When you saw the title of this article, you might be expecting us to wax eloquent on the awe-inspiring wonders of modern media. You may be preparing for a razzle-dazzle explanation of how to blow people away with videos that span an entire auditorium, or the amazing visual power of a graphics in a sermon. We’ll get there, but first, let’s journey back to a time where none of that ever existed.
Visual Media Way Back in the Day
Let’s rewind time. Go back before you were born — before the days of DVDs, electric lights, and aerosol hairspray. Keep going backwards, back to the time that cars did not roam interstates, and the Wright Brothers hadn’t hopped along Kitty Hawk Beach in an airborne sort of way. Let’s soar through the arid atmosphere of history to, let’s say the 1500s. Are you there? Good. It’s Sunday in A.D. 1500ish, and we’re going to visit a church and see what’s going on.
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This church is a paragon of architectural beauty. Flying buttresses soar to the sky, drawing our eyes upward to the heavens. The beautiful, smooth rock is majestic in its solidarity and formation. As we pass through the massive doors with their ornate patterns and intricate hinges, we enter a building of immense proportions.
A hallowed shine emanates from the shimmering colors of the stained glass windows. The hazy aura quivers with an almost supernatural glow, giving the entire open space a feeling of subtle glory. Our attention is drawn to the vast openness of the room, but then to the pulsating light of the windows, the mind-boggling beauty of the sculptures, the untold price of the gold and bejeweled candles, dishes, and other accoutrements at the front. On either side of a long, narrow aisle are rows of pews, showcasing the skill of a woodworker, and the tireless labor of hewers, carvers, and craftsman.
A smell wafts through the sanctuary. It is the smell of incense, filling our nostrils with an unforgettable sense that we will only experience in this place. As the service begins, we hear the intonations of the solemn priest as he reads the service in the holy-sounding language of Latin.
This is a place to worship God — and it engages the senses in an almost overwhelming way. Eyes are dazzled by the visual glory. The nose is filled with the smell of incense. Ears take in the sounds of the speaker. The tongue tastes the elements of the eucharist.
Such a service has power beyond what merely hearing a recorded sermon could deliver. By entering our senses through a variety of ways, the memory of the religious observance is heightened.
Visual Media Today
Now, are we going to talk about razzle-dazzle church media? Sure, but we took that little time machine jaunt to prove a point. There’s nothing really that modern or ground-breaking about visual media in church. It has historical precedent and remarkable endorsement.
When God designed the religious observances of the ancient Israelite’s, it was full of visual symbols, signs, and instructions. Everything from the color of the undergarments to the texture of the tent covering was detailed by God. These things matter, to some extent.
As the Christian religion organized itself in the first eight centuries after Christ, a huge church split tore apart the church, dividing it into those who craved visual media, and the aid to worship that it provided, and those who rejected it. Regardless of the iconoclasts discomfort with pictures, they still built church buildings that were a feast for the eyes.
All through the ages, particular sects notwithstanding, Christians have brought visual media together with worship. And that’s a good thing. Today, with the advent of incredible technology, we can project pictures for everyone to see. In addition to well-designed auditoriums, we can display carefully-chosen PowerPoints, engaging worship videos, and thoughtful sermon clips.
Few churches meet in ancient cathedrals, fraught with the beauty and symbolism of our faith. But nearly all churches have the privilege of using today’s technology to enhance the proclamation of our faith. Today is the day, not to resist technology for its excesses and distraction, but to redeem it and utilize it for the way it can help us to proclaim the truth.
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