer in this day and age, technology is our idol. We lie to ourselves when we talk about just "using it." No, the way our kids are with the texting on their phones, staring into screens, isn't just "using" their phones. Watch the panic when you can't connect to the net! YIKES. Hey, I know whereof I speak because I have passing familiarity with that idol too (just not the texting variety - ugh! I HATE getting or sending texts. There. I said it.). But many times when the arguments for the screen are bandied about, what runs beneath the surface is exactly idolatry over technology: "If only we could get a nice with-it screen and projector, we might get folks back...or keep the kids...or..." well, you get the idea. It's looking for from technology what we no longer trust the Word of God, simply spoken, to deliver. And we need to repent of it. It's a silly as thinking that reproducing the perfect museum piece liturgy from 17th century Magdeburg is the cure to what ails us. Um, no. That's not the solution to anything (and you know that I LOVE 17th century Magdeburg). Still I can't help but wonder if there isn't ONE place left on God's green earth where I can go and NOT be assaulted by a screen (where, underneath the entertainment, someone is usually trying to sell me something!)?

Going forward, let's have some of these conversations about screens and such. Let's affirm Christian freedom and mean it, and yet because it's Christian freedom it doesn't mean "no one can tell me what to do!" (that's old Adam's idea of freedom) - rather it means, God's Word doesn't tell us one way or the other about this, but it sure gives us some helpful questions to ask in evaluating whether or not using our freedom in this or that way would be beneficial to worship in the Church.

I hope the above might move the discussion beyond the usual:

But *I* like screens! Yeah, well *I* don't.

But I have my doubts... What are your thoughts?


Unknown said...

Once you bring up adiaphoron, you've already lost. That word is used as such a rallying cry in the LCMS that even good aesthetics have irrevocably suffered beyond repair. As long as you cling to open questions in praxis and good order, corruption of doctrine is not far behind. Evidence? Look at the last 50 years.

ginnie said...

I haven't seen an article on this topic for some time and it actually was good to see it again. We need the reinforcement all the time, especially regarding worship (liturgy) which has suffered so much the past 50 years. The mind and soul seeking God needs God, not the world, and it is more and more difficult to find Him, even in church.

Rev. J. Hayes said...

Look at Revelation 4-5, etc. There's a lot of stuff there, but no screen. Screens get in the way. They show us images of things that aren't really there. Is that what Christian worship is about--an absent Jesus?

I assume that worship on earth should reflect worship in heaven since heaven is actually coming to earth. Another way to say it is that our worship now is practice for worship in heaven. You might as well get used to worshiping without screens (and looking at your hymnal all the time!) because that's how it will be for all eternity.

Your thoughts on technology are spot on. Because it is the idol of our age, these things are so much easier for us to abuse than to use.

Rev. Furgeson said...

^ If you look at Rev. 4-5 for your divine service, there is no stoll, or lecturn, or pulpit. Everyone is in a white robe. There is no pastor. Also, considering heaven in Rev. 4-5 is not our final destination, but the New Heavens and Earth, it does not reflect what our eternal worship will be like either. We may yet have hymnals!

As to technology, when electric lights were first introduced, people were upset because God is the one who was to illumine the church with natural sunlight and fire on the candles, not man-made light. Then microphones, then wireless microphones. These are still used at rock concerts and sporting events, but we don't have a problem with them in church. So, the fact that the culture has this technology of screens is not the issue, precisely.

Rather, this issue comes back not to its cultural issues, but to our theology of worship and to our theology of the Word. The current issues over screens, is, in my opinion at least, a reflection on our general deficiencies in our practical reflection in these areas. And this is coming from a traditional liturgy, even 'high church' kind of guy.

Rev. J. Hayes said...

I think you read past me a bit. I simply mean what Rev. Weedon pointed out about Hebrews 12, that sacramental worship on earth is actually entrance into the realm of Is. 6, Rev. 4-5, 7, etc. (hence Ex. 24-40 for the Israelites). Therefore it is still instructive, even though this present age is obviously neither heaven nor the new creation.

Rev. Furgeson said...

^Got it. Sorry for the miscommunique.

Unknown said...

To screen or not to screen is NOT really the question. The question is how to use the screen. I have seen screens that are more or less electronic hymn boards. They were unobtrusive and helpful. I have also seen a screen that was over powering in its presence.

If I may draw an analogy to special effects in the movies. If you leave the movie raving about the special effects, then they didn't do their job. If, on the other hand, you leave raving about the message of the movie itself, then the special effects were properly used.

- Rev. James T. Batchelor