Art in Recent History

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will 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” (Ps. 27:4).

- Psalm 27:4

The Bible first mentions cultural advancement when it speaks of the descendants of Cain fathering those who play instruments (Gen. 4:21). This is no throwaway comment. In connecting artistic progression with Cain’s evil line, Moses told his original audience not to love Egypt’s high society but instead to follow him out of the land of Pharaoh.

However, it would be a mistake to read verse 21 as forbidding Christian involvement in the arts. Creating masterpieces of various kinds is one way mankind reflects the image of the Creator. Furthermore, the many references in the Bible to singing and instruments (for example, the Psalms), demonstrate the Lord does approve of the fine arts when they glorify Him. For the next two weeks, we will study what Scripture teaches about aesthetics with the help of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Recovering the Beauty of the Arts.

Christianity has had a mixed view of the fine arts. Some of the greatest paintings and music in Western history were created in order to enhance Christian worship. Yet others have steadfastly tried to prevent any encroachment of the arts into the church. Many Presbyterians, for example, continue to build plain sanctuaries because the Puritans so strenuously protested images in the worship setting. On the other hand, Martin Luther had to come out of hiding at the risk of his life in order to stop the iconoclastic shattering of stained glass windows and other visual images by his more radical followers. Unlike many Presbyterians, Lutherans have traditionally embraced the use of paraments and other artistic decorations in their church buildings.

While we can sympathize with the trend toward iconoclasm due to the artistic abuses of various churches, we must recognize that the Bible emphasizes the beautiful, as well as the true and the good. Our standard for loveliness, as today’s passage indicates, is the beauty of God Himself. If we exalt beauty at the expense of the true and the good, we will end up with dead ritual. But if we ignore beauty altogether, we may find ourselves with legalism and dead orthodoxy. To honor our Father we must love that which is beautiful.

Coram Deo

As Christians we recognize that all things bright and beautiful flow from the beauty of God Himself. Our Lord has planted within us an innate knowledge of what is lovely because He has planted within us an innate knowledge of His existence and His perfections (Rom. 1:19–20). When we notice beauty in the created order, we notice it because God Himself is beautiful. Take some time to meditate on the loveliness of the Lord today.

Passages for Further Study

1 Chron. 16:1–36
Pss. 45; 104
Song 5
Phil. 4:8
Rev. 4

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