This past Sunday was a bit of a milestone at Ocean Park. A milestone in the fact that the words of the hymns were displayed on the back wall. Some may be wondering, “Why on earth this would be a milestone”, while others are thinking, “Why on earth would we take such a drastic step.” To some change can be frighting because it feels uncontrollably rapid; yet to others it is frustrating waiting for change to unfold slowly. To the former group I want to assure you that we are not changing for the sake of change, to be trendy, or because we want to get rid of the past. To the latter group I want to encourage you be careful that you do not chase so quickly after the latest and greatest that you miss what is lasting and substantial. I would say to both groups that the past, present, and future our of church is the Gospel. The reason we exist as a congregation is because of the Gospel and anything that distracts us from proclaiming it, replaces it as the core of our church, or removes our focus from it must not be tolerated. That being said, there are two dangerous things in our sanctuary with incredible power to distract us from proclaiming the gospel in our music: the projector and the hymnals. You may be wondering how a hymnal AND a projector can be a distraction to the gospel. It has to be an either or proposition. Right? Wrong. Our technology, whether it be printed words bound in a book or digital words magically broadcast on a screen, can distract us from the gospel. If we get to the point that we cannot worship without a certain type of technology we must step back and admit that we may have a problem with our understanding of the gospel and with idolatry. It is imperative that our technological preferences not impede our love, proclamation, and focus on the gospel. Rather our technology should assist us to proclaim the message of the gospel. In the history of the church we see the power of technology to spread the gospel; the Gutenberg Press was the technology that fueled the Reformation, small aircraft empowered missionary pilots to reach people otherwise unreachable, and the internet, radio, and satellite tv have penetrated anti-Christian nations were Christians missionaries were forbidden. Technology can be a great aid for the spread of the Gospel.
Therefore, let me share with you some of the reasons I feel it is appropriate that Ocean Park embrace technology as a tool to proclaim the gospel. 1) The hymnals are older than me (and according to my kids that’s REALLY old). Our hymnals are full of many timeless God-centered, Gospel-exalting hymns that have been sung by Christians for generations. The hymns aren’t going anywhere just how we present them. Since our hymnals were printed in 1975, Lifeway has released two new editions of The Baptist Hymnal introducing hymns from the past forty years (two new generations of Christians). If we refuse to sing outside of the hymnal we will miss out on forty years of Great “New” Hymns of the Faith. I certainly think it would be foolish to ignore forty years of music that God has gifted men and women to write for the edification and encouragement of the church. 2) Jax Beach is comfortable with technology. The average age of Jax Beach is 38 (which is also younger than our hymnals). The average 38-year old has a smartphone, computer, and probably a tablet of some sort. They grew up with video games, use a computer at their job, don’t remember not having cable, and have never seen a black and white tv. The average 38 year old has never used a hymnal. The reality is that if we want to introduce Gospel-centered worship to Generation X or Generation Y, harnessing the power of technology is a logical place to begin. We can fuse contemporary technology and traditional worship from generations past to bring glory to our eternal God. 3) Our goal is to be God-centered not preference centered. I go to Burger King to “Have it My Way”; I go to church to worship God’s way. As a church we need to start thinking, “Do the lyrics of this song focus on who God is and what God has done?” rather than “Is this song familiar or does it remind me of the ole’ time religion of the good ole’ days”. Do the lyrics of our songs teach the congregation about the atoning work of Jesus Christ or do they just reflect a style of music that makes me feel comfortable and stir my emotions? Consequently, young people turn their noses up at ‘old’ music for the same reason that older people look down their noses at ‘new’ songs. It’s different. It’s not my preference. It’s not what I like. Ultimately, if we are a church that is serious about the Gospel we will be continually looking to adapt to meet the challenges of the time we live in. We believe that we have the antidote to the sinful human condition; the Gospel. Therefore, we should strive to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:22-23). Our preferences should never take priority over the Gospel. We are never free to compromise the Gospel but our preferences should be the first thing we are willing to lay aside in order that the Gospel be proclaimed.
Ultimately, the hymnals aren’t going anywhere. If you know what those little black dots above the words mean then you are empowered to continue to use them. By using an projector, we gain flexibility to sing hymns that were left out of our hymnal or written after. As a matter of fact, two of the ‘new songs’ that I have introduced in the past year aren’t new at all. ‘Here is Love’ was written in 1876 while “Before the Throne of God Above” dates back to 1863. I think you would agree they are timeless because they are “God-centered and Gospel-exalting” not just because they are in the pages of a hymnal or sound like the good ole days. May we be quick to exalt the Gospel and focus our hearts on Christ as we await the return of our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria