Monday, September 12, 2016

Art and beauty have a place in church

I love church. I love the music, hymns & songs connecting me to my ancestors in the faith, all the way back. I love the sermons, God's word expositionally preached is thrilling and fascinating every moment the preacher speaks truth to his flock. I love the people, singing praises to the Lord and singing His attributes to each other. Communion is an especially sweet time with the Lord. Just the thought that I can pray to Him asking for forgiveness of sins, and He will forgive them, is humbling. Dipping the bread into the wine is an act that Jesus performed as His last supper, when He instituted the ritual. My arm picking up the bread and dipping it feels like a long line holding me to time past, and in between, and the now with a oneness with all the other believers who have done the same thing.
I was not raised in a Christian home and I came to faith at age 43 never having entered a church. And yet I love the ecclesiastical forms we are so quickly letting go of, the pews, baptismal pool, pulpit, stained glass, church buildings, steeples, and the bell.

The Christian Pundit did a wonderful series a while ago on Ecclesiastical Architecture and it was informative and fascinating. Why do we have pews? How do the design decision our forbears made connect theology and beauty and function? What message do they communicate about our view of God? Here is the list of 8 parts in the series.

Ecclesiastical Architecture (1) Intro
Ecclesiastical Architecture (2) The Pulpit
Ecclesiastical Architecture (3) Sacraments
Ecclesiastical Architecture (4) Baptism
Ecclesiastical Architecture (5) Music
Ecclesiastical Architecture (6) Lighting
Ecclesiastical Architecture (7) Pews
Ecclesiastical Architecture (8) Conclusion

Along that same vein, a course offered at Ligonier Connect called has piqued my interest. I am always intrigued by beauty. Part 1 of my coming to the Lord was through seeing His creation. Having been taught evolution, I understood (with my blinded mind) the function of evolution, but no one could ever answer why the world is so beautiful, too. I wrote about that issue in 2009, in an essay titled Consider Beauty.

Still interested in the issue, last week I linked to a good article exploring the issue of beauty at Answers In Genesis. I'd introduced the piece by saying-
Here, Prof. Stuart Burgess muses on the witness of nature in its design, particularly, beauty. Evolution might be explained to the irrational mind through function. But it didn't have to be beautiful, too. Beauty—The Undeniable Witness
Then along came the Recovering the Beauty of the Arts class and after reading the synopsis below I was all-in.
Universal standards on what makes something beautiful seem to be a thing of the past. Even among Christians, for whom there is a longstanding tradition of appreciation for and commitment to the arts, there is confusion and disagreement.
In this course, Dr. Sproul explores ancient and biblical definitions of beauty, the cultural significance of dominant art forms and the messages they communicate, and the place of artistic expression in Christian worship. The end result is a careful guide to recovering a healthy, biblical view of what is good, true, and beautiful.
Meanwhile I happened to have my camera in church today and I snapped a few photos. We are a church plant renting a church as our building. The church is a viable church, they have Sunday services on Sunday mornings and evenings. This is why our services begin at 3:30. It's their in-between times. The building we are renting is a traditional building, brick outside, with soaring glass windows, wooden pews, hymnals, a steeple, and so on. I am so glad we are in this space, because it is beautiful. Here are a few photos.

And don't dismiss the beautiful in your ecclesiastical choices. Every decision yo make, even decisions not to have art or beautiful forms inside your church, is a design decision which communicates something that you believe about God. Theology and beauty are connected. The very first people endowed with the Holy Spirit in the Bible were artisans, creating a beautiful tabernacle for the Lord.






9 comments :

  1. "Every decision yo make, even decisions not to have art or beautiful forms inside your church, is a design decision which communicates something that you believe about God. Theology and beauty are connected. "

    So then what does it say about the pastors' and congregants' theology when they take down the cross and make the church interior look like a concert venue (you know, flashing, colored lights, performance backdrop, etc)?

    I know what it says to me...

    Planning to read the series you posted. Call me a fuddy duddy but I prefer to see pews with hymnals present (not chairs), traditional architecture, and a prominent old rugged cross. Though I know the church is truly the redeemed saints, not the building, I don't want anyone to be confused by the purpose for which the building is used...

    I may comment again after reading the series.

    -Carolyn

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    1. Great! Thanks for reading it. I was relieved by the class at Ligonier to learn that aesthetic decisions are not personal preferences. EVER decision we make regarding our church is a design decision, including no decisions. Even the Quakers and Shakers who were all about plain and simple were making design decisions.

      There is a theology behind all the decisions we make. Sproul used the example of clothing, remarking to the students in his class setting that if we were to simply put on clothes to cover or nakedness we would wear a burlap sack. But some chose plaid shirts,others, solid colors. Those are decisions that communicate something and so do the aesthetic decisions we make about how we structure the physical aspects of church (architecture) and the art we choose to include in it.

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    2. Regarding the article, I read the entirety and took many notes. Here’s the condensed version of my thoughts:

      I agree with the point about church growth movement’s impact on current church building architecture. That movement has done nothing good to Christianity.

      I agree that preaching the Word is central. Nothing should make worship “casual”, including the attire/attitude of the preacher, the style/décor of the building, the atmosphere during service, or the music. Everything regarding worship of the Lord should be beautifully dignified. We don’t gather to be entertained or to “have fun”. We gather for the reasons stated in Scripture… to worship the Lord for who He is and what He has done for us. Our surroundings should remind us of that.

      NT baptism (immersion) can be done in a church building if they have a baptismal, in a natural body of water, or in a believer’s home pool (I do not see this as “theologically weak”, as the early church met in private homes…); regardless of location, it should be a public proclamation of faith. Communion, 1 Corinthians and Hebrews, correct, no altar.

      As for music, I do not believe any instruments should be in the back of the church building. After all, while the instrument may be used to accompany the saints in congregational singing, the instrument is not playing itself! The instrumentalist(s) are also worshipping the Lord and should be right amidst the rest of the saints.

      I also read your former post “Consider Beauty”. Really well said.

      My own thoughts: some decisions should be made to consider practicality and good stewardship. Windows should be well insulated so that the congregation does not have to pay a fortune for hvac (much energy loss is through windows and doors). Flooring should be durable, easy to maintain, and hide stains well. And so forth. But beauty and practicality are not mutually exclusive. I believe both can and should be met, because that more correctly reflects God’s nature and His design in all of creation. His creation is very beautiful but also very well engineered (understatement in both cases). Neither beauty without function (opulence) and function without beauty (asceticism) suffice.

      Love the pictures you took! Especially the perspective.

      -Carolyn

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  2. Interesting subject and I look forward to reading more from this post when I have a chance.

    Melissa

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  3. I think that beauty and form in the Born-Again Church should extend in classical forms to music. But, it seems to me, that when we are asked for examples, we go back to the same two things: Handel's Messiah, and the hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Luther.

    I belong to a large Southern Baptist Church. Our now-Pastor Emeritus tried for several years to develop a standing tradition of Messiah in our church. Every year, the Deacons, the shallow people, the young people, would groan and despair about having to sit through yet another season of Oratorio. We tried in several forms: as a faux-opera, by bringing in a country and western superstar to sing the tenor Arias, and other ways. To no avail. The performances filled our 6,000-seat worship center three or four nights. Eventually, our pastor gave up the idea, and we returned to traditional Christmas music.

    Where is the appreciation, in our chorus-soaked, hymn-less, atonal praise-ridden churches, for long-form classical-style music? I fear our musical examples will NEVER reach the musical heights of the Catholic composers, Haydn, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart among them.

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    1. Jim,

      While I agree 100% with you, especially your first and third paragraphs, I'm sorry to say the experiences I've had as a musician mirror your second paragraph. I am classically trained and excel at the very style of music you mention. But I was told once by a worship leader that "my style was not wanted in their church". Another leader in a different church limited my service in music ministry. When I asked why, he told me that he didn't like my style and that I had the "wrong sound". When I objected to those comments, I was censured.

      Anyhow, glad to hear that another saint understands and appreciates classical sacred worship music. Thanks for being an encouragement to me today.

      -Carolyn

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    2. PS: I do want to be clear that I do not believe either leader intentionally meant to be hurtful. However, neither individual's attitude was proper.

      There's more to it all than I will publicly discuss.

      -C

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    3. Please continue to stand your ground, Carolyn. Perhaps there are a few born again Christian composers and musicians out there who may be encouraged by our thoughts and prayers. (One young musician, who is now the choral and instrumental teacher in one of our local high schools, was once our minister of music. He was young, searching. He wrote rather short but traditional and classical compositions and would invite his high school friends to come to our church and play and sing them. I had great hopes that he might go on to great heights in the Church (both local and universal). Alas, the lack of support among Christian people has driven him to continue in the secular fields. I have not spoken with him now in decades. I hope he is still composing, and that he has the vision to carry on one day. I hope there are as-yet unveiled compositions in his piano bench or floor file. His name is Dana. Please pray for him.)

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    4. Thank you for your encouragement, Jim. As a classically trained musician (I am also a born again believer in Jesus Christ), I've had very little support from my fellow Christians. Only my own family, a few close believing friends, and some sweet elderly people at church (the elderly seem to appreciate classical training). I will admit it is very hard to keep standing, especially with the attitude I receive from the leadership.

      It saddened me to hear of your friend Dana. That no one supported him... and so he took his talent to the secular world. The church needs classical pianists! I will lift him up in prayer. I do hope the Lord will bring him back - confidently saved - and use his talent in the church!

      Thanks again for your kindness.

      -Carolyn

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