The Beauty of Worship
“This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair …” (vv. 3–4).- Exodus 25:1–9
Humanity’s desire for jewels and precious metals goes back to the dawn of time, the beauty and value of such things making them sought after as currency and decoration. For decades now, diamonds have been used in engagement rings, delighting the hearts of ladies everywhere when their suitors ask for their hands in marriage. Even today gold continues to be used to adorn architecture and to make fine jewelry.
In addition to jewels and precious metals, we also appreciate beauty in music, paintings, and the other fine arts. We enjoy such things because we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). He is the final standard of beauty, having made everything beautiful in its time (Eccl. 3:11), and our love of beauty comes from Him. In fact, our Lord loves beauty so much that He put His Spirit on the craftsmen and artisans in ancient Israel to build Him a tabernacle reflecting His own beauty (Ex. 35:30–35).
Traditionally, philosophy has devoted itself to ethics, epistemology, and aesthetics, or, the study of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Good theology also devotes its time to these three subjects, but most Christians exalt either the good, the true, or the beautiful at the expense of the others. We in the Reformed tradition of Christian theology self-critically realize how our commendable zeal for right doctrine is not always reflected in a similar zeal to apply this doctrine in ethics and aesthetics. Other theological traditions emphasize ethics and ignore doctrine and beauty. Many modern Protestants, however, are united in their neglect of aesthetics.
Due to the errors of the medieval church, iconoclasm (the removal of all artwork from the sanctuary) has been the Reformed church’s legacy since the Reformation. Today, many Protestants show little concern for architectural beauty in the construction of church buildings, preferring structures that look more like plain meeting halls than artistically ornamented sanctuaries. Others do not see visual artistry, poetry, or music as a legitimate vocation. Yet God puts a premium on beauty, especially in worship, as He asked for beautiful things in the construction of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:1–9). We do not build tabernacles today, but it does not follow that the Lord cares little for visual beauty in corporate worship. He never changes (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), and we should always seek to reflect His beauty in our new covenant worship services.
There are several ways that we can encourage beauty in worship. If we sit on planning committees for new church buildings, we can make it our aim to include visual beauty in the structures that are being designed. We can also encourage the artists in our congregations to create music, poetry, art, and more all to the glory of God. Let us prize beauty in worship just as we prize it elsewhere in our lives.
Passages for Further Study