Last Sunday morning I had the opportunity to attend our former home church in northern Illinois. While it’s not the church I grew up in, it is the one where I was married and where I was baptized, and where I spent a significant portion of my early adulthood. Some family members are still among the congregation. It is always an interesting experience to return to your home; one of the things I discovered is that it is a little like being away from your child or grandchild for significant stretches of time. When you return, you realize how much they have changed. Subtle changes in weight or height or dental features or hair style are more pronounced, because you have carried a static mental image of the child while you were away, but the child has continued to grow and mature. Of course, later in life, the same process is true but the changes are rarely improvements. As older adults, we are typically fatter, shorter, and have less hair. None the less, the changes continue and periods of absence make those changes seem more pronounced.
In this case, the traditional Baptist church to which I was accustomed had certainly changed since I saw it last. The beautiful hand-crafted pulpit fashioned by one of our most beloved church elders, now long-since deceased, was nowhere to be seen. The organ and piano were still in their traditional places flanking the platform at the front of the sanctuary, but they were not often heard through the course of the Sunday morning service. That’s because they were largely swallowed up in the electronically amplified strumming of the guitar and base guitar which have moved to center stage, and led all of the musical portions of the service. The hymns of old have all but disappeared as well, replaced by choruses of what one brother-in-law refers to as “7-11 Music” (the same seven words repeated 11 times). And finally, the entire front wall of the auditorium is now covered from ceiling to almost-floor by a projection screen, upon which the lyrics of the choruses are displayed, as well as the bullet points of the sermon of the day. The large rustic wooden cross, once the visual center of the stage, and the constant reminder of what brought us all there, is no longer to be seen. There was no evidence of a cross remianing anywhere in the sanctuary in fact, nor was the baptismal tank above which it hung.
The message last Sunday was from the Book of James, and highlighted the importance of not speaking critically of others – especially our brothers in Christ. I thought it was a pretty good sermon in most respects, solidly founded in biblical teaching and more importantly, targeted right at one of the biggest challenges I face personally on a regular basis. The young pastor who is responsible for all of the changes that I find so disquieting was also the pastor that developed and delivered the sermon, and I am grateful that God made it possible for me to hear it last week. I’m trying to incorporate it in my life, though I know that will continue to be a struggle for me as long as I draw breath.
Now, I realize that the physical wooden cross hanging in the front of the sanctuary is only a symbol. It’s a physical reminder, though, of the reason Christanity exists. One day about 2,012 years ago, the world was changed forever by the sacrafice of Jesus Christ – the only beloved Son of God – on a wooden cross. The result of that event has transcended time – forward and backward (see Isaiah 53) to provide the opportunity for all of us to accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as the payment for our individual sins, and avoid eternal seperation from God in the next life (John 3:16). All of us who are Christians know that event stands between us and Hell. It’s hard to imagine anything more important.
For me, it’s especially hard to see it supplanted by a projection screen whose purpose is to display the repetive, often shallow lyrics of today’s choruses. One of them says “Our God is an Awsome God.” Give me a break. Our God isn’t “an Awesome God” – that would mean that He is one God among many, and happens to be more “awesome” than other Gods. No; our God is GOD. The very word means omnipoitent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He isn’t just ‘awesome”, He is GOD. I should mention, in fairnesss, that the projector screen did list the hymn number of a couple of hymns that were included in the list of musical performances of the morning. There was no time to actually extract a hymn book from the holder and turn to the page before it was over, though. So anyone like me who actually attempts to read the music and follow a particular part (like the bass or alto part) is almost as helpless with the hymns in this situation as we are when the words of a chorus go up on a projection screen with no accompanying notes.
In any case, as I said initially, intervals of time make these changes more pronounced. Perhaps I am over-reacting. But for me, a church sanctuary that has been stripped of its cross is much more like any other large room, and filling it with guitars and amplifiers does little to enhance the reverant worship of the saints.
What do you think?