Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
An article that Rich Clark recently linked in our Elsewhere sidebar has seized my attention. I think that Rich’s reaction to this, as well as some of the reactions in the comment section, indicate that we have lost a little bit of our grip on what is supposed to happening in the context of worship in our local church. I’m going to be careful how I put this for two reasons: 1) This is an important discussion that will reach beyond video games in the service and 2) Rich is my editor and I enjoy this gig here at Christ and Pop Culture.
In Rich’s commentary on the article concerning the use of the video game “Flower” in a church service, he expresses feeling torn about whether or not this is a good thing. I understand that reaction, and I think that many who love games may feel the same way. I also think that folks who have the knee-jerk reaction of “This is wrong!” do not have the clarity of thought to express why this sort of thing outrages them, except to say that this somehow demeans the corporate worship of the church. I want to put a finer point on the objection to this issue than that, but if I am going to do it, I feel beholden to talk about it in a way that helps give a better overall understanding of what is supposed to be happening in worship on Sunday.
For the record, I am pro-videogames. I love games. I love flash games and blockbuster games. I love shooters and RPG’s. I have an annoying addiction to Bejeweled Blitz. I have had great times of fellowship with friends in multi-player Halo games, even though I always lose terribly. I am one of those guys that thinks video games can give us a meaningful experience and that they can tell compelling stories through their own medium. So, I’m not taking the power of games lightly. My objection is not going to be that games are ‘trivial’. I even think it is a fun thing to play video games with the students at church during ‘hang out’ time. I’m not saying that video games, or any other good thing, should be abolished form the premises. I’m focusing on the use of such things during the corporate worship of the church.
My objection to video games in church boils down to what makes a church. A church is a place where the Word of God and the sacraments are rightly applied. The problem with using video games in worship, or Rembrandt for that matter, is that they require no catechism and no instruction to enjoy. A Jehovah’s Witness and a Southern Baptist and a Roman Catholic could sit down together on a Sunday morning and enjoy Flower together. They could experience the beauty of God-given human ingenuity and the simple pleasure of mutually enjoying something cool. But what happens when John 1 is preached? What happens when we sit at the Lord’s Table and the church we are in says, “This is what we are doing right now…” Someone’s going to leave, and someone’s going to stay. Video games are general and wide-open to interpretation. Through the Word and the Ordinances of the Church, Christ is presented. And we have to decide as He is presented what we believe about Him, and precisely how we can get to Him and how He comes to us. The corporate worship of the church isn’t supposed to be designed to give us glimpses of Christ; He is supposed to be presented to us in all of His glory.
So why are video games and Rembrandt out, but music is in? Because music meets the requirement of mediating the Word to us. Worship songs are like sermons, and the music helps us remember the lessons. Besides that, the Bible commands us to make music to the Lord, and He encourages our singing His praises to Him. We can’t sing any song we want in worship. I personally like The Mariner’s Revenge Song by The Decemberists. But it isn’t proper for worship just because it is music and awesome. It reveals things to us to be sure, and it is certainly well-done. But it doesn’t present Christ to the church as When I Survey the Wondrous Cross does.
Declaration of the Word of God and the administration of the sacraments are the unique elements of corporate worship precisely because those roads lead straight to the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These sacred means of grace are given to us by God to especially reveal to us who we are before God and what He has done for us in Christ. It isn’t that video games are particularly shallow; it is that anything compared to these magnificent treasures of the church are doomed to seem trite by comparison. They will seem trite because when the Word is rightly preached and the ordinances properly done, we will come face to face with Christ, not vaguely as through a dark glass or in glimpses as we see in creation. We will be confronted by Christ Himself. Isn’t that what we really gather together for?