Art in the Christian Life (6)
They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.” Revelation 15.3, 4
The art of worship
The great commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22.34-40). We love God truly when we love Him with all our soul and body – when our mind is set on Him, the affections of our heart are united in desire for Him, the values and priorities of our will are submitted entirely to Him, and our words and deeds are directed toward Him and for His glory. Worship is the supreme setting for nurturing love for God and renewing commitment to Him, because, like nothing else in our lives, worship engages all aspects of our being in an act of devotion to God.
To ensure that worship realizes this fullness, God is pleased to include art in various forms for the worship His people offer. The pattern of worship revealed in Scripture features various forms of art, which, as the people of God engage these, catch up their entire being in celebrating and growing in the Lord. The more conscious we are of the role of the arts in worship, and the more faithful we are in employing them, the more our worship of God will be what He seeks, and what we need for consistent growth in Him.
Art plays into worship in a variety of ways: music, singing, the elements and flow of the liturgy, body posture, the preaching of the Word, the drama of the sacraments, even the architecture and adornments – or lack thereof – of the worship setting. Worship is the original and most enduring form of public art, involving many people engaged in various tasks, using a variety of art forms, all working together to create a public witness to the Creator Who directs them in this effort.
Worship without art is unthinkable. Whenever God’s people worship, they are engaged in the arts. The important questions are whether our use of the arts in worship is as God intends, and whether we who engage those forms in worship know what we’re doing, and are doing what we should.
A focal point
One of art’s great abilities is to focus our attention in ways narrative alone cannot. Art invites us to look, attend, concentrate, imagine, and experience, appealing to a wide range of intellectual and affective powers around a single idea or theme. When the worship leader invites us to stand to sing, he is calling us to take up a work of art, and to use this gift from God to celebrate and exalt Him. He has given us music, instruments, and voices, and He calls us to exercise these together for His glory, consciously, conscientiously, diligently, and with love.
Think of a song like, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The powerful, assertive melody ranges from the top of the scale, as if originating in the heights of heaven, to its depths, where we live, and incorporates moods of triumph as well as uncertainty. The first melody phrase is repeated in each stanza, and is so strong and assertive that it sustains us through the more hesitating and inverted phrases of the middle, before we return to a final, confident tone of the primary theme in the last line. The first two phrases declare, “Here is what we all believe!” The next two raise a question, “Yes, but…” The final phrase answers the querying mood of the middle lines with an affirmation of faith: “And He must win the battle! His Kingdom is forever!” The lyric is bold, confident, resolute, and filled with faith and hope. As we sing, we recall, proclaim, celebrate, and rejoice in the victory of Christ over the enemy of our souls.
Music and singing are just one of the forms of art employed in public worship. Together these forms, understood and embraced as God intends, can lift us in worship into the very throne room of the Lord, where our worship can realize the purpose for which God calls us to offer it. When, as is frequently the case, the mood and shape of worship are focused more on entertaining worshipers than exalting and honoring God, this abuse of art and worship eviscerates worship’s power to transform us, and reinforces instead our basically self-interested way of life. We learn only how to love ourselves more, but this does not prepare us for a life of self-denial, sacrifice, and witness for Christ, as is painfully evident today.
Learn to worship!
Art can powerfully engage us as whole persons when we come together to worship God, but we must not take it for granted. They will be best served by the arts in worship who take the time to learn how the music and lyrics of a hymn work, why the liturgy is arranged and paced just so, why we kneel or bow or raise our hands at certain times, what the colors, forms, and other symbols used in liturgy mean, how the reading and preaching of the Word work together, and what the sacraments are and why we administer them just so, and then to allow all those powerful elements to collaborate in lifting them into the presence of God with great joy.
Then, as we engage the arts in worship – observing, listening, waiting, singing, responding, entering the mystery and drama of the Lord’s Supper – we can consciously delight in the forms God has provided for His worship, and use them to declare afresh our love for and commitment to Him.
Don’t be a mindless or half-hearted worshiper! Learn about the various art forms employed in worship at your church, and discover how the artistic components of worship can make your worship more meaningful and compelling.
1. How confident are you that the arts are used in worship in your church as God intends? Explain.
2. What could you do to participate more consciously and conscientiously in the various art forms of worship?
3. Why do we insist that worship, properly engaged, is the best environment for helping us to grow in love for God?
Next steps – Transformation: Make a point to learn something new about a hymn each week. Look it up by title online. What did the composer intend? How does the music work to heighten the lyric? Sing the hymn throughout the day, and practice worshiping God with it.
T. M. Moore
Want to learn more about the power of song for worship? Order a copy of A Mighty Fortress from our online store (click here), and discover the many ways God has used this great Reformation hymn over the years, and what you can learn from it about worshiping God with song.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.