Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Axe Handle Applied

My last blog (see below) told the story of the missionary Boniface. He cut down the Oak of Thor in the Middle Ages to remove the superstitious idol from among the Germanic people to whom he was ministering. The theme of wood was used to tell the story, most obviously by the towering oak being reduced to a Christian chapel.

Yet the story was given the title “The Axe Handle” because it was also made of wood. This handle was what gave Boniface the leverage he needed to accomplish the task at hand. As the prophets showed (see Isaiah 44:9-20) wood can be used to fashion idols or to glorify the God who gave it to us to use. Boniface, like Elijah who built laid wood on a stone altar to challenge the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, or like Gideon who had to cut down the wooden idol Asherah in front of his father’s house before he could face the Midianites, had to challenge his generation’s veneration of an idol. By using a wooden-handled axe, he employed the very substance the people worshipped to bring down their idol and glorify the Lord.

Some thirteen hundred years since Boniface, perhaps trees are no longer idolized in the Western world (tree huggers excepted), but nothing is more venerated in our generation than our technology. From palm pilots to i-pods, from DVD’s to DSL, people are awash in the “technology tsunami” that has hit us. Our young people are especially turning to it constantly not only for the entertainment it encourages, but for the knowledge and relationships it gives as well. The problem is that so many lack the wisdom needed to handle the technology, and consequently like the people of Hesse they have worshipped and served the created thing rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). This past year in my ministry one constant theme has emerged in all my counseling situations: in one way or another, the people coming have become ensnared in the sins and the illicit relationships that the “see-what-you-want-whenever-you-want” nature of technology encourages.

The New York Times recently reported the story of Justin Berry. As a thirteen year-old boy, he learned about webcams from a friend at school. Being naturally shy, he purchased one and, without his parents’ knowledge, set it up on his computer in his bedroom and opened up his own website, thinking he could make friends over the Internet. Make friends he did, for it was not long afterwards that he was approached by a new “friend,” i.e. a pedophile, offering him $50 to take his shirt off while the webcam was on. Reasoning that he took his shirt off at the pool and others saw him, and that this would give him some spending money, Justin complied and was paid through an account set up with PayPal.

One thing led to another, and it was not long until Justin was making thousands and thousands of dollars doing all sorts of grotesque things beamed to his payers through the webcam. When his parents started wondering where he was getting all this new spending money, Justin deceived them by saying he had set up a website consulting business. His parents had no idea that the child they thought was extremely talented and entrepreneurial was instead becoming immersed in a life of secret, sexual perversion. Fortunately, Justin became sickened by his lifestyle and, wanting to come clean, at the age of nineteen he turned in his records to the Justice Department. The most sickening aspect of this story is that Justin learned that not only had his friends lied to him about their identity but that many were in child-related work fields, such as teachers, daycare workers and pediatricians.

Perhaps you will not fall to the degree Justin did. But this story highlights what Neil Postman explained in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Media is not neutral, for it has the power to shape our souls. The technology quickly goes from being controlled by us to controlling us. Under its powerful allure, we start believing that we need to see and know and experience everything available. Falling to the ancient lie of Satan, that by tasting all these things “we will be like God,” actually accomplishes what it always has. Instead of becoming more like God, we become more carnal, superstitious, lazy, deadened, even animal-like. Entertainment becomes our god, and how this technological tsunami has rushed into the church as well.

Recently an acquaintance of mine was describing their new, sprawling church complex to me, explaining how they had huge screens beaming the church service into the coffee house part of the building so that people could “watch church.” Is the God of heaven, who revealed Himself to us through the written word, really pleased with His people sipping vanilla lattes while watching a Christian drama on a wall-sized screen? Does the church in my town that too has just such a coffee shop, called “Jehovah Java” of all things, really not understand they are blaspheming the name of the Lord? Are we not to be those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, not cappuccinos? And is it not common barn animals who are supposed to be content with their feedbags on? Media has shaped our souls, indeed, and we reflect more the image of the fat cows of Bashan than the glory of the Son of God.

To get a handle on all of this, remember Boniface’s handle. What the world bows before to satisfy its own lusts, we must take and use as leverage to chop down the idolatry. Young people need training in wisdom from the mature on how to guard themselves from the dangers of the Internet while at the same time being shown how to use it for Christ’s glory. Rather than doing Google searches to see the latest shenanigans of a movie star, the church must be searching out the wisdom and knowledge now available at its fingertips like it never has been before. Instead of blogging turning into a display of idleness and empty words for which we’ll be judged come the last day (Matthew 12:36-37), Christians must use it to get someone out there in cyberspace to really think about something important for a minute. Just as the Gutenberg printing press was used to spread the Reformation through literature, we need to cast out the gospel over the Internet to bring in a worldwide catch. So just for inspiration purposes only, take your keyboard, lift it high overhead, cry out, “Glory be to the God of heaven and earth!” then get to work. For much chopping, sawing, fitting and hammering needs to be done.


Rich Tatum said...

Great post, I especially enjoyed referencing Neil Postman. I especially like this quote from him on how technology has become our god...

"...In the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it, that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that, in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits, and their relationships to accommodate it."

(Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995], 38.)

I've linked to this post from my own blog article on this topic:

Justin Berry: From 'camwhore' to water-baptized witness for the State



Barry York said...


Thanks for the comment and link. I switched my link to your site as it had more information than I had previously read. Fascinating story about the reporter's influence.



David said...

Good post, except for the part on the churches with big screens. I'm not sure we can say that God is not pleased with this. Just because people don't follow our traditions of church, doesn't mean they're in the wrong. The Bible hasn't set any certain way we are to worship. Some people do listen to the sermons better with coffee in their stomachs and caffine in their blood streams.

Sal_et_lucis said...

I was quite shocked when I read your comment. I understand that you were trying to be ecumenical, and trying to give grace to other members of Christ's body. However, there are several key phrases which showed that you used faulty reasoning. First of all, you used the phrase “Just because people don't follow our traditions of church, doesn't mean they're in the wrong.” I would agree if you replaced the word tradition with practice. While our services may follow in the tradition of the reformed faith, it is not a tradition only, it is a practice that is commanded in the scriptures. The last is much much more important than the former. Any tradition whether biblical or unbiblical will kill a church. All our worship practices must follow scripture as closely as is possible this side of heaven. That leads right into the next point. You also said, “The Bible hasn't set any certain way we are to worship.” On what passage of scripture do/can you support that statement? Scripture is very explicit in the way in which we are to worship him. It is to be in “spirit and in truth”. It is to be in a humble prostration of our spiritual bodies before the king. He has also commanded that nothing should take place in worship unless it is expressly commanded by the scriptures. You ended with, “Some people do listen to the sermons better with coffee in their stomachs and caffeine in their blood streams.” Is it really profitable for people to watch a perfectly groomed teacher up on the stage tickling their ears? Will it really help them to have a drug running in their veins. Worship is a serious business, and not something to be taken lightly. How can one worship when he is not actually in the sanctuary, where we are told to meet; How can they truly worship when they are not with the people of God, who they are commanded to meet with? They sit aloof, sipping their drink, oblivious that the very God they are “worshipping” has turned his face elsewhere. Lest it seem that I am overreacting, read the accounts where God's direct commands are not disobeyed, but simply ignored. (Leviticus 10, II Samuel 6) God is very zealous about how he is to be worshiped. We would do well to listen very carefully to him!

Barry York said...


Thanks for your comment. Though you can see someone else responded before me, I would like to respond to what, from my perspective, appears to be a lack of clarity. Perhaps it was that you did not have enough caffeine at 2:45 a.m. when you posted:)?

First, certainly nothing is intrinsically evil with a big screen. The whole point of my article was not to decry technology, but to be wise in our use of it. Just as a microphone can magnify a voice, so a screen might be used in certain settings to help people see. However, I am questioning the wisdom of cultivating a worship environment where people are encouraged by technology to WATCH, rather than BE, the church. Just as a microphone can be misused in worship by a false preacher or a scantily clad soloist, so screens and other forms of technology are shaping people to be passive, entertainment-obsessed worshippers.

For the screen is more dangerous. Unlike the microphone, it has more danger of being abused because it is a visual rather than an audial medium. Visual media shape the churches that extensively use them as it drives them to put before the people increasingly more attractive and dramatic things to see. As Postman's book shows, the screen is a substitute for the theatre. Its very nature encourages a desire to see. Yet the very nature of our faith is to believe by hearing (Romans 10:17; John 20:29). That is why the Reformed faith has historically guarded the worship setting from idols, icons, etc.

Also, as the other respondent pointed out, far more is to be happening in worship than just "listening to a sermon." We are called in both Testaments to be His temple, and we are to assemble together before the very presence of the holy God. The church is to be united in heart as we pray for one another, singing His praises with one voice, confessing our sins, pledging ourselves for His service, and celebrating together His sacraments. Has not a church that serves latt├ęs in worship every week but communion rarely lost its sense of identity? And why not just stay home and watch a better performance on TV or over the computer screen than coming to the local one?

Finally, surely you did not mean to say "The Bible hasn't set any certain way we are to worship." Even in context that is an inappropriate statement to make. The New Testament commands an even GREATER care in how we approach God and worship Him than the Old, for the blood of Jesus Christ is at stake (see Hebrews 8:4-6; 10:19-31). How we should tremble in love and fear as we draw near.



David said...

I actually have friends who listen better to their pastor's sermons better on the computer because it is easier for them to concentrate. I know people who listen to my Pastor's sermon's on tape because they don't listen to it during regular time...

The question to "watch rather than to be," is quite skeptical. Skeptical of something different than what you've been taught.

What is being? If being is just sitting in the sanctuary, than their are a lot of great churches in this world, but being, in a church, can not be judged by HOW a person chooses to take in the word of God during church UNLESS it hurts or prohibits him from taking it in. You can't say driniking coffee and watching a big screen hurts a person's ability to listen or prohibits them from hearing the word of Christ or strengthening the body of Christ. Yes all technology can be dangerous, but it doesn't mean it can't be used. I've looked up your verses, Hebrews 8:4-6 and 10:19-31 and the only point where it says about meeting to worship God is in 10:25. Here it is saying to meet together so that you would encourage one another. It doesn't specify what kind of building to use, what kind of seats you should have and what form of communication you should have, but rather, it says to meet and to encourage each other.

Now, the church that you were refering to, to watch the sermon, had to meet together so the people that were drinking coffee and watching the sermon, were still meeting and communicating, unless they're quiet people, with other believers.

Luke, I think you did not understand what I meant when I said tradition. I meant it as in what a congregation does in it's service. Example, first comes the opening prayer, annoucement, singing, exc. I do not mean it as in doing something because it has been done in the past.

To your next point, you ask me where I support my claim that their is a lack of Bibical basis for having a specific way of seeing a service, my support is in that their is a LACK of Bibical basis. We are not discussing the spiritual side of worship, rather, we are discussing how people view the service. You can say that it affects them, but that is a sociological norm for them to be affected that way or any way. You ask me whether if it will really help someone if they have a drug running through their blood stream, and I say that it is relative to each individual. It is the same as how people sit in their seats. They sit to the comfort of their bodies. Now, I don't mean people can take beds to church, but I say this within moderation of still being able to concentrate on the service and drinking coffee can actually help you concentrate on the service.

Your idea of the way people watch a sermon while drinking coffee is very biased and ill based. You view these people as almost "church goers." People that just go for going to church and don't necessarily take a service seriously but you have been caught in your cultural norm of sitting in a service and just listening, praying and singing, while others, on the other hand, have different cultural norms of drinking a cup of coffee while they listen, pray and sing. It is a cultural norm that you are reacting against. You have absolutely no basis for saying that these people do not concentrate on the service as God wants them to because 1. You do not know them. 2. You have not been to this church. (as far as I am aware of.) 3. You are human and are in no place to say whether another human being is worshipping God in the proper way, unless their is explicit scripture to back your thesis. The fact that these Christians do worship and worship together, but rather than watching someone live, are watching a screen, does not make them less spiritual, less closer to God and less of a congregation. How a service is communicated to the listeners is relative to each church.

P.S. Luke, You have not provided sufficient Bibical basis for any of your points.

P.S.S. I have not provided Bibical passages for my points because my argument is that there is a lack of Bbiical basis for your argument.

BamFam said...

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this post. It made me think about how Brandon and I are using our own blog and website, is it for God's glory? I think, at least for me, it is very easy to forget that the internet and all that it contains should be for God's glory. Of course, because we live in a fallen world the internet is as sinful as those who create the content. Because the internet is not something you can grasp or see it is sometimes easy for me to forget about using it for God's glory. I have been challenged to think more about what we post on our blog, is it true, right, honoring to God, etc.? It is so very easy to write "fluff" sometimes, "There" (not their, see the above post :-) should always be thought placed into what we write on the internet.


BamFam said...

Dear Mr. David "Po'Mo'" Pulliam,

I have debated with myself as to whether I could add anything to this lively discussion and obviously, the "pro" side of me won out. I'm not sure of your background of study, but your last post sounded like you sifted through a Sociology 101 textbook vocab and inserted the jargon therein to support a relativist view of worship. I think Barry and Luke have made very good scriptural points that should stand on their own, but I thought of another reason I have a problem with "watching church." If one were personally invited into the home of the President to join in a grand celebration, would they instead stay in the Starbucks across town to watch it on TV because they didn't want to be bothered with the effort? I think not! If we have been not only invited, but commanded by the Creator and King of heaven and earth to enter his sanctuary to weekly celebrate the victory of His beloved Son, how dare we stay outside sipping coffee! Worship isn't primarily to listen to the sermon better, although paying attention to it is commanded and listening to it later is great. Worship is for our Father in Heaven first and foremost and our benefit second.