Somewhere, somehow, we simply lost our way. They understood the power of art as a form of worship in the Renaissance, when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were prolific in producing works of art for the glory of God. For centuries it seemed that art and religion could not only co-exist, but magnify the beauty in each other when practiced together.
Yet inevitably, the separation came and the Western world has never again been able to realize the power of combining art and worship as it was done in glorious history.
One only needs to read through the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, to realize that God, the most powerful being in existence, is an incredible artist. Genesis 1 takes us step by step through God’s creative process for creating everything, and the level of detail He used in making the created world. Taking it one step further, you don’t even need to read the Bible, just take a walk in the forest or along the beach. Dive into the depths of the seas or climb the highest mountain. The glory of God’s creation is everywhere as only an Artist-Creator can imagine it.
And then we read that mankind was created in God’s image, which means, among other things, that all that creative capability God used to make everything is also inherent within us. We were made to be creators. We were made to be artists.
Yet the typical church in modern days is sadly lacking in artistry as worship. Church leaders are faced with difficult financial choices these days, yet it seems art generally falls to the bottom of the priority list at most churches. Looking around the typical church, you will find signage and materials derived from Christian clip art. Store bought posters with Christian phrases or Scripture passages. Powerpoint slides with stock image backgrounds. Art in church is no longer something to be created, but something to be consumed, purchased in packages from companies who sell the same stuff to thousands of churches.
Certainly most churches do not have the budget to hire graphic artists, art directors, interior designers and the like. But not all art is produced by professionals and some of the most beautiful pieces of art come from the hearts of children who see their art as an act of worshiping Jesus. Yet somehow, we don’t encourage people to worship God through art. Arts and crafts in most churches are just a fun thing to do to fill time at the end of Sunday School hour or an event to outreach to the community. What if we elevated art back to the level it once held during the Renaissance, art purely as a form of worship?
A few years ago, Crossway took this very idea and did something with it. They commissioned a Japanese Christian artist named Makoto Fujimura to produce a special edition of the Bible called “The Four Holy Gospels”. Basically, it is an edition of the four gospels of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) printed in art book format and illustrated by Fujimura. “Illustrated” is actually a bit misleading because Fujimura is an abstract artist so much of the art happens in the wide margins of the pages of the gospels and is designed to interact with the text on those pages. The product was an incredible work entwining art and the beautiful message of the gospel in a form that would compel you to open and read it daily. You would never use your Bible app if you had a Bible as beautiful as this.
A video made by Crossway further explains their motivation behind this incredible project.
I believe this is one small way that reveals how bringing art and worship together elevates both acts. Art doesn’t have to be a secular activity and worship doesn’t have to lack in creativity.
Ultimately, the question is have we downplayed the role of art in worship too much in the modern church? And if we have, how do we reintegrate art and worship in our churches in ways that engage people and allow them to participate, as artists created in the image of God?