Worship and the Technology Bandwagon

I’m amazed and enthralled by modern technological advances.  I used to read Popular Mechanics with audible sounds of astonishment.  The first time I played around on my Ipod 4th Gen my wife rolled her eyes because I was practically prancing around the room in awe.  However, I’m also in full agreement (as I noted here before) with Quentin Schultze’s counsel to take a wise perspective on technology: use it with moderation and be skeptical of its claims.  Here’s a paragraph from Habits of the High Tech Heart that I like. 

“Faddish technological endeavors nearly always interfere with genuine progress.  When we define progress in purely technological terms, we compel ourselves to use the latest technology even when it might not be wise or appropriate.  For instance, many college teachers feel compelled to use online student discussion software to transform their teaching notes into classroom presentations in darkened classrooms, to require students to visit a class Web site every day, or even to encourage students to take lecture and discussion notes on computers rather than in paper notebooks.”

It is amazing how much has already changed since Schultz wrote this in 2002.  It is no longer simply college teachers using Powerpoint and websites; it is elementary school teachers using Ipods, earbuds, and texting, among other things.  I just read a piece in the paper how some 2nd grade class is doing math lessons on the Ipod because (they argued) kids learn more from it than from a monotone teacher lecturing on numbers.  They learn more quickly with games: if you kill 4 aliens in level one and 5 aliens in level two, how many aliens did you kill in all?  Schultze continues this thought.

“Similarly, churches install video projectors in order to get the ‘full benefit’ of computer-presentation technology, sometimes resulting in entertainment-style worship services laced with slick slide shows, video clips, multimedia bulletin announcements, and dynamic sermon outlines.  These kind of technological practices often distract a congregation from the spoken message, fragment the liturgical flow, and destroy the solemnity of worship – all in the name of progress.  Our knowledge of the existence of technology, coupled with our desire to be progressive and effective, compels us to use it.  When the promises of technique seduce us, however, responsibility usually eludes us” (p. 97).

Well said.  Just like there are limits to science, so there are limits to technology.  Is it possible that some technology, when it comes to learning, is more harmful than helpful?  Is teaching a 10-year-old how to divide using hours of video games beneficial in the long run?  Will he cultivate the virtue of careful listening (along with other virtues) using earbuds and a video game? 

Even more seriously, what happens when you mix trivial entertainment with the deepest realities of life?  What are the long-term effects of discussing Scripture  (serious, deep, and spiritual things) using movie clips (entertaining, trivial, superficial things) to make it more meaningful on Sunday morning?  Will we harm Christian spirituality by making church entertaining?  What about kids who grow up with movie-laced “sermons?”  How will it affect their Christian life in the long run? 

I’d argue – based on the Regulative Principle of Worship (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1 and Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 96) – that we should not use movies and such in worship.  But based on Schultze’s helpful notes, I’d also argue against movies and such in worship from a practical point of view: this type of technology is more harmful than helpful when it comes to Christian worship and spirituality. 

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

6 Replies to “Worship and the Technology Bandwagon”

  1. This example illustrates both the strength and weakness of the RPW. On one hand, a regulative principal is quite helpful here: there is no hint in scripture that movie clips add didactic value to preaching, so they ought not be used.

    On the other hand, scripture gives no *specific* advice on how technology can be used to assist preaching or at what point technology goes from being circumstantial to elemental. Certainly voice amplification can and should be used for the benefit of the congregation, but that doesn’t mean the sound system needs to be equivalent to what’s used at a Metallica concert. There’s a point where the sound system changes from being acceptable for reverent, regulated worship to being unacceptable.

    If this is true for the sound system, then shouldn’t the same principle apply to graphic technology? Utilizing projected images does not automatically equate to entertainment driven worship! For example, few would argue that a preacher using a chalkboard to draw a basic illustrative diagram would be unacceptable. Sproul does it all the time. If this is acceptable, then how about upgrading the chalk board to a marker board, and the marker board to an overhead projector, the overhead to a powerpoint, etc. At what point have we violated the RPW?

    If we could agree that a computer generated projected images might be acceptable in certain situations, at what point do they become unacceptable? If an outline of the message would be fine, how about a picture of a key aspect in the message such as the temple or a map of Israel? Would a map with a little animated red line showing the path of the Israelites wandering through the desert go to far? How about a short clip of Ray Vander Laan giving some of his fantastic insights into what it was like in OT Palestine? Technology is a slippery slope for sure, but we can’t use that as an excuse for not using it at all.

    My point is you could get 10 guys who all profess allegiance to a rigid RPW and all 10 of them would have a different answer as to when the technology goes from being acceptable to unacceptable or when a circumstance becomes an element. Often the RPW is presented as being a tool to remove all subjectivity from deciding how we ought to worship, but in actuality the RPW as just as subjective as any other decision making process we use.


    1. Hey CW:
      You seem to be meshing categories and erasing distinctions.

      First, the RPW has to do with corporate, Lord’s Day worship. Sproul or other teachers using chalkboards for classroom lectures isn’t under the RPW umbrella. I don’t think Sproul lugs a chalkboard up to the pulpit when he preaches.

      Second, the RPW is not a matter of subjective decisions, but solid commands in God’s Word. A movie is entertainment, not preaching. It’s not that subjective. The church is to “preach the word.” A movie is entertainment where people act to make money. It is not preaching. The Heidelberg is great when it says we shouldn’t try to be wiser than God by using pictures to teach. God said preach, we trust his means of grace and preach.

      I mean this in a gentle way, but your last sentence convinces me you are mis-reading the RPW. God commands us to preach the Word, pray/sing the Word, and celebrate the sacraments in public worship (and some add alms based on 1 Cor 16.2). There are no commands for movies, skits, juggling, clay-pigeon shooting, or pottery in corporate Christian worship. Reformed/Presbyterian churches understood this for hundreds of years. In the last 60 or so many have missed it. It isn’t so subjective!

      What is subjective, however, is whether my Buick is ‘cool’ or not.


      1. Ha! I just won a bet with myself that your reply would mention juggling (although kudos on the clay pigeons- that’s a new one!). And yes, I do understand the different distinctions in theory.

        So maybe Sproul doesn’t use a chalkboard in worship. I don’t know, but I do know they’re a fixture in all of his videos. Anyways, my point is not lost.

        Back up one step from the chalkboard. You use a printed bulletin that often has a basic outline of your message, which my daughter benefits from greatly. As simple as it may be, it is still a graphic media used to convey a message. It accomplishes the same thing that a projected image of an outline does.

        If you’re going to be consistent in your application of the RPW, you need to throw out the printed outline because God uses the preached word as the means of grace, not graphics. Nowhere in scripture do we have an account of Peter or Paul handing out outlines to go along with his message.

        Obviously this is an absurd example, but it makes my point. We agree that to some degree, graphic visual aids enhance preaching. We also agree, that as a visual aid becomes more complex, it begins to detract from preaching. Again, we agree (I think) that at some point, visual aids go from being an enhancement to an element to becoming an element in and of itself. How does the RPW help us determine these breaking points on this continuum? These points are totally subjective!

        I certainly agree that scripture is very clear as to what elements need to be in corporate worship and that we better not add or subtract from that list. Really, though, when you look at all of the different protestant denominations (as Rev. Lovejoy puts it: American Reformed Presbo-Luthernism) the elements of worship are remarkably consistent (throwing out the wing-nuts on both ends of the spectrum like the Church of God on one end and mega health/wealth churches on the other).

        Where the problems arise is not so much in what elements to include, but in how to implement the elements. I totally agree with you- it’s far better to draw the line as strictly as possible, because where you draw the line is where you fight the battle (in addition to the reasons listed by Schultze). So we say outlines, printed or projected are ok, but movies, pre-recorded songs, and video games are off limits. But another good Christian pastor might conclude that his congregation benefits from projected images (i.e. maps, etc) or a good, solid recorded song that helps them understand the particular passage.

        We need to use technology in worship. God has given it to us and we need to use it. We must rely on scripture to help us set the limits, but we must rely in a general way, as scripture doesn’t address these concerns specifically.

        PS- the only reason your Buick is cool is because it’s so uncool. But it’s not very Biblical choice of cars- scripture says we should all be in one Accord.


    1. CW:

      I knew you’d like the clay pigeons, and I knew you knew I’d use juggling.

      You’re the first person I know of that ever talked about a bulletin as an element of worship. Again, you’re fudging distinctions. A bulletin does not bind consciences b/c it is not in front of the worshiper automatically any more than a pew or a wall is in front of him. A 12 foot movie screen in front of the congregation, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. Think about binding consciences (apply BCF 32’s here: “We reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way”). It’s not as subjective as you think – and it is a serious matter because it has to do with the worship of God the Creator and Redeemer. We follow Calvin’s warning that God hates human innovation in worship. It’s not a matter of taste! When we talk in person let’s discuss binding consciences.

      Anyway, I have to stop this discussion, b/c I don’t have more time. We’ll make more headway in person after you adopt some distinctions – Turretin’s great phrase: “We distinguish!” You can stop by (ignoring my Buick!) and borrow Turretin any time you want.



  2. Well said Shane! I have to say I completely agree with you.

    Concern is certainly there for the distraction of the attention getting glimmer and the desirableness of the technological garnish that is used by so many churches today. The concern is that things such as movie clips (in particular) get people thinking about the movie instead of Christ, regarding the preaching of the Word in the Lord’s house, to be a thing to be mingled with the profane elements of this world. What are people then coming to church for?

    “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God…”
    1 Cor. 11:22

    It was for enticement and the desire of something newer, even better, that man fell into sin. We continue to seek for something to be consumed with, other than God’s Word.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: