As more evangelicals begin to wrestle with questions of technology and how it shapes our local congregations, I suspect there will be many who sympathize with the position articulated quite ably and boldy by John LaGrou:
The virtually-connected church now has on-line access to the finest teaching and preaching imaginable, accessible at their convenience, 7 x 24 x 365. Of what value is physically proximate information (e.g., stage-centric pastor) when the average person can now access the best sermons, preaching, teaching, and cross-referenced commentary on-line?
Though John doesn’t point it out, the question does not simply cut against the virtual church, but against those churches who utilize video sermons. Fundamentally, there is no reason why any local church should continue to listen to Pastor Bob drone on and on when they can get the video of John Piper instead. What’s more, why simply have John Piper when you can alternate with Mark Driscoll? The use of video among multi-site churches (and, full disclosure, I attend one, though not for this reason) destroys any in principle reason why such an ‘all star’ conglomeration of video sermons shouldn’t be employed.
It has been my hypothesis of late that the rapid development and adoption of new technologies is exposing our anemic ecclesiologies and misguided understanding of the role and nature of the proclomation of the Word. Until evangelicals properly articulate why the Church gathers and hear’s the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.
And that is probably the strongest statement I’ve ever made publicly on the matter.
At its core, John’s insistence on preaching of a certain sort denies that the Church is shaped by the Word of God, in favor of the quality with which it is explicated. The use of video screens and the virtuality of the Church depends upon us coming to hear Pastor Bob preach the Word of God, rather than to hear God in His Word through Pastor Bob. If the latter, then we are called to open ourselves even to the least of preachers, in order to ensure that we do not miss God’s word for us.
In this way, John’s rejection of ‘comparatively mediocre religious talk’ is instructive. Most local churches are comparatively mediocre. But they are not ‘talk.’ They, even the least skilled among them, are charged with proclaiming the Word of God, and in no way is that comparable with a lecture or a transmission of information. It is on a different plane, for it is a plane where God speaks through His word.
Such speaking, of course, may sound to our ears dull and prosaic. As Augustine points out in his Confessions, Scripture is not Scripture because of its aesthetic qualities. While the Psalms are doubtlessly masterpieces, the bulk of Scripture is relatively prosaic compared to the masterful heights of Greek drama and poetry. A similar principle is, I think, at work in the act of preaching. And as JT has reminded us, a mature person is easily edified.
All of this amounts to a defense of mediocre pastors and the recognition that even in their proclamation they are not alone. It is the duty of the congregation to seek, to listen, to ask the God who speaks to speak through His humble servant’s lips.
John is right: the local sermon will not go away. But the foundations for it are crumbling, and it is encumbent upon conservatives to articulate reasons for it, lest it go the way of the marmoset.