The Ocular Has Overtaken the Oral

Few today can recall the “Fireside Chats,” as they were fondly called, between then president Franklin Roosevelt and the American public. During the tremulous times of a second world war and a great depression the radio voice of FDR was a vital connection between a worried and shell-shocked people and their government. While watching the faces of other family members huddled around a common radio receiver America listened to the amplified words that helped to make sense of the present hour in which they lived. Yes, they “listened.” The oral message was vital and was appreciated. The only view of the speaker’s image was what the mind conjured up from pictures from daily news papers—but that was sufficient—because the message was the important thing not the image.

Today, my how things have changed! The present generation of Americans is no longer attentive to the oral message of things but rather to the ocular image of things. It is no longer, “What did he say?” but rather, “How did he look?” In the political arena, for instance, the “look” is far more important to the coaches of their student clients than the message that those students supposedly believe. It is now not so much “what” they say but “how” they say it. Anyone that truly “listens” to the palaver of today’s political proponents know that what they hear is hardly deep enough to warrant hip waders and is about as substantial as a whipped cream dollop. The “viewers,” however, are mesmerized by the style and pomp of political actors that chant catchy slogans. Those same eyes take in all the falling balloons and glittering confetti showers and waving banners and colored lights and think “Wow! What a winner!” And pity the poor guy (or gal) who even dares to come across as average because when the ballots are tabulated—the ocular stars always win. Those captive to images cast ballots based on how candidates make them feel—they vote for slogans, a smile, perceived sincerity and attractiveness. They no longer “listen!”

The culture of illusion is here (thanks to TV) and it does not just inhabit the political stages of this world, no, it is very much alive amid the church world also. We witness regularly the spectacles that are sweeping over many oneness platforms which display more for the eye than the ear. A trip to some “youth explosions” will not only convince the doubters but will also dismay them as well. Smoke machines that blow out vaporous fogs to intermix with the sweeping flashing lights while a choreographed team of “ worshipers” dressed in ridiculous attire are strutting their stuff. Indeed, in Pentecost, the ocular has overtaken the oral. And the crowd goes wild.

The spectacles do not, however, end with just the young because it is becoming the “in thing” in nearly every church endeavor imaginable—dramas and all kinds of eye-pleasing antics are parading themselves down Gospel Avenue and the crowd seems to love it. Preaching isn’t spared from this ocular disease either—because who wants to just “listen” anymore? The cry is “give us entertainment or we will look elsewhere.” Aimee Semple McPherson seems to still be active—or at least her spirit is going strong in 2010!

Fellow preachers, we are living dinosaurs in a world of glitz and glamour, we who still place the emphasis on “hearing” rather than on seeing are antiques but take heart because we are still proponents of “Hear O Israel.” Be not dismayed at the clamor being caused by the stage hands that are setting up their next spectacular and awesome “throw down church” service where the barely clad are brazenly glad. It was God’s chosen method to save those that believe by preaching. Preaching that uses words to reach the heart and not the eye; preaching that is said to “cry aloud and spare not;” preaching that was to detail through speech, that is easy to be understood, the ways of a just and almighty God; preaching which stirs the inner man through the inner ear; word preaching sir!

Thank God for the preacher who still preaches like a dying man to dying men!


Leave a Reply