I recently came into contact with an article about why churches need to ditch projection screens and go back to using hymnals. I am going out on a limb with this post, because I have several friends who have posted, and agree to this blog.
It is important, I believe, for anyone reading to know about my background in order to understand the heart with which I write this post. I am an old-fashioned Baptist; I grew up as conservative as they come and I still see myself as very conservative, more so than most of my peers and colleagues in the ministry. I do not listen to much contemporary Christian music, and my personal opinion (emphasis on opinion) is that much of CCM has no place in the church. For much of my church-going life I have used a hymnal, I enjoy singing from a hymnal, and I plan to continue to use a hymnal.
Furthermore, those who know me also know that I am the last person to argue about anything. Our first episode of The Bible Burrito affirms this! On that token, this is not meant to be an argument. I wish no ill will on anyone who prefers hymnals over screens, screens over hymnals, both, or neither.
However, as I read this article, I found some things that, I believe, need to be addressed. There are three main things that I would like to address in this article:
“Projection Screens Reflect our Tech Obsessed Culture”
Did Christians and “traditionalists” make this same accusation when hymnals were first introduced into the church? At some point, hymnals were the “new tech” of the time. I know that is hard for us to wrap our minds around because it doesn’t have a sleek silver or white look and it doesn’t have a half eaten apple on the back, but hymnals (books in general) were once the new tech of the time. So was air conditioning, indoor plumbing, computers. Yet we use all of those things and embrace them in the church. Why should we treat projection screens any differently than the other tech that churches use and have utilized for years?
I am not going to lie and say that we are not living in a tech obsessed culture. And if a projection screen becomes the object of our obsession in the church, rather than Christ, I am in agreement that a projection screen should be gotten rid of. However, tech is not the enemy of the church. Tech can and should be reasonably utilized for the advancement of the church and the Gospel.
“As hymnals fade, theology suffers”
As I said, I love the old hymns. I am stirred with excitement when our song leader stands up and says “turn to number ___ in your hymnals, we are going to sing It Is Well With My Soul!” And heaven help the fool who skips over verse 3, because I will cut them!
The use of projection screens does not take away from singing those old hymns. It just puts the words to those hymns from one place to another. Admittedly, a screen does allow for more flexibility than the songs that are in the hymnal (in other words, and what many are afraid of, CCM music) but that does not mean that hymns are excluded from screens.
Furthermore, when we say “as hymnals fade, doctrine fades”, that is walking into some sticky territory when it comes to how we learn doctrine. I agree that songs are a great way to reinforce doctrine. In my last sermon, I drove home the point of my sermon by reciting the beautiful hymn “Softly and Tenderly”. However, we should not elevate hymnals to the place of Scripture.
My doctrine does not come from a hymn book, it comes from the Bible. In fact, it is incredibly dangerous to get our doctrine from hymnals, because those old hymns, as great as they are, were written by fallible man who often had improper theological beliefs which seep into the lyrics of those songs. The same, clearly, can be said about the contemporary songs that many churches are afraid of. If you are receiving your doctrine from music, of any kind, rather than the Bible, your theology is going to be wrong.
“Screens change the sermon receiving experience”
This is a smaller point, but I agree with the author here. Yes, screens do change the sermon receiving experience—— screens can enhance it! When we use screens appropriately, it can make the sermon more memorable and “stickable”. I have observed that a sermon can be enhanced by screens in these ways: Sermon notes projected on the screen that congregants can use to follow along with their own “fill in the blank notes”, Scriptures that are cross references to the main Scripture of the day, and maps/pictures of geographical areas that are being referenced in the sermon (ex. here is a pic of the remains of the synagogue that Jesus preached in when visiting Nazareth!). Can screens change the sermon receiving experience for the worse? Yes, just like practically any other tool in the world can. But when done properly, screens can enhance the sermon receiving experience.
In closing, I will say that there are benefits to the hymnal over projection screens. One benefit is that hymnals show the harmonizing notes. This point is becoming more and more moot, considering that many people cannot read music. However, I love to be able to look at my hymnal and see the notes for harmonizing parts. Harmony makes songs more beautiful. And, as of yet, screens have not been able to capture that elegance.
Secondly, hymnals are a repository of songs that you simply will not get anywhere else. I love sitting down sometimes and thumbing through a hymnal, looking at all of the songs. That is something that simply cannot happen with a screen.
The point I am making is this: I love hymnals, and plan on continuing to use them. However, I will not dogmatically say, “Hymns are good, screens are bad!” Because that is simply not true. One final piece of advice that I learned my dad is this, “Scream where the Bible is loud, but whisper where the Bible is silent.” I believe that phrase sums this argument up perfectly! The screens vs. hymns argument should not be anyone’s hill to die on. The purity of the church does not hang in the balance because of this argument, neither does any doctrinal standing. There are many other fronts on which the church is losing right now that we ought to be SUPER concerned about. This is not one of them.