Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technology and the Reformation

There were a few key points that kept coming up throughout last weekend's conference. At first sight, they seem like great ideas. Upon further ponderation, though, I began to question the validity of these arguments. The ideas go something like this:

1) The Great Reformation happened largely because of sacerdotalism (the priests were given/took all the power in the church). As a result, a few missionally minded folks including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly, took true religion to the people. The idea that arose from this mindset was Luther's "priesthood of all believers". When people could access the religion, they took it and incarnated it into whatever context they lived.

2) Somehow today the leadership of the church (whether through professionalization of leadership or power struggles or apathy on the congregants' part) has once again come out on top. Church leaders today need to lead once again rather than delegate from the top. We should use any means necessary to redefine the church and her mission (including twitter, which apparently every church should be doing).

3) Form follows function. In other words, our structure of worship ought to reflect our values/beliefs/purpose of meeting.

While I see the connection between church leadership today and that of the medieval era, I cannot help but think that the cause of the rifts is far different than it once was. If the cause is different, cannot also the solution be?

The cause of the Reformation was due largely (though not entirely) to the availability of the Bible for everyday folk. Because of the printing press, pamphlets on theology as well as copies of the Bible were suddenly readily available. The written word led to a certain pattern of thinking. Let us not forget that the medium is the message. Written text reinforced linear thinking, which reinforced the modern worldview. The way they received Scripture influenced their worldview. Our conference was created under the assumption that media is neutral.

If we want to connect to our postmodern culture, we ought to use visual rather than linear media. This is obvious when a person sees the popularity of youtube versus blogger. Our MTV culture has created a different set of neural pathways through which information is filtered than that of the medieval era. Our minds are fundamentally altered.

Not only that, but TV watching is an incredibly passive activity. A person burns more calories sleeping than watching TV. The medium is the message. If we go with the cultural flow, perhaps we will only lead our congregations into a deeper mire of narcissistic self gratification than they are already in.

Should the church wholeheartedly accept technological advancement, including twitter?

Another astonishing development is the speed of technological advancement. Written word had centuries of influence. TV has had roughly 50 years of influence. The internet 20. Facebook, 7. Twitter, 2. How long until the next technology? How long until we sing this same song and dance the same dance with the next, greatest system of information distribution? We have no idea what effect the internet has in a longitudinal study, let alone social networking.

God grant us wisdom in understanding our times and technologies. And choosing wisely which avenues to pursue.

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