I heartily agree with my esteemed brother Asa in many ways regarding his view of art and the church (Art and Gospel post) and I have a high regard for his passion for evangelism. However, his belief that “art is not simply a cosmetic luxury for the church, but a necessary avenue of worship” has some rather interesting implications. Firstly, defining art (especially in our pluralistic culture) has proven to be a tricky thing to do as everything at some level can be called art. Therefore, this post is conscious of the gray area of art and it will try and focus solely on the black and white.
The written word has always been the covenant community’s focal point throughout the history of special revelation with art being used only as a bookend. Art was used in amazing ways pointing out the glory of God with a microcosmic proclamation of his glory in all the Temples of Israel. In the early church we find art in the catacombs of Europe even while martyrdom lay just around the corner. It is clear that God magnifies himself in beauty found in all of his created order and this beauty should therefore be mirrored by his creation from the cosmic universe to the kids’ drawings on the front of our refrigerator held up by the local Law Firm magnets. All things in all creation are to mirror and reflect the awesome glory of our God and who else is better suited to do that then his redeemed people as they look forward to the redemption of all things?
That said, the glory that God receives from our art is nothing compared to the universal proclamation of the fact that He is Lord over creation. We find the very angels of Heaven rejoicing over one soul that is saved even while they abide continually before throne of God Almighty (Luke 15:10)! How much greater and incomparably more important is the salvation of the lost over a church’s new steeple, new décor for the youth room or the weekly spread of new flowers for the front of the church. Art and the use of it by the church is in many ways a gray area where the Scriptures do not explicitly regulate their use and we have generations of rich artwork that demonstrate a Christian culture that throughout the centuries has attempted to reconcile the human with the divine. It must ultimately be left to the digression of the church to decide expenditures of time and money but these decisions must be made in light of the Great Commission which I fear too often is lost in the swell of self-centeredness.
As a Southern Baptist I heartily hold to Cooperative Program and the theological tenant that we are merely stewards of all the resources that God has gifted to his Church and its members. Thus, I find it somewhat irreconcilable for the American churches to build up their “sanctuaries” as if they are to become the abode of the Ark while the masses of the world live and die having never heard the gospel because no one went. I sorrowfully believe the western church has reneged on its reality of being a debtor (Rom 1:14) to the entire world for the sake of being a debtor to both the culture and the local credit union. Art can be good and should be used within the church the glorify God, but ultimately we are a Kingdom people living for Kingdom purposes and so all things must be subjected to the ultimate needs of building the Church through evangelism and discipleship.
My brother Asa shared the story of Francis Schaffer’s son Frankie who moved away from the Christian faith because of its lack of appreciation for art. Let me respond with a story of mine own. I was having a conversation with a friend last week about the church and the gospel. Her main point of contention and one which I was unable to move past was that in her whole life experience the church had done nothing but take from her and her family members. In her mind the monetary pull of the offering plate overshadows the pull of the mercy and love of God demonstrated through the gospel. I fear the church is able in this society to forget the most important things and instead settle for things of far lesser importance. So, art is good and it can be used to advance the proclamation of the gospel. Probably no one has ever gotten saved by looking at a cross unless that cross has been preached preached and likely no one has ever had their mined renewed or their life transformed through the power of a good stereo sound system unless the Word of God is proclaimed through it. Let us not build upon wood, hay, and stubble unless that wood is the cross of Christ.