I love new ideas brought into worship. If you have paid attention to the evolution of visual media in the modern church you can see a very cool worship experience emerging. You probably remember the days of overhead projectors and clear lyric sheets. And you probably were overjoyed when powerpoint slides made their way into the realm of worship. A recent phenomenon has begun to emerge in churches around the world, and that is visual worship in and of itself – moving lyrics that make powerpoint look like overhead projectors with colored markers, environmental projection, and more to the point of visual worshippers creating a kind of sub culture within the church.
Surprisingly I believe that these are not new events but ones stemmed out of a long tradition of visual aids in worship. From the cloister of Cluny (not to be confused with the cloister of Clooney – devoted to a handsome earthly being not a all powerful heavenly one) who used ornate decorations to draw the worshippers attention towards the heavens, to the dual of the iconoclasts and iconodules over pictures and art being used as “visual worship” in a sense, to architecture itself designed as an aid to worship. Visual worship is a great new creative aspect of modern worship that has historic roots in church history.
Creating worship space became an important element in Christianity as it continued to spread. During the Medieval period, especially with Gothic architecture, we can see special attention being paid the creation of worship space. As Robert A. Scott points out, “The Gothic cathedral was intended as a space where people could get a taste of heaven.” It is important to note how this was achieved, as again, it sets precedence for the use of film or visual mediums in worship.
The entire structure of Gothic architecture was centered on medieval theology. The buildings were to “mirror” heaven as the theologians imagined it. From the layout of the building – often cross-shaped – to the verticality of the structure – intended to raise the worshippers’ eyes towards heaven – every part of the building was intended to aid in worship; it was a “monument in applied theology.” All this considered, the most important feature of Gothic architecture, was light. Light was so important because in medieval theology “light was the principal and best means by which humans could know [God].” As Robert A. Scott continues; “In essence, new structures and forms were invented to solve problems created by theological purposes.” This is extremely important to note, the needs of the worshipping community gave rise to new technology.
With such an emphasis on light, medieval architecture quickly incorporated the developing art form of stained glass windows. Stained glass windows allowed plenty of light to enter the worship space, as well as act as a specific work of art to aid the worshipper. As technology improved, the quality of the “stained glass” art did as well. These windows used color and shape to present theology, doctrine, biblical stories, lives of the saints and more. In fact they were sermons, which “reached the heart through the eyes instead of entering at the ears.” Originally intended for the illiterate members of the congregation, the windows became important works of art for everyone who saw them.
In stained glass, light shines across colored frames in order to tell a story, edify, serve as homily, and act as visual sermons. In much the same way, in film and visual mediums, light shines through colored frames, to tell a story. Film and visual mediums, when employed correctly can achieve the same effect and serve the same function in worship as stained glass windows. With the emergence of newer and newer technology (digital projectors, screens, HDTV, computers, and more) film can be used in conjunction with the architecture to create a modern worship space with traditional ties. The argument for visual worship then is not a new one but rather one with historical precedence.
Check out worshipvj.com for more modern examples of visual worship.
 Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003).121
 Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise, 131.
 Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise, 132.
 The term is a misnomer, as stained glass is only one of the glasses so employed. It is more the result of a process than a glass per se, as it is produced by painting upon any glass, clear or colored. Nevertheless, although the word stained-glass is inaccurately used, usage has so fixed its erroneous meaning in the public mind that in all probability it will continue for all time to be applied in naming colored windows and their glass.
 Caryl Coleman, “Stained Glass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 7 Apr. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14241a.htm>.