Sunday, June 14, 2009


So many Protestant churches have no place for the arts in their theology of worship and church. We have managed to embrace music art and in fact some churches hire pastors of worship arts in an attempt to utilize more than music. Visual arts are still largely ignored if not disparaged. I have spent my life within a religious culture that avoids iconography and religious art in the context of corporate church life. Ironically we travel the world to marvel at the religious art that has been created by dedicated artists. I spent hours in the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay examining the work of masters, many of whom painted biblical scenes and many which are classified as icons. I walked through countless ancient and newer cathedrals and churches and viewed exultant stained glass windows and extraordinary paintings and sculptors depicting scenes made memorable in scripture.

In many churches with which I am familiar, depictions of Christ and religious or biblical scenes are not displayed in sanctuaries and primary church traffic areas. I acknowledge that our concern is genuine, even admirable. We have not wanted to violate either of the first two commandments. 1) You shall have no other gods before me. 2) You shall not make for yourself an idol. We do not want to display imagery that might be treated as equivalent to the person of God. However, I have concluded that our tradition has not carefully considered the purpose of icons and imagery within our worship experience. We have dismissed visual art in order to be sure that we are not in contravention of one of God’s commands. Surely God's people can be more thoughtful and biblical and less superstitious.

We should be able to incorporate the value of the arts into worship, treating the image as a stimulus and aid to our contemplation of God with a view to worshipping Him exclusively. God gifted people in ancient times as He does still today. In fact God instructed artisans to use their craft to enhance the worship facilities. Furniture and equipment used for aspects of religious practice and worship were regarded as important and useful rather than compromises to exclusive worship of the one true God. I would love to see more congregations inviting visual artists to contribute to the worship experience with banners, wall hangings, paintings, sculptor. Sermonic explanation can easily clarify for parishioners both the value of artistic expression as one of God's gifts as well as the biblical censure of the worship of images as opposed to exclusive worship of the true God. I think the four portraits of Jesus stimulate appreciation for who the incarnated Christ was while on earth.

Credits: Richard Hook - top painting)(Liz Lemon Swindle - smiling Jesus)(Stephen Sawyer - the Laughing Jesus and Call to Repentance)
Stephen Sawyer website
Richard Hook website
Liz Lemon Swindle website


  1. I am so happy you are addressing this issue in a public venue. This issue needs more "press" and discussion. Are you familiar with CIVA? Christians In the Visual Arts? your denomination may have a worship arts advocacy organization organization, mine does. Some churches organize arts festivals. I co-coordinated one at my church and just attended anothers. Blessings.

  2. Pamela, thank you. I have not been familiar with CIVA but will immediately look it up.