Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Religious News Service, December 6, 2004, with the headline: “Reformed Protestants No Longer See Images as Idolatrous—The visual and the Word go hand-in-hand, as some pastors see possibility in connecting pictures with worship. As an evangelical preacher, the Reverend Bruce Marcy belongs to a sermon-centered spiritual tradition that took root nearly 500 years ago, with the Bible, the pulpit, and the elimination of all distractions, including art. Imagine how shocked his forebears might be to see what Marcy does with visual images each week at Warehouse 242, the loft-style church in Charlotte, North Carolina where he serves as lead pastor.
“In his view, no worship service is complete until the congregation has pondered not just the Word proclaimed but also the Word illustrated through a home-grown photograph, painting, or film clip. ‘We believe the Reformers missed something big,’ says Marcy, a doctoral candidate in visual rhetoric at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. ‘When we limit the gospel message to the written and spoken text, we short-circuit it. We truncate it. The soul is moved by more things than the Word.’
“Marcy’s church is not alone. Across the nation, visual images are fast becoming a part of religious life for millions of Reformed Christians whose tradition has for centuries regarded pictures with great suspicion.
“Wariness of the images’ power to become an idol or otherwise deceive a lost soul has largely given way to confidence in the power of images to reach souls for the good.
“Examples of growing confidence in images span the spectrum of Reformed religious life. In the overseas mission field, Reformed Protestants and others who once relied on translated Bibles to convert indigenous peoples now routinely introduce Christianity through The Jesus Film, which has so far been translated into 858 languages. In small group ministries, the video based Alpha Course has attracted more than one million North Americans over the past ten years and is currently offered in more than 5,000 church and home settings, including some Reformed congregations.
“Though those concerns of the Reformation have faded, others have lingered. A number of older Reformed pastors have denounced visuals in worship as too emotional, too people-focused, rather than God focused, and a sign that worship is becoming entertainment.
“Others are more hopeful that images might actually enhance the Reformed method. The Reverend Mike Laird, pastor of the North Shore Chapel, which meets in a Danvers, Massachusetts, movie theater, keeps a library of several thousand images for display on the big screen during worship. And he’s been known to play film clips from the film When Harry Met Sally or a Winnie-the-Pooh episode as a means to introduce his sermon. ‘It’s a channel for speeding up God’s Word to get into their hearts,’ said Laird, an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church. ‘Our idea is to allow different channels to be open to any person at the service.’”
Tom: Dave, I think it’s important for our listeners to understand this. In our last segment we talked about the importance of the Word. “Man does not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
A word has a meaning. It’s objective. I mean, there are some people who can take off and misinterpret some things and so on. But basically, it is an objective way of presenting truth.
Tom: When you get to imagery—and you know this—then, you’ve moved into an area of subjectivity. A picture is worth a thousand words—why? Because you’re going to have different impressions. People are going to not go by a definition but go by their own impressions of what they think something is saying. This is the heart of the problem here.
Dave: Well, Tom, what they’re simply saying is the Word of God is not enough. If Paul—just think how effective Paul could have been if he’d had a movie camera, or if he’d been an artist. I know, that very often, people who preach the gospel on the street…they draw something to attract a crowd.
Dave: I have no objection to that, but when I think that….
Tom: Or a PowerPoint presentation, for example. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Dave: Well, no, PowerPoint presentation, Tom, I haven’t seen any with images—maybe there are some.
Dave: But generally, they just put the words up there for people to follow. I don’t have PowerPoint—I could never get well enough organized anyway, and it would tie me down and….
Tom: Yeah, you’re too fast for that.
Dave: I like to wander off on little rabbit trails, and so forth, as I’m speaking.
But, anyway, I guess Paul really was lacking some tools that would have been very helpful. See…look…if you want to attract people’s attention, you want to illustrate a point, I don’t have any quarrel with that. But if you think that you can enhance the Word of God—if you can improve the Word of God—because words are just too dull; we need to get a picture—well, then, as you just said, a picture is worth a thousand words, because everybody has a different interpretation.
And I’m thinking, Tom, of Jeremiah:13:10, I think it is, where God says, “This evil people who follow the imagination of their heart and they reject my word….”
A picture—what does it do? It arouses your imagination. Now you must interpret the picture. It gives you ideas—as you said—a picture is very indefinite, whereas words are precise. Now if you don’t think words are precise, study it a little bit. Try to write a brief—a legal brief—for the courtroom. Try to write a book, as I am doing right now, and you realize, Wait a minute. I must be very careful in choosing my words. God was very careful in choosing His words, and this is God’s Word.
Dave: And we don’t improve upon it.
Tom: Dave, one of the complaints in this article was that worship is becoming entertainment. It’s people-focused and so on. Part of this movement…especially—it’s talking about the Reformed church. This is the open doorway to liturgy, to sensual things, to feelings about imagery and so on. You know, you mentioned the imagination as the Scriptures point out, but it’s really the flesh. It’s a feeding of the flesh—the sensual part of man.
Dave: Well, you’re making a good point there, Tom. And I guess we’re out of time. Sacramentalism—that is part of this whole idea.
Dave: But, also, as it gets into other areas, other problems, and that is the idea that through ritual and so forth we can appease God, or get His attention, or get His favors. But I think it’s deadly, Tom, and the Word of God is good enough for me.
Tom: Dave, you know the thing that grieves me about this is that we see it across the board within even evangelicalism and those who claim to be biblical Christians. We see a weaning away from the Word of God—bringing all kinds of things in that are trying to enhance, that are trying to get people…appeal to their emotions, to the experiential side, and so on. This is separating us, I believe, from God’s Word and God’s truth.
Dave: Yeah, the problem is the Word of God is boring. Doctrine—that’s so boring. It’s not exciting enough, it’s not interesting enough, so we’ll get the interest of the people aroused. But you are taking them away—as you said—from the Bible itself.