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Corb H. Felgenhour

Corb H. Felgenhour

Corb H. Felgenhour

Corb is currently one of two worship pastors at South Church in Lansing, MI.  He has been in music and worship ministry for over 18 years.  10 of those years he has served as a pastor of worship and/or worship leader in the local church.  He studied music composition, conducting, and voice at Eastern Illinois University and University of Southern California receiving his bachelors and Masters in Music Composition respectively.  Corb has his ministerial credential with the Evangelical Free Church of America.  Corb is married to his wife, Carol and has three children, Ari, Kiran, and Asher.

for more information on Corb, click here.

A Blended Worship Philosophy

on Wednesday, 17 April 2013. Posted in Visual Art, Special Music, Philosophical, Theology of, Worship Philosophy Statements, Sentimentalism in, Practical, Non-Christian Participation in, Theological, Video, Purpose of, Emotion in, Old Testament on, Creativity in, Performance Quality, New Testament on, History of, Definition of, Musical Style, Heart & Attitude, Great Hymns of the Faith, corporate vs. private, Dress Code, Body Posture/Physical gestures in, Audio & Acoustics

A Blended Worship Philosophy


By Corb H. Felgenhour
With contributions by Jo Anne Petersburg and Millicent Ross

This paper was a worship philosophy statement for a church I formerly served at as Worship Pastor. This paper defines worship, gives a history of music in the church at large, describes the differences between corporate and private worship, overviews the various types of worship (specifically addressing the musical aspect of worship) and presents the way we had chosen to deal with the practical issues surrounding worship.

Worship by Definition
Worship is the act of ascribing worth to God. The term “worship” is from the old English word “woerthscipe” meaning “worthy” or “worthwhile”.1

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come before Him; Worship the Lord in holy array.” (1 Chronicles 16:29 NASV)

Worship is the recognition of 1) who God is and 2) who we are in relation to Him. It is an “interaction between the God of Scripture and God’s people.”2 True worship takes place by acknowledging God’s holy attributes.

“Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and the greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness. (Psalm 145:3-6 NASV)

In a Sunday service, worship is not just the musical aspects of the service order. Every part of the worship service is an invitation to worship God, as long as it is done to glorify God. Teaching from the Word and the associated response are acts of worship; prayers and songs can praise and exalt the Lord. Physical memorials can be used to aid in the worship of God. For example, the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral can draw a worshipper into the might and enormity of God’s character. Worship can occur through body movement, using symbolic gestures like standing, kneeling or raising our hands to reflect our relationship to God. Even dance can be a worshipful expression to our Lord. But it is important to recognize that “Spectator worship has always been and always will be an oxymoron.”3 Worship is all about giving and offering oneself completely to Christ. (Romans 12:1-2)

The Purpose of Our Worship
The foremost purpose of worship is to give glory to God. To give glory to the Lord we must first surrender our pride and our pre-occupations. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that sin has not just marred the surface of our being, but it has corrupted every aspect of who we are. Then we must turn our focus to the works of God. The Gospel proclaims that Christ died for the undeserving, thus we are more deeply loved and unconditionally accepted than we have ever dared to hope. This should motivate us to worship.7 (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) It should prompt us to adore Him, to praise the Lord with our words and deeds and lift up our thanksgiving in song. The more we understand God’s character and works, the more we will worship Him. Therefore, the teaching of His Word and our meditation upon it, result in God’s glory and our worship of Him. “Worship is a fitting response to God’s holiness, power, and grace.” 8

Corporate and Private Worship
The worship of God may take on two forms: private worship and corporate worship.

Private Worship
Private worship is exemplified in the Scriptures. There are examples of private worship associated with suffering and persecution (Job 1:20-22, Acts 7:55), appreciation and gratitude (Judges 7:9-15), pleading for answered prayers (II Sam. 12:16), and joy (Luke 1:46-8). But the supreme directive for personal worship is found in Romans chapter 12. In verses 1 and 2, Paul says we must “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” So what is involved in personal worship? Being holy, being pleasing to God, and living as sacrifices. As we will see later, this will in turn, aid us as we present ourselves corporately to God.

“God’s highest desire is that every one of His children should so love and so adore Him that we are continuously in His presence.”5 Therefore, we must worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:23). As believers, we should submit to the constant filling of the Holy Spirit, allowing ourselves to perpetually commune with the Creator (Ephesians 5:18, Romans 8:6). We should not strive for some mystical, esoteric state of awareness, but we must surrender ourselves to Christ with a fully cognizant mind that is grounded in the Word of God. We live in His presence because, “Worship . . . involves the total human being—spirit, mind, emotions, and body.”6 As we devote ourselves to listen to and meditate upon God’s Word, we worship with our total being, and as a result, we bring glory to God.

Corporate Worship
There are also countless examples in Scripture of people coming together to worship God corporately. David Kavanagh in his book, Worship, A Way of Life, discusses five major categories of corporate worship in the old testament: Thanksgiving (Ex.15), warfare (II Chron. 20:21-22), feasts (Duet.16:16), celebration (II Sam. 6:12-23), and dedication (Ezra 3:11-13). New Testament examples of the corporate worship of Christ occur in Matt. 2:11 and Luke 24:52, and the disciples’ praise of Jesus in Luke 24:53 4. These Scriptures communicate the value of corporate worship, but the beauty of corporate worship is the effect of an entire congregation, 3 together, lifting up God’s name in praise to Him. Therefore, it is important to guard that “togetherness” to realize effective corporate worship.

God desires us to be perfect as He is (Matt. 5:48). He wants us to be holy as He is (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus prayed for unity in the church, and He desires all of His true followers to be unified in holiness and truth (John 17:11-21). Unity in the church translates into unity in worship. If there is division within a local church body, what kind of worship are they really offering to the Lord? That is why Jesus instructs believers to go to a brother if we have a problem with him (Matt. 5:23-24, Matt. 18:15-20). As individuals, we must work out our problems with others and not allow the sun to go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26). If we do not, we are not dying to self (John 12:24) nor denying ourselves as Jesus commands (Mark 8:34). Harkening back to Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2, we are not offering ourselves as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual act of worship. We remain divided as a church body, and we negatively affect the corporate worship of God. However, if we as a church are unified in truth and holiness, we will be unified in worship and will testify to the holiness of God, the truth about who the church is and what the church stands for. We will not be seen as a hypocritical church, or as a collection of hypocritical individuals. We will not contradict what the Lord expects of us because we will bring glory to God.

C.S. Lewis wrote of how inanimate objects glorify God by displaying God’s power and design within the object. An inanimate object merely exists; it sits there . . . doing nothing. Yet by analyzing the cellular make-up and the complexity of the atomic bonds within the object, testimony is given to God’s awesomeness and skill in creating. Living beings are the same. C.S. Lewis said, “On that level our wicked actions, in so far as they exhibit our skill and strength, may be said to glorify God, as well as our good actions. An excellently performed piece of music . . . will thus always glorify God whatever the intentions of the performer may be”. 10 Granted, the results of someone’s creativity may not be glorifying to God, but their act of creating does glorify God. We were made in God’s image. God created. Within the constructs of His design, we emulate God by trying to do the same as He: to create. Within the context of worship creativity can be expressed through visual and performing arts, through the spoken word, and through song. Let us first look at music and its role in worship.

Music-what is it?
In modern society, music functions in a variety of ways. “Music is a universal language. It would be more accurate to say that music is a universal means of expression, and that there are many symbolic musical languages, each understood best by its own culture or subculture.”9 Music aids in giving a group of people an identity. It can add significance to important events and can reinforce political or social ideals. In church, music functions in even more ways. Music will inspire congregational behavior. It can be used as a medium to teach doctrine or to facilitate Scripture memory. It helps build the church community. It is a vehicle for worshiping and praising God. Music can even be an aid to healing man’s soul and spirit.

History of Music
Knowingly or unknowingly man has always been creative, and in the early development of the church, believers were creating music. Originally borrowing from Jewish musical tradition, the church wrote and enhanced early chants. Over the next fifteen plus centuries, the church dominated the creation of music. The church employed most of the greatest composers during that time and was able to fund most public performances of composers’ works. The best music at the time came from the church. The music excelled in its development, construction and form, along with its relevancy and respectability. In church services, music (melody) played a subservient role to the lyrics. Music was used to support the themes, the meaning of the Scripture, and poetry wherever possible. Although secular music grew along side the development of church music, church music dominated most of music history.

It is important to note that there was an ongoing debate over the allowance of new ideas into church music: old music versus new music. There was concern whether new ideas (new musical techniques, new harmonies, etc) in music distracted the worshipper from the lyrics. Lyrics were originally the focus of music in the church, and music served to support the lyrics. During the Romantic era the inevitable happened, and music became the focus and lyrics became secondary. Donald Hustad quotes Mark Bangert saying, “the outcome of a gradual transformation of musical experience: preoccupation with the music of heaven ( . . . a Reformation concept) had been turned to preoccupation with the heavenly in music (a Romanticist idea).”11 As this change took place, the church lost its cultural position. It used to be predominant in production and performance of the greatest and best new music. Because composers found they could make a living outside the church, private performance halls flourished, and in most cases, God was completely removed from song lyrics. As lyrics became less important, the music became more important until it was considered its own language, even though it had no linguistic value. Music in and of itself is amoral. Yet, it communicates emotionally or psychologically to entertain the senses. As a result, it was often composed to tickle the fancy of those who value the esoteric.

Dealing with Musical Style
Following the Romantic Era, the church never recovered its position as the primary influence on musical culture. Thus in recent history we have seen sacred forms of music stealing from the secular. In fact, some hymn tunes have been found to originate in saloons. Various secular pop artists set the musical palette for Christian artists. We now have within Christian music styles southern gospel, R&B, black gospel, pop, adult contemporary, Christian hit/ alternative, inspirational, worship, and rap. The majority of these Christian styles can be traced back to some type of secular style. This trend has caused Christians to take offense to the new music because it is patterned after the world. While some Christians love to worship with guitars and drums, others believe it is wrong to use “rock” instrumentation. Even the organ was considered satanic when it was first introduced to worship services. All in all, we tend to idolize the music they love, introducing debates that lead to even greater diversity of musical preferences among believers.

It is no surprise, then, that within every congregation there are a plethora of musical backgrounds and musical preferences. Justified or not, tension arises between individuals in the church when these musical preferences collide. We usually choose our preferred style of worship music in church based on the music we listen to at home. This often makes us form strong opinions about what music is appropriate in church. We are comfortable with our music because we like it, or it has spiritual connections to formative decisions in our lives (aka. giving their lives to Christ). Our choice of music helps define our identity. It reminds us of significant events in our lives and our personal Christian growth. We do not want our identity to be lost in seemingly frivolous trends and new fashions, and so we object to changes that take us away from the music we call our own. In a similar but antithetical way, younger generations are fearful that their identities will be squelched by avid traditionalists. In our culture today, we have the privilege of tuning the radio in our car or home to whatever type of music we want, but not so in church. So how do we deal with this? What is appropriate music for the church?

Each church is faced with two choices in choosing a musical style for worship: 1) Either we develop some new sort of worship music which transcends all other forms to put everyone on a level playing field, or 2) we draw from a smorgasbord of as many styles as is reasonably acceptable to be relevant to as many people as possible. But here is a caution: if we go with the smorgasbord approach to choosing music for a church service, then there is a possibility of token programming, meaning there will be a temptation to include songs that appease individual musical preference rather than seeking God’s leading in planning the service - regardless of anyone’s musical tastes. However, if to avoid musical catering, we try to do the former and develop a higher form of music that everyone can agree upon, then it begs the question: “What kind of music is that?!?!?!” or “What in the world does THAT sound like?!?!?!” While musicians would love to discover how to create this higher music, and they should always strive to do so, Providence Church has chosen a blended approach to worship. We take the second approach to planning and strive for the first. We strive to use as many different styles as possible over the course of any given year and in that process to develop a musical style of our own.

Hymns vs. contemporary songs:
It may be beneficial to discuss the weaknesses and strengths of the two major styles: hymns (traditional) and choruses (contemporary). It is imperative for the lover of hymns to consider and appreciate the strengths of contemporary songs. And it is equally important for the lover of contemporary songs to do the same by considering and appreciating the hymns. All forms of worship have their place and can bring glory to God and are therefore worthy of our consideration. “Traditionalists have much to answer for their reluctance to understand that tradition does not mean stasis but change. In their reaction against contemporary styles, they fail to understand that what they have gotten used to was once contemporary and often objectionable. Contemporists likewise fail to understand how blunted their tastes are when only “their music” seems to do the trick and when what they are doing has, ever so quickly, frozen itself into a tradition. So we end up with two kinds of shortsightedness, one supposedly old, the other supposedly new, and both wish fulfilling.” 12

“Without the emotion and willingness of the Spirit, our music becomes dry and dusty - without life. Without doctrinal bones as a skeleton, the Body is not enfleshed in a healthy way. It is essential that our worship music-as well as all the other formative elements of our congregation’s life-continuously holds in tension the opposite necessities of both Spirit and truth. These two form a dialectical pair, for they are both important but seem to be pulling in different directions.” 13

Contemporary songs
Often times, contemporary songs receive undeserved criticism because they lack the theological depth of the “Great Hymns of the Faith”; however, many contemporary Christian songs have often been written as a response to the truths that we find in the Scripture. Some contemporary music is more closely tied to Gospel hymns than to classic hymns. They are more testimonial in lyrical content and describe the writer’s passion and personal encounter with the Savior. They were not written to teach theology but to communicate an experience and a personal response. This statement generalizes the intention with which these songs were written, but it does not preclude that theology can be taught in a praise chorus and hymns can inspire passionate spirituality. Another benefit of contemporary song writing is the inclusion of Scripture within the text. Many of today’s worship songs quote the Scriptures verbatim. Most hymns do not do this. They may refer to a Scripture’s meaning or theme, but it is not the regular practice of hymns to quote Scripture. Quoting Scripture is a great way to reflect and meditate on the Word of God. “Today’s psalm singing is reflected in those songs that are essentially Scripture set to music… [and] has sparked more singing of God’s Word in the last 20 years than perhaps at any earlier time in Church history.” 14

Hymns
We value the great hymns of the faith because many speak of solid theological truths. These particular hymns require us to sing right doctrine, mandating that our minds do not go on autopilot when we sing the song. We have to stay mentally engaged. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s hymns began to focus on evangelism and salvation with far less theology than some of the great hymns from earlier traditions. The newer hymns were written testimonies of what God was doing – great revivals were happening and people were coming to the Lord. The response to the gospel was tremendous. Out of that movement, came these “Gospel hymns”.

It would be problematic if we eliminated hymns from our worship services. “[Consistently omitting hymns in a worship service] is a crisis and the church is suffering spiritually. Pastors and worship leaders need to see the severity of the crisis and work diligently for reform.” 15 Hymns add great value to our culture, and they possess a certain quality that reaches out to specific generations of people. “Eighty-three percent of the adults in the United States were church goers at some time in their lives, including a walloping 95 percent of boomers who received a religious upbringing. . . .most people in this country born before 1963 have had some experience with traditional forms of worship. . . The unchurched person’s positive religious past is part of his or her vernacular, and it is time those of us on the cutting edge recognize that.”16

Congregations that do not worship with theologically rich hymns or worship songs and rely only on songs that emphasize experience and emotion run the risk of creating worship that is not balanced between “milk” and “meat”. These congregations can become more focused on being entertained rather than being filled with truth. Some think that by removing hymns from their worship services they make their church more friendly to visitors and non-believers. But this is not wise. It is imperative that no one overlooks the importance of including a variety of musical forms in worship and especially the singing of hymns because of the sound doctrine that these great songs offer.

“While we need to be culturally relevant, we need to draw further than it arrives on its own. Christian music produced today is undoubtedly spiritual music with a spiritual message, but because much of it lacks lyrical depth and requires little thought from the listener, it is a poor discipleship tool. The music birthed from the hearts of believers can and should do so much more to strengthen the church.” 17

Hymns chart the course of human interaction with God and His Word. They reveal people’s theological interpretations of Scripture and benchmark the church’s history. Since many of these hymns still engender deep devotion to the Lord, and they teach us theological truths, these songs bind us together with the saints of old unifying us as “the larger body of Christ over the ages.” 18

Defining “Hymn” vs. “Great Hymns of the Faith”
Disagreements may arise over whether there has been enough “play” during the worship services for particular hymns. This frustration arises out of a misunderstanding between what is a “Great Hymn of the Faith” and what is just a “favorite hymn”. But it is also important to consider that “Neither the antiquity nor the popularity of a song is a good measure of its worthiness.” 19 Here is what the Worship Arts Ministry Team has decided regarding the definition of hymn. What is a “hymn”? - Phil. 2:5-11, I Tim. 3:16, II Tim. 2:11-13, John 1:1-14, Rev. 5:9-10,12, 13.
1. Hymns in general have a similar form. They have several stanzas with each verse building or expanding on the theme.
2. Hymns can be written at any point in history.
3. Hymns are songs of praise.

What is a “Great Hymn of the Faith”?

1. It has stood the test of time. In general, great hymns of the faith were written before 1900. The main exception is How Great Thou Art which was written after 1940. However, it includes a refrain and some words which were penned in the late 1800’s.
2. It is scripturally and doctrinally sound.
3. It crosses denominational lines, promoting unity in the body of Christ.
4. It is accepted by the Christian culture.
5. It is familiar to the body of Christ, and frequently to the masses in general.
6. It is didactic in purpose.

a. It was written by theologians or pastors who have a grasp on Scripture and sound theology.
b. It is cerebral in nature due to its deliberate intent to teach and reinforce doctrinal concepts.
c. It serves as a medium for teaching and admonishing one another as instructed by Paul in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
d. It praises God by proclaiming His truth in a way that enhances the worshipper’s comprehension of truth (see Mt 22:37; Jn 4:23-24). 20

Biblical Music Styles
Ultimately, it is difficult to know the differences between the music and lyrical styles of the biblical terms: hymn, psalms, and spiritual songs. Harold Best says that “We can only guess at the differences, and guesswork gives precious little direction.” 21

Colossians 3:16 reads this way: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Ephesians 5:18-19 says it this way: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”

A psalm referred to a sacred song that was probably accompanied by musical instruments. The texts are obviously from the Psalms of the Old Testament. The hymns were written to honor and praise the Lord. Different people have tried to figure out the musical differentiation of spiritual songs, but the original Greek is just as vague as the English translation. But at least we know that the words are spiritual in nature. It is nearly impossible to know how these three musical forms sounded, but we can deduce that they differed from one another because they are delineated in scripture. However, knowing the types of music described by each of these three terms in Scripture is not crucial; it doesn’t really matter. Kavaunagh says that, “[Music] communicates pathos, passions, and a huge array of feelings- from desolation to exhilaration. But these are oblique and subjective, far more vague even than the medium of words. Therefore, the study of Christian music is the study of any vocal music using Christian texts that has been composed in the last two thousand years.” 22 Jack Hayford goes even farther to deemphasize the musical setting compared to the text by saying “I encourage you . . . to write new melodies for the lyrics to update the style and transfer the wealth of these hymns to this generation of the church . . . .the updating of the melody of the hymn is not a departure from an essential quality of hymnody.” 23 This does not diminish our personal experience with a given song and its musical setting. We often marry themselves to the way a particular song sounds as we have heard it performed. Take for example, the Beatles. Most people do not like it when a band re-records a Beatles tune because it just does not sound like the Beatles. However, the change in musical style, a long as it remains in good taste, does not take away from the derived meaning of the text. We have a scriptural mandate to use a variety of musical forms in worship. Here is what is quintessential to understand from Scripture. John Macarthur says it well: “Paul was calling for a variety of musical forms and a breadth of spiritual expression that cannot be embodied in any one musical form.” 24

Two services—two styles?
When a church decides to have multiple services, and when they have chosen the smorgasbord method for music selection, the temptation is to have the services programmed in different musical styles, having one style for one service and a different style for another service. The Worship Arts Ministry Team believes that this is not the right direction for Providence. We understand that other solid, biblical churches choose service types according to musical style, but we do not want our church to follow suit. We believe that the gathering together of the corporate body should not hinge on people’s personal musical taste. Using distinct styles between services creates an unintentional “red herring” for its congregants. It allows members to form a subconscious value that the worship service is for the attendee’s pleasure. They expect the music to please them or potentially entertain them.

“To divide congregations into age groups, style groups and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. …it is scripturally troublesome to see local assemblies broken into groups, each doing the niche worship, for that is all it really seems to be. It is disheartening to think that church leadership has succumbed to the secondary things about corporate gatherings, that it feels constrained to go in this direction….the divisions are primarily about music…worship is not really about the binding power of Jesus and his gospel but about something earthly, relative, transient. If we took music out of worship would we have the same problem and the same solution? I don’t think so.” 25

We want the service to represent the entire body of Christ. Therefore we do not want musical style to get in the way of participation in a service. Harold Best goes on to say that “The separation into preference groups is everyone’s fault, in that narrow musical satisfaction has turned out to be more important than style-proof outpouring. I encourage people of all practices to become intently and intensely curious about each other’s ways.” 26 (See section entitled “Dealing with Musical Style”.)

Blended Style of Worship

So, in response to the above premises, PEFC has chosen to have a blended style of music. We choose to have liberty over the songs that we select. We decided that it was best to program our services according to theme rather than genre, and to include as many Christian genres as possible to fit the theme. We are open to using many styles of music to help us draw into His presence. But ultimately, and this is the point of going into all of this, . . . there are many styles, and it is understood that we all like something different. However, musical style should not become a stumbling block in our worship or fellowship. We submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ and appreciate the music that ministers to them. As Paul says in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We do not have to like every song that we hear in church, but we do need to maintain our fellowship with one another. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11)”

So with all of the above in mind we ask these simple questions:

Do we have a perfectly blended service each and every individual Sunday? Depending on who you ask, probably not.

Do we intend to have a perfect blend of music each and every individual Sunday? Not really. We want to allow for creativity in programming which frees us to choose what is best for the particular theme of the day and gives the Holy Spirit a chance to guide our choices.

Should we intend to be a perfect blend each and every individual Sunday? No. At Providence you could attend a smattering of services, and they could potentially be very different from each other. You could raise the concern that the church, then, appears to be inconsistent that it gives a one-time visitor the wrong impression of our church. The truth is, beyond the musical programming, our services do change from week to week due to other elements: sermon formats, prayers, baby dedications, membership inductions, missions, commissioning leaders, communion, etc. If we try to make each service a cookie cutter of the previous week for the sake of consistency and one-time visitors, it would be borderline legalism, and it would greatly reduce the freedom-of-programming needed to choose what is most appropriate for a given day.

BUT could we still consider ourselves blended if worship is not perfectly blended each week? YES. Over the course of any given year, one will see a healthy mix of music.

Ultimately, worship is not for us to enjoy. How many times do we walk out of a worship service and say, “I didn’t get anything out of worship today,” or “Worship was really good.”? We say these things without even realizing that the underpinnings of our comments reek with selfish concern. 27 Worship is for God and for God alone. As we come together as a corporate body, we are to be of one mind within the brotherhood of believers. That one mind should be focused on giving glory to God! Because our church is founded on the truth of the Scriptures, we desire our music to be doctrinally correct. Our music is a blend of the traditional and contemporary music styles. We understand that, “The final measure of our sacrifice of praise, . . . is the sincerity with which we offer our best performance to God.”28 God alone is our audience. We come together as a corporate body with one mind – focused on giving glory to God.

So how do we program our services?

1. We program two identical services each Sunday.
2. We program thematically. Whenever possible we select songs and scriptures that reinforce the week’s sermon. We believe the truth of the Word of God is more easily grasped when it is supported by all elements of the worship service. When it is not feasible to link up with the sermon, we program to a “worship theme”. For example, we did one series on the attributes of God. Each Sunday’s worship focused on a specific attribute. We read about it, we thought about it, we sang about it – all of which drove the truth deeper into our hearts.
3. We choose a variety of styles in programming. We include songs chosen from the hymnals, great hymns of the faith, Scripture songs, modern worship choruses (and some oldies), Gospel songs, classical Christian music, etc. sometimes using songs written by members of our own worship team as we ever strive to “sing a new song to the Lord.” (Psalm 33:3)
4. We choose a variety of styles in performance. We choose varying performance styles to add texture and contour to the worship experience. We will also vary the style in which a song is delivered from week to week. These decisions are based on what best fits the theme and the flow of the worship service. To help us uphold our philosophy, we have developed tools to assist in our planning. We have a data base of all songs, identifying themes within the lyrics and chronicling performance dates and song types. This provides cohesiveness in themes and prevents us from relying too often on a “few favorites”. We also use a planning template that identifies each song chosen, notating its connection with the service’s theme. This, too, facilitates thematic cohesiveness in our planning.

Inner Turmoil: Pleasure vs. Genuine Worship
As we think about worship, we realize that there is an issue that strikes directly at the heart of all worshipping believers and has caused many debates within churches throughout history: Am I worshipping God or am I seeking my own personal pleasure? There will be times when we find the worship music (or other worship elements) displeasing to us. In this case the music could distract the worshipper. Conversely, there will be times when the music is pleasing to our ear and enjoyed—but this, too, could distract the worshipper. Either situation can cause us shift our focus from God to what we see and hear. Augustine addresses this when he writes: “I confess that when melodies that [God’s] words bring to life are sung by a well-trained voice . . . sometimes I think I grant them more honor than is proper. . . But this sensual pleasure, to which the soul must not be delivered so as to be weakened, often leads me astray.” 29

This is a constant battle we fight in our hearts and minds. But at what point does the focus shift away from genuine worship of Jesus to desiring what is pleasurable? At what point does the flawed sinful state of our selfishness swing back to worshipping God in Spirit and in truth? These are excellent questions. We should diligently test our hearts before engaging in corporate and private worship. Hearing a beautiful song in a church service is not a bad thing and does not have to distract the worshipper; it is a matter of the heart for both the performer and the worshipper. Of course all things should be done with excellence to the glory of God (Psalm 33:3).

“Thus I do waver between the danger of sensual pleasure and wholesome experience. I am inclined rather to approve the practice of singing in the church, although I do not offer an irrevocable opinion on it, so that through the pleasure afforded the ears the weaker mind may rise to feelings of devotion. However, when it so happens that I am moved, more by the singing, than by what is sung, I confess that I have sinned, in such wise as to deserve punishment, and at such times I should prefer not to listen to a singer. See how I stand! Weep with me, and weep for me, . . . O Lord my God, graciously hear me, and turn your gaze upon me, and see me, and have mercy on me, and heal me. For in your sight I have become a riddle to myself, and that is my infirmity.” 30

As we engage in worship, we need to set our mind and hears right: the church service is not about us; it is about bringing glory to the creator of the universe.

The Nuts and Bolts of Worship

Emotion in worship
An outpouring of emotion is not the goal of a worship service, and a service should not be designed to conjure up these types of responses. “Emotion not based on full reality . .(emotion for) emotion’s sake- and has to be labeled ‘sentimentalism’.” 31 Yet, understanding our loving Savior with a surrendered heart, and dying to self and living in the grace that He has bestowed on us, coupled with an awareness that we are worshipping the Creator of the Universe, will undoubtedly incite within us an appropriate emotional response. Emotion, for emotion’s sake, is not the goal in worship. Yet emotion that results from an honest and genuine response to God is a wonderful thing. The question then becomes, what do we do with that emotion? What are appropriate ways to communicate our response to God within the context of a worship service?

Posture and physical response in worship
Often in worship we may be moved to respond to God in physical ways. Here are some biblical examples of various worshipful motions or body language: bowing the head (Ps. 95:6), standing (Hab. 3:2), lifting our eyes (Psalm 121), kneeling (Phil. 2:10), lifting our hands (Psalm 141:2), prostration (Rev. 4:10), and dancing (Ps. 149:3, Ps. 150:4, Ex. 15:20). Even though our body posture doesn’t communicate all that is going on in our heart, it can be an indicator of where a person’s heart or mind is at during a given moment. Body language is communication. If someone has his or her arms folded during a verbal dispute, that person is sending a message to the other, inadvertently or not. The non-verbal communication of our hands and body typically reveal our heart, mind, and emotions. When we worship God, posture can reveal what is going on in the inside of our being and how we are approaching the throne. Physical gestures that are more common in worship and deserve specific attention are hand raising and clapping.

Hand raising
Barry Leisch says, “The practice of raising hands is modeled not mandated in Scripture, permitted not forced or coerced. The Scriptures don’t command it; they permit it -even encourage it by modeling it.”32 Hand raising is an acceptable form of worship. Some would say that this action during worship is better suited for charismatic churches. If that is the case, then we are eliminating an aspect of worship that has been modeled for us in the Scriptures. Let us look at a few Scriptures that refer to this worshipful posture. “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as an evening offering.” (Psalm 141:2 NASB) “We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.” (Lam. 3:41 NASB) “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands; I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You as a parched land.” (Psalms 143:5-6 NASB) “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (I Tim. 2:8 NASB)

Other Scriptures referencing hand raising are Ps. 28:2, Ps. 63:4, and Ps. 134:2. The raising of hands is a scripturally demonstrated gesture in worship. However, as with all of worship, the heart is the critical factor. If I raise my hands to draw attention to myself, it is inappropriate. If raising my hands to God is an outward expression of what is going on in my heart, then it is appropriate and brings glory to God.

Clapping our Hands
Hand clapping in the scriptures is used to express great joy in the Lord. (Ps. 98:8, and Is. 55:12) Psalm 47:1 even exhorts us to do so: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” These examples suggest that clapping within a worship service is appropriate. It can be done to the beat of a song; it can be a worshipful 14 response after the performance of an outstanding musical special or a brilliant speaker; and it can be a spontaneous expression of joy directed at God alone. At first glance, corporate clapping may seem like praising the performer rather than glorifying God. If this is the intent, then this kind of clapping is obviously inappropriate. However, when clapping is a response to the Lord, an acknowledgement of His truth excellently spoken or performed by the presenter on the platform, it becomes a worshipful expression of our praise to God. Coincidentally, it will give worship leaders and musicians an audible confirmation from the congregation when clapping occurs after a particular song; there is a joint “amen” experienced between the performer and congregation praising Jesus Christ. Clapping should always be for the Lord. The performer should be satisfied by the fact that the congregation has understood, recognized, or responded to what God has said, or to who He is through the performance.

Performance
Our Worship Team, who leads the congregation in song during corporate worship, should not treat the experience as a performance. The purpose of bringing the church together is not to listen to music. Worship is not a show, and we should do all that is within our means not to idolize what we see or hear on the platform. As we have quoted before, Augustine said, “I confess that when melodies that your words bring to life are sung by a sweet and well-trained voice, . . . they call for a place of some honor in my heart, . . . Sometimes I think that I grant them more honor than is proper”. 33 Worship Team members should not attempt to draw attention to themselves. Worship is for God and for God alone. Those leading in worship should always play their best, prepare as much as possible for their playing, and constantly give glory to God. However musicians must not let their musicianship get in the way of their desire to lead the congregation in corporate oneness.

At the same time, everyone involved in worship is called to perform well – to give our very best offerings to God. The pastor must perform well, the musicians must perform well, and the deacons must perform well. In fact if the service is not performed well, we would wonder if everyone is doing their job adequately. Musicians can be caught saying things like, “When I perform that tune . . . “ or “The choir will perform on Sunday.” Sometimes when others hear that word in that context they think it has a negative connotation and question the motivation of the musician. But, using the word “perform” best captures the essence of the musician’s mission. “Perform” is defined this way: “To perform is to do something complicated or difficult with skill in public with a view toward serving and ministering.” 34 All Worship Team members are expected to perform their duties as well as they possibly can; it is their mission as musicians.

Non-Christians on the Worship Team
Sometimes there is pressure to place a non-believer on the worship team. The argument follows: “We want to have a high quality worship service, and we don’t have the best musicians at our church. Let us go out and hire professional musicians to lead the music. Then we will have quality music, and non-church goers will hear about our great music and desire to attend our church more frequently. Then we are able to reach more people for Christ…especially the non-Christian musicians will hear the gospel message as well.”

As noble as the above scenario may sound we disagree because it does not put worshiping God first. Marva J. Dawn explains. “Instead of examining how best the worshipping community can praise and glorify God, they began to inquire, ‘What can we do in worship to attract the unbeliever?’ Consequently, numerous congregations made radical worship changes that arose from and reflected panic more than wisdom . . . churches that turn their Sunday morning worship services into evangelistic rallies- and forget that worship is owed to God and not the neighbor.” 35 As we find in James 3: “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” Only a believer has the potential to worship the Lord with his mind, body, soul, and spirit. The role of the Worship Team is to prompt the congregation to worship God. An unbeliever cannot contribute to the worship of a God he does not know nor understand. Therefore, we want all our Worship Team members to be believers.

What about special music and hiring musicians for special occasions (string quartet, dulcimer player, etc)? We allow this to occur even if the professionals are not believers because these people are not assuming a role of Worship Team or Worship Leader. They are simply an addition to the musical flavor of the service. Is it possible for these people to aid in the worship, making one feel more “worshipful”? Yes. It is more than possible, and that is fine. After all, when people use their gifts and talents, whether or not it is meant to glorify the Lord, it automatically brings glory to the Father because he made us in His image and so we create, just like Him. (See the C. S. Lewis quote at the beginning of this essay.)

Participation on the Worship Team
The Worship Team Qualifications
We view our Worship Team as ambassadors of the church. Therefore, we expect that all our Worship Team members are:
1. Christians (see church doctrine)
2. Baptized (or seeking to be baptized)
3. Living a Godly lifestyle
4. Humble, teachable, and servant-hearted
5. Musically talented
6. Willing to serve many hours on a team
7. Members of Providence Church (or seeking membership in one year)
We understand that nobody is perfect, and we do not expect perfection. We want people on the Worship Team who have a passion to serve God and desire to serve Him through music.36

Application Process
The Worship Arts Ministry Team established the following process for those interested in serving on the Worship Team:
1. Initial informal interview with Corb
2. Music audition with Corb
3. Completion of WT application (attached)16
4. Formal interview with Worship Arts Ministry Team and Corb

Communication
Worship Team members need to have access to email communications and the capability to download music files. It is our expectation that emails and podcasts will be checked on a weekly basis. Music files need to be reviewed prior to rehearsals.

Dress Code
Does God care about what we wear? No. God has no preference for penny loafers or wing tips over flip-flops. He is ultimately concerned with the heart of the worshipper. However, there are two reasons why we have put a dress code in place. First, what we wear can be a strong indicator as to where our heart actually is. If we dress in a sloppy or provocative way, it could suggest something about our preparedness or state of our heart. Which ultimately leads to the second reason, if we dress in a sloppy or provocative way, we can be a distraction to the congregation. Therefore, in order to reduce the amount of distraction to those worshipping on Sunday morning, we require the vocalists and instrumentalists on the Worship Team to dress in a modest manner according to the following guidelines:
1. No torn jeans
2. No shorts
3. No sweatshirts
4. No hooded clothing
5. Nothing with writing or screen-printing
6. No low-cut, tight or revealing clothing.

Rehearsal and Performance Schedule
Our rehearsal schedule provides for 2 group rehearsals prior to the Sunday morning worship service. These rehearsals occur on 2 consecutive Thursday nights. In addition, instrumentalists and vocalists are expected to use the podcasts for individual preparation. The group rehearsal schedule is as follows:
1st Thursday Night (10 days prior to Sunday service)
6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Instrumental and Vocal Rehearsal
2nd Thursday Night (3 days prior to Sunday service)
8:00 p.m.-9:45 p.m. Instrumental and Vocal Rehearsal
Sunday Morning
7:45 a.m.-9:15 a.m. Sound Check/Rehearsal
9:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m. Worship Service
10:50 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Worship Service

Other Creative Aspects of the Worship Service

Audio
Speaker volume is consistently kept below 102 decibels in the sanctuary/ gymnasium with an
average decibel level of 94db. The Audio/Visual Team actively strives on a continual basis to
not allow the decibel level to exceed 104 db.

Video Production
Periodically we show a video to advertise a church-wide special event, promote a missionary we support, or to inform the congregation about an important piece of information. This has proven to be an effective means of communication and we consider the communication of these things to be apart of the community life of our church. We attempt to keep promotional videos to one per service so as not to overwhelm the congregation with too much information at one time.

Visual Arts & Decorations
It is evident through scripture that God loves beauty. The more we discover God’s creation, the more we glimpse the grandeur of His imagination through the vast array of creatures and landscapes, not to mention the vast universe of suns, moons, and planets. Even in the formation of the tabernacle, tent of meeting, the Holy of Holies, and the temple (I Chron. 28, II Chron. 3, I Kings 6-7), His attention to detail is seen in the lavish materials and precious metals that He hand picked for the Israelites to assemble. Many of the decorative items served no pragmatic purpose or even symbolic function other than pure beauty for God’s pleasure and glory. Creative beauty brings glory to God. It is a reflection of God as we are a reflection of God. We are created and creative beings. Our human desire to be creative stems from that selfsame desire in our supremely creative God. However, we must surrender that creative desire to God and place it under the Lordship of Christ. “True spirituality means the lordship of Christ over the total man…if Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and his creativeness.”37

Color, pictures, and images can all help in describing a part of God or help underscore a key point in a message or series of messages. In Joshua chapter 4, God commanded the Israelites to make a stack of twelve stones so that they and their children would remember how He parted the Jordan River for the ark of the Covenant to cross. In that same way, visual symbols and physical memorials can serve the congregation in reminding them of a biblical truth or special event in the life of the church. “The Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracks, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.”38 Since God is glorified when we create and he wants us to perform with skill, we want to develop this skill by encouraging the talent by providing opportunities for our people gifted in visual arts. We have begun to do this by hosting our annual Visual Arts Weekend once a year. Our hope and intention is to encourage artists to use their talents for God’s glory, and to bring these talents into our service planning. This will help to promote and underscore the themes of our services in new ways. Our congregation will continue to be edified, and even more importantly, glory will be given to our Creator in Heaven.

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Endnotes
1 Patrick Kavanaugh, Worship—A Way of Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books Publishing, 2001), 104.
2 Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999), 48.
3 ibid, 49.
4 Jack Miller, (1928-1996), Seminary Professor at Westminster Seminary, http://www.rzim.org/publications/slicetran.php?sliceid=191.
5 V. Gilbert Beers and Ronald A. Beers, General Ed., “Worship: How is worship integral to my relationship with God?” Touch Points for Women, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1998), 317.
6 A.W.Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1985), 24.
7 Jack Hayford, Worship His Majesty, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000), 150.
8 Patrick Kavanaugh, Worship—A Way of Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books Publishing, 2001), 67-75.
9 C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, (Grand Rapids, MI:William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1967), 98.
10 Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II, (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1989), 10.
11 Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II, (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1989), 11.
12 Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Pres, 2003), 75.
13 Marva J. Dawn, How Shall We Worship, Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars, (Weaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003), 8.
14 Jack Hayford, Worship His Majesty, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000), 167.
15 John MaCarthur, With Hearts and Minds and Voices, Christian Research Journal, 37.
16 Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999), 128.
17 Jack Hayford, Worship His Majesty, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000), 263.
18 Dr. Stephen Johnson, A Historically Based Philosophy of Worship and Some Possible Solutions for Discussion Concerning the Combination of Worship Services, unpublished, 3.
19 John MaCarthur, With Hearts and Minds and Voices, Christian Research Journal, 39.
20 ibid.
21 Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Pres, 2003), 146.
22 Patrick Kavanaugh, Worship—A Way of Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books Publishing, 2001), 67-75.
23 Jack Hayford, Worship His Majesty, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000), 260.
24 John MaCarthur, With Hearts and Minds and Voices, Christian Research Journal, 40.
25 Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Pres, 2003), 75.
26 ibid.
27 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 66.
28 Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II, (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1989), 152.
29 St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, (New York: Image Books Doubleday, 1960), 261.
30 ibid, 262.
31 Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II, (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1989), 33.
32 Barry Leisch, The New Worship, Straight Talk on Music and the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 128.
33 St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, (New York: Image Books Doubleday, 1960), 261.
34 Barry Leisch, The New Worship, Straight Talk on Music and the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 126.
35 Marva J. Dawn, How Shall We Worship, Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars, (Weaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003), 22-23.
36 Benjamin Miller, Worship, unpublished, 3.
37 Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, (Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 16.
38 ibid, 18.

The value of Good Christian Art

Written by Corb H. Felgenhour on Wednesday, 17 April 2013. Posted in Visual Art, Philosophical, Creativity in

The Value of Good Christian Visual Art

 CORB H. FELGENHOUR

Even though aesthetic decisions are made every day in all that we do, in many cases the church has virtually surrendered this God-given craft over to culture, by withdrawing from the funding and the creation of good art. Without even realizing it, the church has also abandoned their artists, showing little desire to shepherd and encourage them to go farther in their God-gifted language and craft. The Church oftentimes views art as too volatile a medium for any significant place in corporate worship. Some fear that the love of art crosses the line into idol worship. Some have feared that you can’t control the artist because they may say or do something inappropriate. Some fear that art is too ambiguous to mean anything since most art doesn’t use words, and people question how truth can be communicated without words. Furthermore, art is perceived by the Church to have no functional value. The perception is that the art was only created for its own sake, falling under the category of “quaint” or “neat…if you like that sort of thing”. Therefore, says the church skeptic, since art could be idolatrous, it doesn’t say anything specific, and art has no apparent function, the logic follows: why should the pay for it or put in the man-hours to make it right? It turns into a stewardship issue.

A Brief Historical Summary

 But there was a time when the church sponsored all sorts of art projects, commissioning professional artists to create incredible sacred pieces. Michelangelo is one of the most recognized for his mural in the Sistine Chapel or his iconic David statue. Unfortunately, however, many times art was funded by indulgences, a practice where people literally paid money, for the forgiveness of their sins. This inappropriate and theologically warped practice cast significant doubt over art in the church. Sacred art became a symbol of the early Catholic practice of selling indulgences. Over the next several centuries a shift began where fine art was funded more by secular sources than by the church. Artful composers like Beethoven began to emerge outside the umbrella of the church and secular entertainment became more influential on culture with little to no church affiliation or accountability. Fast forward to our post-modern culture today.  Clearly the church has little influence in the entertainment industry and, as far as the arts are concerned, what is more often produced is art with little intention to be God-honoring.  In this post-modern culture where truth is dictated by the whims of anyone’s perception rather than fact created by God, our culture produces art void of a sense of greater heavenly calling.

 Since the evangelical church has virtually given up its influence over the arts, it follows that too few churches utilize the talents and gifts of their own artists. But should the church support artists? Is there a role that art can play in our evangelical churches? Why should the church embrace good art that is Christian? Why should the church put resources against a craft that has seemingly gone off-the-deep-end, a trades-skill that, at first blush, does not contribute to a furtherance of the Gospel or to the magnification of God? 

 There are many reasons why the church should support good Christian art. I have chosen to focus on five:

 1. God values beauty God makes beauty a part of His creation. Minutely microscopic life systems to the vast infinitude of awe-inspiring space, all with their varying color, power and complexity, bring Him glory. Psalm 8:3-4 says:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

 the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him?

 Within Scripture, God reveals His liking of beautiful things. He says He will surround Himself with beautiful things like jasper, carnelian, and rainbows in Revelation 4.  Sometimes these beautiful things He chooses have a particular function with a purpose to communicate or represent something. Other times it has no other purpose than to just be beautiful because God commanded it to be that way.  In his book, Art in the Bible, Francis Schaeffer makes an excellent point:

Scripture does not contradict itself. This is why it is important to note that on Mount Sinai God simultaneously gave the Ten Commandments and commanded Moses to fashion a tabernacle in a way which would involve almost every form of representational art that men have ever known…God himself showed Moses the pattern of the tabernacle…Over and over in the account of how the tabernacle is to be made, this phrase appears: ‘And thou shalt make…’ That is, God told Moses what to do in detail. (Schaeffer, 1973, 20-21) 

God makes many commands like this throughout Exodus 25-30.  God required items in the tabernacle to be adorned with sculptures of angels and cherubim and other “religious” imagery, which we would expect from our heavenly God. But as Schaeffer later points out, God commanded some pieces of art in the Tabernacle to be covered with images of nature (ex. Ex. 25:31-33). He even commanded that certain fruit be colored with unnatural colors, like the pomegranates in Exodus 28:33. God wanted them to be blue, scarlet, and purple.  Scarlet would be a natural color of a pomegranate, and so could purple, assuming the fruit was maturing. However, a pomegranate would never naturally appear blue, yet God commands that it be depicted that way. This too was pleasing to him.  He wanted both exact replicas found in nature and those not found in nature. God wanted it to go beyond nature’s normal, abstract from His own created order.

Schaeffer also points out that God even commanded items in the temple to be crafted that serve no functional purpose except to be beautiful. He wanted beautiful, precious stones in the Temple. Those stones had no practical significance other than to be beautiful. Similarly, in 2 Chronicles 3:16-17 God commanded that:

‘He [Moses] set up the pillars before the temple, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.’ Here are two free-standing columns. They supported no architectural weight and had no utilitarian engineering significance. They were there only because God said they should be there as a thing of beauty. (Schaeffer, 1973, 27)

2. Beauty reinforces God’s truth – God is a redemptive God. He is a God of truth and beauty. Beauty synthesizes with truth giving greater palatability to many Godly truths. Beauty aids and supports the revealing of His own identity. His beauty shows an order to all things. The complexity of this order evinces the fact that it was made; the world in all its splendor did not get here by chance. God uses beauty in His creation to reveal a part of Himself to the world. This is His General Revelation. So effectual is it, in fact, that all men have been, and are now, without excuse regarding the blatancy of God’s existence. Ultimately, because of that, all men bear the responsibility for not receiving Him if they so choose since God has revealed His invisible attributes in the things that He has made (Rom. 1).

 In John 17 Christ prays for unity of true followers by God’s truth.  Beauty is a part of God’s truth. Beauty is just as much a part of God’s truth as His created order is a part of His truth. The fact, 2 plus 2 equals 4, is His truth; He made it that way. It is just as much a part of God’s truth as the fact that Christ’s blood atoned for the sins of His saints because He made it that way. All things, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely (beautiful), whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…(Phil. 4:8)”, whether created by God directly or indirectly through man, bring honor to the One who ultimately made it that way.

 3. Creating is modeling the Creator – All men are image-bearers of God. C.S. Lewis wrote of how inanimate objects glorify God by displaying God’s power and design within the object. An inanimate object merely exists; it sits there…doing nothing. Yet by analyzing the cellular make-up and the complexity of the atomic bonds within the object, testimony is given to God’s awesomeness and skill in creating. Living beings are the same. C.S. Lewis said:

 On that level our wicked actions, in so far as they exhibit our skill and strength, may be said to glorify God, as well as our good actions. An excellently performed piece of music . . . will thus always glorify God whatever the intentions of the performer may be. (Lewis, 1994, 98) 

 Granted, the results of someone’s creativity may not be glorifying to God, but their act of creating does glorify God. We were made in God’s image. God created. Within the constructs of His design, we emulate God by trying to do the same as He: to create. God instills His image onto all His image-bearers. This not only includes aspects of how God looks on the outside, but also includes the same innate desire to be creative, making things with form and a function. As God created all things from nothing, we have the innate drive to take things of little value and combine them to make something worthwhile. Even those who are not setting out to honor God still bring glory to Him, inadvertently, when they emulate the nature of their Creator. How much more then it is to create with an intent to bring glory to God, pointing people to His greatness, and proclaiming His saving Gospel through our words and our works, even our art.

4. Art can transcend words—A picture is worth a thousand words. Art can sometimes say something quickly or more completely that may take thousands of words to communicate. This can arouse in us a God-honoring emotion and heightened sense of truth that could not be achieved by just mere words. If it was not sung, but read, the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is a powerful text, loaded with so much meaning. But once that text is set to its familiar tune and orchestrated skillfully performed inside a castle-like cathedral, the truths within the text are magnified exponentially. We must consider the breadth of beauty and depth of truth that can be communicated in one well-performed painting or sculpture let alone the potential of a culture penetrated by good art infused with a Christian worldview. A well-done picture IS worth a thousand words and can go far to bring greater glory to God and the work of His Gospel.  The church should embrace those people that are called and gifted by God with the skill and talents to produce gospel-oriented art to point our post-modern culture back to God. 

 Obviously words make things specific and clearly delineate meaning. And God chose words to reveal himself specifically to the world—His Special Revelation—Jesus Christ, the Word. The scriptures are the authoritative Word, not beauty. But beauty, a major component of God’s General Revelation works along with His Word, His Special Revelation, to culminate in the present revelation of God that we currently understand until He reveals Himself fully in glory. At that point His revelation will be complete.

 Good sacred art points people to God, telling the entire story of the Gospel within a lifetime of an artist’s work. It is impossible for one piece of art to contain all that is necessary to give a full picture of who God is and his Gospel just like it is impossible for one sermon or one song to contain all of the truths of God. But over the course of an artist’s lifetime one should be able to see a fuller picture of a Christian worldview. Schaeffer rightly distinguishes between a proper proportion of the “minor theme”—the gross depravity of man, and the “major theme”—God’s glory and His redemption of man. Often times artists disproportionately focus on the minor theme sometimes even doing it inaccurately by exaggerating it untruthfully, and the artist completely forgets about the beauty and goodness of the major theme. These two themes should be in proper contexts and be proportionately represented over an artist’s lifetime of work. (Schaeffer, 1973, 84)

 Not all art created by Christ-followers must be religiously themed. Meaning, not all art needs to have a cross in it or an empty tomb to be considered “Christian”. It also doesn’t have to be photographic in the sense of it being exact replicas of the original (see point # 1 above referring to Ex 28 and the color of pomegranates). Phil. 4:8 is a good guide: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” An artist that is Christian is responsible, over the course of their lifetime, to make art that makes much of God. These artists should be missional in their mindset. They should be intentional regarding the messages they portray and balanced in the themes they convey to their viewers.  This is Gospel-art. I cannot claim the creative rights to putting those two words together—Gospel and art. I heard Karen W. Bell, a talented artist from the Lansing, Michigan area, coin that term a few months ago.  I thought it was so appropriate and captured the essence of what should be achieved by artists who are Christian (I also agreed to give her a buck every time I use her phrase). Creating Gospel-art means: infusing God’s truth and His message with the vehicle of visual art over the course of an artist’s lifetime. Again, no artist can say everything that should be said about God in one piece just like a preacher can’t say everything that should be said about God in one sermon.  But over the entirety of an artist’s lifetime the Gospel should be seen and be accurately portrayed.

 5. Gospel-Art works together with the Great Commission and Great Commandment - I’ve heard it said that artists speak a different language. People joke about it.  “I don’t know what goes on in that person’s creative mind,” we might say. I know some folks become frustrated with “artist-types” because they feel they can’t speak an artist’s language or they think artists don’t communicate well. But what is ironically the case, is that a “normal” (so called) person who might not be able to relate to an artist directly, will be able to relate to the beauty and execution of a well-performed art piece. This “normal” person may be even moved to tears by a meaningful, skillfully executed piece of art. What a powerful way to heighten someone’s worship of God. Well-performed beauty can stir the inner emotion of man, searing God’s truth into their hearts in a way they will never forget. At that moment God is glorified and the artist has given back to those who first came to simply observe.

 The great commission in Matthew 28 calls us to make disciples of all nations. We should be making disciples out of the nation of artists that are in our midst. And in return they can use their talents to preach the Gospel through their language of the visual. There are still many that need to hear the Gospel, so we need to translate it into every language; that includes the arts. If visual art speaks to certain individuals and communicates to a lost people group then let’s inject the Gospel into that communication vehicle and ask the Holy Spirit to use it for His purposes. 

 As part of the great commission and the great commandment we should be making disciples out of our artists and shepherding them towards utilizing their talents to glorify God and making this translation happen. That is our church’s call from God: making disciples and encouraging them to serve others through their gifts and talents. That includes art. We must nurture and encourage these people in their skill and in the messages their art conveys. We should not avoid the topic and exclude artists by giving the impression that they need to either justify their calling as an artist or to seek validation in the secular world.  Philip Graham Ryken says:

 The true purpose of art is the same as the true purpose of anything: it is not for our own self-expression, but for the service of others and the glory of God. Or to put all of this another way, making art is an expression of our love--love of God and love for our neighbor. (Ryken, 2006, 50) 

 That is the greatest commandment given to us by Jesus himself from Matthew 22, to love God and love other people. 

 Measuring style/quality of Gospel-art

 In case you are wondering if my advocacy of visual art is self-serving in any way, I can assure youI am a horrible artist. Once my 5-year-old son asked me to draw him a picture of a bear. After I finished drawing a bear he looked at it with a puzzled look as if studying it for a moment, cocked his head, then looked at me again, then back to the “bear.” Then, without hesitating, turned to his mother and said, “Mommy, can you draw me a bear instead?” 

 If you are like me, the encouraging thing is that you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate artistic quality, and you don’t have to be a good artist to shepherd one regarding the message they convey. Operating with love and respect, a non-artistic shepherd has the potential to spur real artists to higher levels of their craft by helping them to move from making art for art’s sake, to performing art that is for the kingdom’s sake, for God’s sake alone. Again, Gospel-art. 

 When discussing a piece of art with its creator it may be difficult to separate your own personal tastes from the desired meaning of the artist. How do you evaluate what they have done? The following is a tool or guide to give you a place to start when discussing someone’s piece. The last thing you want to do is discourage an artist by confusing your taste with actual truth, etc. This tool puts breaks the discussion down into four spectrums of every piece of art: 

 1) Representational Quality

 2) Load of Meaning

 3) Literary Style

 4) The Glory Factor

 The first two spectrum are almost taken exactly from Hans Rookmaaker’s, Art Needs No Justification and address the form and function of the art created.  The latter are my own. These spectrum help us to distinguish between form and message. Form definitely impacts the message, but all forms of art are valid and could glorify the Lord if the message is properly received and understood through quality execution. “Really great art often ‘works’ on several levels at the same time (Rookmaaker, 1978, 54)”. We must shepherd our artists to create the kind of art that is needed to permeate our culture. But we need to discern through their language so we can best shepherd them in a way that honors the Lord and helps them in their walk with Him. 

 I would start with the first of these four spectrum, working through each one in order. This will help you in discerning the artist’s intentions and might help you to appreciate the heart and effort behind each piece. They don’t call it a “work” of art for nothing. Every piece is a work of art whether or not it exudes the finest of quality; if an artist is willing to show a piece to you then chances are high that they worked hard to get it to the place where they wanted to show it. If the artist’s skill is low, then encourage him or her to be tutored by other skilled artists. But no matter how skilled they are, the potential is there to help artists understand the value of submitting their talents to God, moving them toward creating Gospel-art.

 1. Representational Quality- Under “Form”, the first spectrum, one must discern the representational quality. There is a degree of naturalness to a picture. On one end of the spectrum a picture might be trying to imitate the real scene or object, literally, like a photograph (Ansel Adams). This would be a completely natural representation. On the other side of the spectrum would be the abstract representation, containing less detail, seemingly simpler, containing no resemblance to the real object (Kandinsky). And then you have everything in-between.

2. Load of Meaning- For the second spectrum one must discern the quantity or load of meaning contained within a piece of art. On one side you may have a piece that is low in content like a decorative landscape similar to a painting by Thomas Kinkade. The landscape may represent beauty to its fullest extent but it may not mean much more than that. It’s meaning is simpler. On the other side you might have a piece with high iconic value where it represents something greater than the piece itself. Like for example, the idol calf made by the Israelites (Exodus 32). I’m sure it was made quite well but God destroyed it because it had so much iconic meaning representing the worship of other Gods and the rebellious Israelites. That is a high load of meaning.

 3. Literary Style-The third spectrum begins to plunge into the message and what is being communicated by a piece of art. This spectrum addresses the style of how the message is portrayed, the vehicle for which the truth is conveyed to the observer. On one side it may be very allegorical or anagogical conveying a principle or a moral.  Using a literary example, C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia”, you would not use that to teach systematic theology in a Master of Divinity program, but reading it one can learn deep principled truths of God. Opposite that, on the other side of the spectrum, would be the more axiomatic, systematic, statements of fact like say a well-sculpted plaque of the 10-Commandments. There is no poetry in it. It is what it is. And then you have everything in-between. Does one side have more value than the other? No…not for the sake of this discussion. Both art styles are valid.

 4. The Glory Factor -The above three spectrum ultimately feed into this fourth spectrum, the Glory Factor. Who is receiving the glory? Is what is being produced honoring and glorifying the Lord or not?  On one side of the spectrum, a piece could edify an observer by properly and appropriately leading them to an accurate truth or conclusion about God.  It would be a biblical conclusion. It supports absolute truth—God’s truth. On the flip side a piece may be deceptive, intentionally leading people to a wrong conclusion about God. It may be done to antagonize the Gospel or to be anti-biblical.  Maybe the piece is more relative in regards to truth or tears down a person inaccurately. One might say that there is not anything in-between on this spectrum and for the most part I would agree. I could see an argument being made for an a-moral or an a-biblical aspect of a message, either for God or against Him. In mentoring this artist, the shepherd must first ask, is the artist intentionally communicating a-biblical or anti-biblical message? Meaning, are they intentionally leading their audience down the wrong path or are they just not communicating accurately? Either way the shepherd must step in to help guide the Christ-following artists. In those instances let discernment and reason reign. The main point of this spectrum is to discern whether the piece, ultimately, is God-glorifying or not.

A call to Christian post-modern artists

 I realize that much of what I have said in this article goes against a typical post-modern artist’s training. A post-modern artist might begin a project by creating something and then leave the interpretation to the viewer. A post-modernist may even validate this by saying that’s the beauty of it…letting viewers walk away with various interpretations from each other.  The end result is divergent, contradictory conclusions.  These various conclusions would all be considered desirable to a post-modernist. In music, I have been trained in the same way. Aren’t we supposed to let the viewer come to his or her own conclusions? The answer is “yes” and “no”.   

 Please understand that I would never want to discourage a viewer from trying to interpret a piece; On the contrary, I encourage it. Most certainly that is an aspect of art.  Art moves us on an emotional level and can heighten our awareness to things that we were unaware of before. However, if we as artists stop there and stay ambiguous in our intent, relying solely on the viewer’s opinion to impute meaning, then that seems to be a passive way out for the artist, and it most certainly enables an artist to not take responsibility for what he or she produces. This is especially true for a Christian artist whose ultimate calling in life is to bring glory to God, to proclaim the Gospel, and to make disciples of all nations. We must keep post-modernism in perspective.  It is a blip on the historical radar screen of all created art. Become so talented at your craft that viewers can’t miss what you are trying to say. But also, go farther with your intent then the non-believer and purposefully let them see God working in you. Show them what God is teaching you. Teach people the things of God through your art and through your testimony, and seek to edify those who view it. Christian artists: Time is short. Purposefully say something in your art, and let it be effectively communicated by the quality execution of your craft.

 Closing Comments

 We must continue to teach our artists as well as our non-artists the value good Christian art, and we should strive to utilize every communication vehicle available to proclaim the message of the Gospel to a lost world. God values the use of beauty. He uses it to support His truth. When we create beauty we emulate our Creator. Art can transcend words and using it wisely and appropriately can help to expand the reach of the Gospel to those that may not have heard it before. And that is what we are ultimately called to do: Preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.

 I trust that this gives you some serious food for thought. There are many saints out there who may be too quick to shut down any attempt to move this intention forward. To this, Rookmaaker says that “Art has …its own meaning as God’s creation; it does not need justification. Its justification is its being a God-given possibility” (Rookmaaker, 1978, 39). Be encouraged to use art as another way to further God’s purposes by encouraging and shepherding those artists around you in your fold.

 So to you, pastors, I say, keep shepherding your people. Think on this and prayerfully consider how this type of ministry might start at your church. And to Karen W. Bell, for the use of your term Gospel-art, I owe you at least 5 bucks.

 Corb H. Felgenhour lives with his wife and three children and is Pastor of Worship Ministries at South Church, Lansing, MI.  Felgenhour has two degrees in music composition, the latter from the University of Southern California, and was credentialed in ministry by the Evangelical Free Church of America.  www.colossians316.org

 

 WORKS CITED

 

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973.

Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God’s Sake. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006.

Rookmaaker, Hans R. Art Needs No Justification. Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1978.

Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

 

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