Twice a week, I get the great joy of picking my girls up from school. It is something I look forward to every time. There is one part of the trip that I really despise though. There is an intersection at the corner of the school that is pretty impossible to navigate. When you are sitting at the stop sign with a flurry of cars, crossing guards, students and parents, it is hard to determine who the next person to go at the intersection is. It becomes chaotic. There are many starts and quick stops because everybody is trying to get home quickly. Without a proper balance of cars, crossing guards, kids and moms, one can easily get injured.
Upon reading Visual Faith by William Dryness, I could not help but to think of harmony and balance that a church leader must have. Dyrness does his best in his work to explain how art plays a role in worship settings and without the outward expression, the inward man is truly lacking in faith. Dyrness traces art through the middle ages where he believes the desire for artistic pursuits of God got lost. He states, “Protestant Christians in some ways never left the arena of the arts, but after the Reformation the arts were no longer welcomed in the church….the spaces made for worship were not friendly to elaborate visual elements, for they were seen as distractions from true worship, which always focused on the preached Word (Dyrnes, p. 13).” Dyrness then tries to explain how the church needs to discover again art and the artist in order to propel worship to a deeper level.
While I do agree with Dyrness on many levels, there must be a balance to it all. Like the busy intersection, each particular aspect of worship must know its place. A reliance on too much of the outward expression could lead to sentimentalism, and a church that never allows for outward expression of worship through art or other means may also become wooden and rigid. Faith, art, and worship must operate in conjunction with one another.
My one objection to Dyrness is his thoughts on the Reformation and Protestants. I am not sure he has a handle on their belief systems. One of the main reasons that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other Protestants focused so much on the preaching of the Word was due to the lack of it within their context. The Catholic tradition prior to the Reformation bordered on idolatry with a dearth of Biblical preaching. Their push against artistic expression in worship was to place the Word of God front and center and not art.
In a sense, Pentecostals and other Charismatic groups do the same things the Catholics did centuries ago. Instead of art or images, Pentecostals at times place the worship song service or the move of the Holy Spirit above the preaching of the Word of God, but none of those things should replace the priority of the Word of God. I believe the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy makes that clear.
The church must strike a healthy balance between outward expressions of worship and inward devotion. The church must also find ways for the artist to unleash their worship. As a Protestant, I side with the old reformers, the art should never distract from the word of God, and instead it should accentuate the beauty of it. When this takes place, I believe the church can achieve Jesus’ desire and that is to worship in both Spirit and in truth.