Does Art Belong in Church?
Église Saint Maximin, Mets, France. Image by Marie Bellando Mitjans

Does Art Belong in Church?

Art has always been the ‘marker’ of culture. Amongst ancient civilisations, art communicated and preserved history. Even early writing was based on images. Art tells stories of those who walked before us. People could not read, thus art was their education in society and religion. 400 years of the Renaissance impacted the world. [1] In that time art changed from symbolizing the church to exploding the boundaries of the intellectual ambition, think: da Vinci, Gutenberg, Copernicus and Columbus. Art has often embodied freedom, challenges and possibility, and been an advocate for social change. ‘Art can change the way we think about culture and ourselves’. [2]

Art matters. Foremost, art matters to God. The evidence of how important art is to God is in the Scriptures. Exodus records the Lord speaking to Moses, saying ‘I have called Bezalel, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God’. The first Spirit-filled person was an artisan; not a prophet, priest, nor a king or a psalmist, but God gave an artist His wisdom. He filled Bezalel with understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works to build His holy dwelling place. [3] The tabernacle is the prophetic model for His church, and He gave instructions from the architectural plans to the smallest detail of each colour woven into the priests’ garments.

Artistic excellence matters to God. Before God’s dwelling place on earth was revealed to His people, Bezalel and the artisans working with him were given the unique privilege of seeing the tabernacle, both in the spirit and in the natural. Such is the highest calling of an artist, similar to the purpose of priests and prophets, to reveal the Lord to His people. Skilled artists made the high priest’s garments for the purpose of consecrating them to minister to the Lord. [4] Each minute detail was an unveiled insight of importance. There is no greater purpose for an artist than to serve the Lord’s anointed, ‘to clothe the priests’, in the spirit of excellence. [5]

Throughout the ages, the greatest works of art were commissioned by the church patrons. The church was the custodian of art, until the Reformation took hold, when art became synonymous with idolatry and all representations of God became drab and colourless. The true nature of God was tragically suppressed. The highest purpose for art, which is to reveal the beauty and wonder of the Creator, was inhibited by the fear of arousing emotional experiences or detracting from the Word of God. The light was switched off. The downward spiral of perversion can be seen in the direction every form of art has taken. Art carries with it the power of prophecy, whether it is for good or for evil. Darkness was given the fuel to flourish when it had no opposition.  

However, the last 20 to 30 years have seen a new Renaissance and art returning to its rightful influence within the church. The God that made avocados and orchids, snowflakes and sunsets, is pouring out a Spirit-filled anointing upon creative people with unprecedented power to prophesy through their art. God’s people should be the most creative people on earth. God is preparing the hearts of artists to fulfil His purpose for visual arts on the earth. Art creates a doorway into humanity’s soul for transformation to take place. It takes more than artistic talent to be a prophetic artist. It takes a thoroughly surrendered heart. The prophetic artist is someone who has a spiritual gift of prophecy, and who is also called by God to minister through art.

God has always spoken in images. English, even Hebrew, is not God’s first language. Biblical prophecies often came through visions and symbolic imagery. Under Holy instructions, Ezekiel had a dramatic flair for demonstrating prophetic pictures. He saw a chariot throne with wheels within wheels with rims of sparkling eyes. He saw living creatures like burning coals of fire with four faces of a man, lion, bull, and an eagle, with four wings and movement like lightning flashes. Imagine the task Ezekiel had in putting language around his visions. In the book of Daniel, four great beasts come up out of the sea, a lion with eagle’s wings forced to stand like a man, a leopard with four heads, and another beast with multiple eyes in the horns.

The book of Zechariah records eight prophetic visions for Israel, with somewhat obscure imagery, including a man on a red horse among myrtle trees, a golden lampstand and two olive trees, a flying scroll, and four horns and craftsmen. Jeremiah saw images that the Lord interpreted, telling him the almond branch meant He was ready to perform His word, and a boiling pot meant calamity breaking from the north. Imagine these prophets standing up in a church service today and speaking of their visions. Imagine an artist painting these visions in church. When the prophetic arrives in a visual form it is no less relevant than the prophet’s spoken word. Why would a church dismiss prophesy in a visual form?

The Lord often gave these prophets an interpretation, so why did He not give a simply spoken word? At times the spoken word can be the least effective form of communication. Even the spoken word of prophecy in today’s church services has to travel through the filters of the prophet’s interpretation and speech, and the receiver’s hearing, interpretation and memory. The impact of a visual image or vision can happen in an instant. It is Spirit-to-spirit communication that often does its life-transforming work before the viewer has connected with the image in their conscious mind. Jesus often used parables, action stories, and visual examples to convey his meaning directly into people’s imagination. Images are retained in memory long after words are forgotten.

Visual images speak to the deepest part of the soul. Artists who capture the deep things of the Spirit on their canvas lead others into seeking the deepest things of God. Their impact may set people free to walk in their destiny. The greatest art will always be created for God, not for humanity. Art points the way. Art has always illuminated the direction that cultures have taken. It interprets the trends. If the church is called to influence our culture, then the church must embrace its artists. There are artists who have the call on their lives to bring the church into a higher level of the prophetic. It is the fulfilment of this call, creating in the Spirit of excellence, that will transform culture.

The church must be invested in raising up its artists. The church needs to recognize that an artist in their congregation may have a purpose beyond the skills required to add graphics to a newsletter or decorate the church for an Easter parade. They may be called to worship, and as such, they are a member of the worship team, with all its responsibilities and accountabilities. The training for worship leaders, musicians and artists, must include the expectation that God is moving powerfully through them. Whatever is in the heart of the artist will come out on the canvas. Worship is a lifestyle and not a Sunday morning performance. There is infinite difference between an artist who paints in worship and a worship artist. A worship artist is one who is intentionally committed to releasing heaven on earth.

References

[1] The Renaissance – why it changed the world’, The Telegraph UK, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/london-culture/renaissance-changed-the-world/>

[2] Thelma Golden, curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, explains her work. TEDtalk, 2009, <https://www.ted.com/talks/thelma_golden_how_art_gives_shape_to_cultural_change?language=en#t-73995>

[3] Exodus 31:1-5

[4] Exodus 28:3

[5] Joyner, R 2007, ‘The Holy Spirit and the Arts’, Elijah List, <https://www.elijahlist.com/words/display_word.html?ID=5889>

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