I recently reviewed Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner. In addition to the big topics that book covers, like the power of film and how Christians should view them, there are also a number of other topics which Mr. Horner touches on which I would like to discuss.
One of these is how beauty, whether are art, architecture or music, comes into our churches and our worship. Perhaps this is not such a stretch if you consider that Horner’s book talks a lot about the powerful effect film has on us. A lot of its effect is due to the ways in which it engages our senses. A church service is different in many ways of course, not least of which is that it is (hopefully for most of us) live and not just acted out up on a screen. But in a High Church worship service the senses are appealed to as much as the mind. Nor is the service limited to sight and sound; it can also involve touch, smell and even taste. This is what Horner has to say about it all:
“Some other conceptions of Christian worship are primarily or largely aesthetic, such as the “High Church,” with its mystical aestheticism of candles, incense, cathedrals, statues and icons, jeweled reliquaries, rich classical music, and so forth. None of these things is inherently wrong, but since we are highly distractible humans, everything tends to draw our attention, eventually, away from God. Beautiful buildings are not convicting, and neither are statues or stained glass windows. True conviction comes from the Word and the presence of the Spirit. Many contemporary churches use certain kinds of musical performance, drama, visual arts, film clips, and poetry for didactic purposes. God can use these things, of course, but he doesn’t need them.” (p. 60)
I love this quote. I try to teach my children about art and music and so many of the curricula out there are Christian but they take a very different view from how our church is. Horner here, I think keeps things in perspective. He acknowledges the power and beauty of art in all its forms and yet can also see that these things are not essential to worship and can even distract from worship’s proper purpose. If I go into a stimulating church service — whether it is a high church service with its stained glass, incense and fine hymns or a contemporary service with its drums and dancing and praise choruses — I may walk away feeling like I have had a dramatic experience because my senses have been engaged. But that does not necessarily mean that I have learned anything about God or been convicted of my sins or the truth of His Word. These things are the purpose of church — to call sinners to repentance and to build up the flock of God. The emotional experience should be at best secondary and perhaps, if it keeps us from what we really need to be doing, should be limited or avoided altogether.