Media in the church: curse or blessing?

This blog was first published on ADvindicate.

“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (KJV, Is. 29:13).

Worship is central to pretty much every religion and is indeed central to Christianity. Seventh-day Adventists go to church every Sabbath because the whole day is about the worship of our Creator. It is an expression of our love for Him and an acknowledgement of His supremacy. But history repeats itself (Eccles. 1:9-10). Could it be that we are reliving Isaiah 29:13 in our church services today?

With this verse in mind, I want to focus solely on how we use media in the church. We all know that radios and television are not evil of themselves. In fact, it would be hypocritical to say so, because I volunteer in media ministry myself. But it is important to understand what type of media we can use for the Lord and how. As Isaiah 29:13 indicates, worship is about Him. “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:42.

The seat of morality

One amazing discovery that was mind-boggling to me was the working of the frontal lobe. To explain it in a simple way, the frontal lobe is the most frontal part of the brain you use to deliberately choose to worship God. We reason, judge, pray and make decisions with the frontal lobe. It is with this part of the brain that we discern spiritual truth and worship. In fact, the frontal lobe is involved in a long list of things: the seat of spirituality, morality, altruism, the will, empathy and the conscience. Therefore, we can conclude that this part of the brain is extremely important and crucial for our relationship with God.

Just behind the frontal lobe is the limbic system. Some scientists call this the lizard brain, referring to evolution, but let’s just stick with the first. The limbic system is the direct opposite of the frontal lobe. With it we fear, worry, lust, and become irritable, aggressive, angry and negative. It also gives us a craving for sex and food and helps us to choose between fight and flight. Again, like the media, there is nothing wrong with this part of the brain. We believe God is our Creator and He has made us with the limbic system for a reason. God created us to long for a physical relationship with our partner in marriage, and without the limbic system, we wouldn’t run if a lion had chosen us to be his afternoon snack.

When the limbic system becomes problematic

However, the limbic system becomes a problem when it governs the decision making work of the frontal lobe. There are four types of brain waves in a normally functioning brain.

  1. Delta (activated when one is in a deep sleep)
  2. Theta (activated when one is in a light sleep)
  3. Beta (activated when one is awake and excited, or critically analyzing, such as during Sabbath school)
  4. Alpha (activated when one is awake, but relaxed).

Now here comes the key point: when we watch entertainment or theatrical styled TV programs and movies, or when we listen to certain types of music, the frontal lobe is suppressed. When this happens, the limbic system takes over. When the limbic system is in control, there is no analyzing going on, no decisions being made, no reasoning and no discernment. In other words, the part of our brain we use to choose to worship God is inactive.

Dr. Nedley adressess the effects of tv on children

Dr. Neil Nedley, speaking for the documentary Pseudology, about the effects of the advertisement industry on children’s brains, said “after about ninety seconds of viewing [entertainment] television, the frontal lobe circulation begins to go down.” It’s this lack of circulation in the frontal lobe that Nedley notices in his patients who suffer depression. He goes on to say, “a lot of gadgets produce overstimulation”, and “we have more fun things to do in human history, but yet we have more depression than ever before.”

Overstimulation is something I want to focus on here. This is what is causing the suppression of the frontal lobe. When you watch a movie and there is a scene in which a man drives to his girlfriend’s house and ends up talking to her in the doorway, there is first a shot of the man arriving, then of him parking the car, then a close-up of him taking his keys, then a shot of him getting out of his car, filmed from both inside and outside his car. This is followed by a shot of him walking to the door, a close-up of him ringing the doorbell, a shot from inside the house of the girl walking to the door, and then the conversation begins. In about fifteen seconds there were eight different shots. The bottom line is: the brain cannot handle this amount of stimulation.

It is not natural for the brain, because in real life, you would only have one camera view. You only see things from your own perspective, with your own eyes. Therefore, while watching TV, the brain is suppressed, the beta brainwave pattern switches to alpha, and you end up watching a movie in this highly suggestible state. Most of us realize that witches and hypnotists try to get you in the same brainwave pattern, in order to get their job done, but have we ever stopped to consider that in some Christian denominations, church leaders know how to get you in a similar state of trance? They know how to use a certain type of music and bright stage lights to achieve the same brain waves. It is proven that continually looking at a bright light will get you in a state of trance and in an alpha state. The TV is like a bright light. Without that light, it wouldn’t be possible to watch any programming.

God has another ideal for us.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Is. 1:18).

God wants us to be thinking, reasoning people. He wants us to willfully choose Him. This is why He gave us a choice in the Garden of Eden. He longs for true worship from analyzing beings, not from brainless robots.

However, not all TV programming causes viewers to enter an alpha state of suggestion. When you watch a documentary, a sermon, GYC on 3ABN or something informative such as C-Span, there are fewer camera views, changing less frequently and more slowly than in movies and entertainment TV. To show a seminar in church is absolutely fine. It will be a great blessing. But I would not recommend showing the congregation a Christian movie. It’s the same story. Even though there might be nothing wrong with the content, God wants us to reason and analyze. I’m sure no one would want to listen to a sermon with their frontal lobe deactivated, getting all the info poured into their brain, including any false theology. So why watch a Christian movie?

How music and voodoo are similar to contemporary music

So what about music, how does that affect the frontal lobe? With music, it’s all about polyrhythms and syncopation. Poly is Greek for much or many. Rhythm comes from the Greek word rhythmós, which means movement. If a song is played correctly, it always contains melody, harmony and rhythm. It’s the rhythm that adds the sweetness to the song, the sugar to the cake. Without it, the song would be quite boring and more on the surface, not going deep enough to provide a beautiful composition.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with rhythm, as long it’s not on the forefront (melody should be), and as long as there are not many different layers of rhythms. Once a song is polyrhythmic and syncopated (with the emphasis on the second, second and fourth, or fourth beat instead of first, first and third or third), the frontal lobe cannot handle it and is suppressed. Your brainwave pattern changes from beta to alpha and you end up in a highly suggestible state. Your reasoning power is switched off.

Voodoo practitioners play complicated polyrhythmic and syncopated drumbeats to get in this state of mind, to get to the place of the crossroads. This is when they are in an alpha state and can allow demons to take possession of them.

Obviously, it’s not just about the words

The problem with this polyrhythmic, syncopated music is that it can be found in almost every contemporary song. Contemporary music is not evil. Wonderful, Merciful Savior for example, is a contemporary song often sung in church. It depends how you play that song though. The version by Phillips, Craig and Dean is syncopated, but the Nebblett Family’s version is not. It truly is all about the music, not just about the lyrics.

Choosing to make our worship acceptable before the Lord

Worship is all about God, not about us. Psalm 95:6 indicates how we should physically behave during that worship: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.” This portrays a humble attitude, longing to decrease and for God to increase (John 3:30). Music that gets our bodies moving, or that suppresses the frontal lobe, not allowing us to willfully worship God in that moment, is not God’s plan for us. We are living in the antitypical Day of Atonement. The Israelites weren’t even allowed to eat. God called them to fast and pray. Let us seek the Lord with all our hearts, for now is the time. Christ is coming soon. When we are in heaven, it’s time to celebrate, but now it’s time to seek Him humbly, “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:31) and get ready for the coming of our King.

May these inspired words encourage us:

“Yet we have a work to do to resist temptation. Those who would not fall a prey to Satan’s devices must guard well the avenues of the soul; they must avoid reading, seeing, or hearing that which will suggest impure thoughts. The mind should not be left to wander at random upon every subject that the adversary of souls may suggest. “Gird up the loins of your mind,” says the apostle Peter, “be sober, … not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of living” (Messages to Young People, 285).

“Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness” (Psalm 143:10).

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