The issue is not the technology

Screens and projectors in the church.  Okay.  Everybody calm down.    Get a beer or a coffee or whatever you need.

I know that one of the sacred  marks of those who call themselves confessional is an aversion to screens in churches.  I heard an ad on Issues Etc. where the church beckoned people to come just because of their lack of screens.  The Steadfast Brothers advertise their site based on their anti-screen cred too.  I recently watched as a group of  men sat way up front in church to make sure they could not see the screens in the sanctuary we were all together in.

But, you know what was on the screen that day?  The liturgy.  The liturgy of the church.  The liturgy which delivers to the people their Lord Jesus.  And yet these men refused to look at it.   Why?  Because it was on a screen in a church.

Well it is really more than that.  The true reason they did it is about confessional identity.   You wear the clerical.  You carry the BOC.  You hate the screens.  That is who you are.

I do know the real reason why screens became anathema in confessional circles.  It is because they were first used by churches outside our Synod.  They were used  in places where experience in often emphasized beyond the work of God in Word and Sacrament.  Next screens were embraced by churches inside our Synod who tended to embrace the philosophies of business world and the simple (often Jesus-less) songs of the Evangelical church down the street.  Admittedly, liturgy and hymnody on these screens is a rare sight on the whole.

However, the issue is not the technology though.  This is my point.  You must understand that lights are technology as are speakers and microphones, and yet no one advertises their lack of them.  And if you want the most modern and forward thinking technology in the church today, it is not the screen up front but organ in the back.

Please brothers, most of  whom I consider friends and good theologians, let us not give the impression that we are all about bemoaning screens in the church, as if that is the main issue of our concerns.  Let us ask instead, “What is on your screen?  How does your screen add to or take away from the sacred space in which we gather to receive the gifts of God?  It is an aid or distraction to the Gospel?”  Those are the issues.  Not the technology.  Not the Screens.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 at 6:30 am and is filed under Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “The issue is not the technology”

  1. Genevieve (MamaOnABudget) Says:

    It goes beyond what’s on the screen – though as you said, that’s very important.

    What’s BEHIND the screen?

    When I was on my internship, the pastor was really pushing for a screen and projector at the front of the church. To lay all the cards on the table – that church would NOT have been projecting the liturgy up there =) But the church design didn’t lend itself to having screens. I don’t know what this style of church is called, but the ceiling starts sloping to a point right over the (average house height) windows and comes to a steep point down the center of the church. The only place they had to hang that screen?

    Right in front of the cross.

    Um… that’s not cool.

  2. revfisk Says:

    I recommend some reading in Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman to any and all. Also:

    “Truth is, there has been a public outcry that certain abuses have become fused to the common rites. Because such abuses could not be approved with a good conscience, they have been corrected to some extent.” (AC First Conclusion)

    I concur in theory, Phil. The question is, in a time of persecution, when one is demanded to participate in adiaphora as if it were not, then one must resist. In an age when it is clearly and plainly taught that “without technology” and “without seeker sensitivity” and “without praise bands” the Church will fail to grow, leave the mission incomplete, and then die….do we even have a choice about screens? This is complicated all the more by costs. I tremble to see 10s of thousands spent on new sound systems every few years, while pastors go without parishes and parishes go without pastors for lack of funds, and called church workers get axed, and bureaucrats are paid high salaries to dream up ways to lure in new church workers and pastors for the future church which may not exist precisely because we thought putting up screens was the equivalent of sending workers into the harvest….

    Now…all that said, I still can conceive of a pious use of screens. I can see them built into the walls at the front, on which are displayed liturgical art (like banners) which then magically becomes the liturgy and hymn verses. In my vain-glory perfect confessional dream church (which I rule only by the Word, but which nonetheless has put a golden toilet in the parsonage for me,) such is how it would be. Sure beats uneven felt letters spelling out “Do your best for Jesus”!

    So, (I hope you can see,) I agree….I just wonder if we’re not far more distracted than is good for us. The book has worked just fine for a long, long while, and, in the end, is quite efficient. In a time of controversy, the best course of action is patience. Adding fuel to an already boiling pot is a recipe for schism, and that over non-essentials.

    “”Truth is, there has been a public outcry that certain abuses have become fused to the common rites….”

  3. Todd Wilken Says:

    This will be my pick for Blog of the Week on Friday. TW

  4. Jason Harris Says:

    One often overlooked aspect of the screen idea is that both paper handouts and screens are partly necessary because the liturgical forms vary so much. I would prefer my people to have one single simple liturgy memorized. God’s timeless word will always be a living breathing thing. A pastor doesn’t have to constantly screw with the order and wordings to “keep it fresh.” There is something nice about simply sitting back, hands-free, and hearing the word of God and speaking it back in the old familiar forms of kyrie, te deum, creeds and so forth.

    Hymnals are still much better than screens for singing hymns because musical people really want to see the music. Visitors and new converts should have printed forms of the Lord’s Prayer and so forth available as a temporary crutch if they so desire, but you’d be surprised how quickly such things stick in your brain when you aren’t reading them off a page or projector screen.

  5. Erich Heidenreich DDS Says:

    I agree with you in principle. However…

    1) I am very much against the intrusion of any technology in our churches which is so prone to misuse. Modern electrified organ technology is something that is difficult to abuse. Screens, on the other hand, are quite difficult to limit to appropriate use.

    2) If we stuck to the physical use of the hymnal (whichever one it may be) there would be much less innovation. First, the copy machine made regular innovation possible. Screens only multiply this effect by making weekly innovation even more convenient. Just keep your eyes on the bouncing ball!

    3) This innovation causes the need for constant attention to the printed bulletin or screen, as opposed to comfortable participation in a familiar liturgy where one can focus ones eyes on the interaction of pastor and congregation, personal and corporate postures of worship, the beauty of church architecture, etc.

    3) I see screens in churches as having much of the same negative effect as the TV screens found in popular restaurants and bars today. Going out for dinner or drinks used to be a wonderful and intimate social affair for couples and groups. Now the temptation is to be distracted by what’s on the screens. Technology has become a HORRIBLE distraction in our society today. From computers to TVs and iPods to cell-phones, it is a real challenge these days to have the much-needed face-to-face interaction with our fellow man which is so essential to our being.

    I could go on, but I think you get my point. The church used to be slow to adopt new technology and other innovations. Just say no to screens! The potential benefits of this particular technology are not worth the inherent dangers. Use the hymnal!

  6. Rob Olson Says:

    Pastor:

    I can’t really add much to what Erich, Pastor Fisk, and the folks at your Facebook page have already written, other than this: It is. It most certainly is the technology. It is the technology, and I wish this blog were not Pastor Todd’s blog of the week. (Sorry.)

    I am glad that Pastor Fisk pointed you in the direction of Neil Postman. Please read what he has written, beginning with Amusing Ourselves to Death.

    Technology is always a two-edged sword. Always. It always gives and it ALWAYS takes away. Always. The prudent question should be this: What would this technology (screens) take away from the sanctuary?

    Sanctuary. We need a sanctuary from screens that constantly squawk at us from every public space today. I guess this makes me a Luddite. So be it.

    Please hand me a TLH and give us a quiet sanctuary void of screens and people talking about NFL football or their medical problems.

    The medium shapes the message, pastor.

    Blessings.

  7. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Rob-

    If it is the technology that is the issue, how did you read my blog, see the comments on my facebook, or how do you know who Rev Fisk is? The material you and Rev Fisk mentioned is not specific to only the worship setting. So if you are truly against the dangers of technology as Postman talks about, let see some consistency.

    By the way, I have never in this blog, or on the comments to this post advocated for screens as necessary or even as necessarily helpful. I have advocated against people who treat screens as inherently evil, as you seem to suggest.

    Does Issues Etc. suffer from Ipod apps and podcasting? Do TLH suffers from the once amazing technology of printing press? Does CPH offer trouble in its ipods apps and ebooks?

    I don’t want screens in every church or even any church. I want discussion and not needless derision among the body of Christ.

    As far as Todd choosing this, I am grateful. I think if you read my blog consistently you will understand where I stand.

  8. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Jason-

    Were you disappointed then in the variety afforded the church in Lutheran Service Book? this is a serious question. I sometimes think we got too much variety with this book.

    Also, there is necessary variety in every liturgical service by virtue of the texts, graduals, psalms, collects, propers, hymns, etc. Hence CPH inserts or their homemade counterpart. I agree that memorization is a awesome goal and one I seek to push my people and myself toward further.

  9. Terri Denniston Says:

    I recently attended a Divine Worship service with my daughter and her 2 young sons. They behave pretty well in church, yet they are still learning. There were 2 screens off to each side of the church with the liturgy and the hymns projected on them. When the youngest grandson wanted in my arms, I was quite happy to help out yet still be able to participate in the service without dropping the bulletin or the hymnal. The plus was that my grandson could see, hear and feel me sing while attending to his wiggleness. Since then I have looked at my church to see if we could put a screen up somewhere (besides in front of the cross). Not only would a screen be helpful for parents with small children, but as our eyes fail and our ears fail, we can still participate if the words are projected.

  10. Dan Says:

    Liberals will grab at the proverbial straws in order to justify their opinions, no matter foolish those opinions are. People who take issue with screens in the church and grab at every little theological straw they can are no better than liberals! Case closed. Was it this way when electricity was being introduced to churches? YES!! I GUARANTEE YOU that these so-called “confessionalists” (who really aren’t true confessionalists but children in clericals) were grabbing at anything they could to say that candles are more “godly” and more “confessional” than light bulbs.

    People, you gotta grow up! Quit using confessionalism as an excuse to be stupid. Theology is not a light bulb or a video screen; theology is what we believe, teach, and confess about God and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us on the cross.

    If using screens or a microphone or light bulbs or, God forbid, something other than a pipe organ to do the liturgy and proclaim the Gospel works, then it IS “confessional” and it IS orthodox and it IS godly! Otherwise you are a works-righteous, legalist hypocrite who needs to get off the pulpit. I don’t understand why the small crowd of orthodox liberals (which I call the Gottesdienst crowd) are so bent on destroying the LCMS over these things. You don’t want screens or light bulbs in your church, fine I don’t care. You may have your reasons. But don’t go and judge a church or your bother pastors in Christ over technology as if somehow your lack of a projection screen makes you more authoritative regarding theology, doctrine, or liturgy. Quit trying to play God; you’re no good at it!

    You can tell that I have a passion for these issues; I hope and pray that others do as well, so that we can get past this silliness and move on as a church body to more important things (like Word and Sacrament, charity, love, and community).

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