Art in Recent History

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

- Psalm 27:4

Our look at the second commandment has examined the danger of idolatry, the propriety of images in Christian worship, and many other topics. Since the commandment deals with making visual images (Deut. 5:8–10), it also gives us a good chance to pause our study of the doctrines summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism and consider the Christian’s involvement in the arts more generally. As we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27), who created all things, our creation of works of art is certainly one of the ways in which we reflect our Lord. Scripture itself is a literary work produced by human beings, albeit under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Psalms are filled with references to singing, music, and musical instruments. God’s Word has much to say about aesthetics and the arts, and we will consider this subject over the next week with the help of Recovering the Beauty of the Arts, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Over the centuries, there have been different views of the arts within the broad Christian tradition. Many of the finest paintings, sculptures, and musical compositions in the Western world reflect biblical themes or have been created to enhance Christian worship. On the other hand, since the time of the Protestant Reformation, there has been a tendency toward iconoclasm, the removal of all images from churches. Many who follow the Puritans continue to build plain houses of worship because of Puritan objections to images in public worship. Other Protestants have had a more favorable view of art in the sanctuary. Martin Luther risked his life and came out of hiding to stop his radical followers from destroying stained-glass windows and other images. Both Lutherans and Anglicans have typically embraced the use of paraments, banners, and other artistic enhancements in worship.

Scripture forbids us from worshipping images or depicting the divine nature artistically. Yet iconoclasm is not the biblical position. God, in His Word, stresses the good, the true, and the beautiful, and He is the ultimate standard for each virtue in this famous triad. We cannot so elevate goodness, truth, or beauty that we ignore the other virtues. The Bible calls us to love what is beautiful, especially the supreme example of beauty: the Lord Himself (Ps. 27:4).

Coram Deo

Beauty and truth go hand in hand. Truth informs the arts so that whatever is beautiful will reflect some truth about God or His creation. The arts inform the truth, for they move us to turn the words of truth into doxological praise of our Creator. As Christians, we should be more concerned with beauty than the world around us is concerned, for we alone have a standard for beauty who is unchanging and eternal, the Lord God Almighty.

Passages for Further Study

1 Chronicles 16:1–36
Philippians 4:8

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