Eric Metaxas: The power of beauty can lift our eyes to God. So says one new study—and our old friend Chuck Colson.
The UK Telegraph recently ran an amazing headline: “One in six young people are Christian as visits to church buildings inspire them to convert.” In fact, the beauty of the church played a larger role in their conversion than attending a youth group or talking with Christians about their beliefs. And if you’ve ever visited one of England’s magnificent cathedrals, you’d understand why.
This news would not have surprised Chuck Colson. Back in 2008 he talked about the importance of beauty and art as it relates to our worship–and the places in which we worship. Here’s Chuck.
Chuck Colson: The neighbors watched the new church building go up in just one month—and what a sight it was! The church was a squat, square building made of unrelieved concrete. On the inside was garish red carpeting. A massive parking lot surrounded the church.
Nothing could possibly have been uglier—and the fact that so many Christians build church structures like this reveals how far Christians have strayed from the place beauty and art are meant to have in our lives.
As the late Francis Schaeffer notes in his book, Art and the Bible, we evangelicals tend to relegate art to the fringes of life. Despite our talk about the lordship of God in every aspect of life, we have narrowed its scope to a very small part of reality. But the arts are also supposed to be under the lordship of Christ, Schaeffer reminds us. Christians ought to use the arts “as things of beauty to the praise of God.”
This is exactly what God commanded regarding the building of His Tabernacle. As Schaeffer says, “God commanded Moses to fashion a tabernacle in a way [that] would involve almost every form of representational art that men have ever known.” In Exodus 25, for example, God instructs Moses to make for the Holy of Holies “two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them.”
In other words, God was commanding that works of art be made: a statuary representation of angels.
Outside the Holy of Holies, lampstands were to be placed—that is, candlesticks of pure gold, decorated with representations of nature: almond blossoms and flowers.
And then we have the descriptions of the priestly garments. Upon their skirts were to be designed pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet.
Does God value beauty for beauty’s sake? It seems He does. Consider the two columns Solomon set up before the Temple. He decorated them with a hundred pomegranates fastened upon chains, as God commanded. These two free-standing columns supported no architectural weight and had no engineering significance, Schaeffer writes. “They were there only because God said they should be there as a thing of beauty.”
And this brings us back to those ugly church buildings we often build. No wonder non-Christians often remark on the ugliness of our churches—an ugliness that is off-putting to anyone sensitive to beauty. We have forgotten that beauty is not achieved, as some argue, just to draw people into the church, but because it is a form of praise to the God who designed and created magnificent mountains, delicate flowers, and our beautiful children.
No doubt you have seen churches that have crossed the line from beautiful to garish, where opulence is more valued than true beauty. Indeed, historically, the Protestant reaction to opulent church furnishings was to seek beauty in simplicity. And that is fine too. But every congregation, no matter how small its budget, should ensure that its facilities, humble though they may be—and in some parts of the world, they are very, very primitive—nonetheless, are tasteful and reflect the beauty of the Creator.
The God we worship glories in beauty.
(This commentary originally aired January 31, 2008.)
Beauty and Faith: Chuck Colson on Art, Worship, and the Bible
Beauty in so many spheres, whether it’s art, architecture, music or the natural world around us, is intended to reflect an important characteristic of the creator God. He delights in beauty, and as Chuck reminds us, believers are to use that beauty to bring praise and honor to God.