Psalm 50:2 NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
As I wrote in my 3-part essay, “Beauty,”
Truth flows from the heart of God,
Art from the heart of man.
When these two rivers flow as one,
Some broken bit of creation is restored.
This remarkable statement came to me in the middle of the night while on Christmas vacation at my childhood home. At that point, I had been leading music and worship professionally for more than 10 years. All the years since then have served to prove this to be true. I have seen the two rivers flow as one and I have seen the broken bits of creation restored in the lives of those who produced Christian art and those who received it. In this essay I will break it down for a clear understanding of this liberating truth.
“Truth Flows from the Heart of God.”
A river of beauty flows ceaselessly into our lives from God’s creation,
- from mountain majesties,
- to desolate deserts,
- to sunrises and sunsets by the sea,
- to the deep space above us speckled with stars and ruled by a silver moon, and
- to the impenetrable forests beckoning to us with the single, well-traveled trail.
The generosity of God is unceasingly on display for our delight.
“Art (Flows) from the Heart of Man.”
There is another river flowing from God’s people to the Lord of Heaven and earth,
- from millions of secret places of private prayer,
- from public worship spaces where God’s people gather,
- from moments of rest when workers catch another breath of heaven,
- from moments of crisis, when circumstances confuse, blessings seem hindered, and promises are delayed,
- from battlefronts where the gates of hell are defeated once again by the weapons of our warfare,
- from the weary sower, who, with good seed, is sowing again into a world that does not seem to care,
- from the birthing mother when she hears her infant lift a voice to God, and
- from the dying saint whose last words are merely the preface to an eternity of praise.
A river of worship flows from earth to heaven, ministering to the Lord, giving Him “the glory due His name.”
While the divine river flowing from heaven to earth is ceaseless, constant, and never diminishing, the other river, from earth to heaven, is subject to constant variation.
- Sometimes other motives are mixed with the singular call concerning “the glory due His name.”
- Sometimes the people of God are distracted by lesser pursuits and spend their strength on some other purpose.
In large measure church history is the story of the wax and wane of the Believer’s river of worship.
- When prayer is intense and focused on the Kingdom of God, the tide of the River of Life is high and God’s blessings visit the earth in abundance.
- When the church is earthly-minded and focused on its own glory, its own power, its own kingdom, the River of Life finds few places on earth to flow.
Today the world and the church seek to recover from the devastation of a pandemic. The flow of the river of worship from earth to heaven has diminished and now is seeking to flow again in fullness.
A River and a Swamp
There is an ancient promise, one of an ever-increasing tide of the Spirit of God, an “outpouring,” the Bible calls it. Where will we see it? “On all flesh,” the Bible says. This is bigger than Pentecostalism or Evangelicalism or even World Missions or the historical revival reported here or there. This is the final healing flow in preparation for the return of Jesus. At the same time there is a swamp, an evil-infested, poison wilderness called “The Great Falling Away.” In this putrid bog, “the love of many will wax cold” and people will surrender to self-love as they drown in evil addictions. All around us in contemporary culture people are drawn to this slough by the arts and artists of hell itself and those surrendered to it. Images, sounds, stories, words, and lies flow from mangled minds to hungry hearts as ways “that seem right to man.” The have proved to be the quicksand of deception as hearts designed to house the Spirit of God are instead inundated with evil.
In this moment, the People of God are faced with a choice: The river or the swamp. Will I seek the outpouring? Will I participate in the Falling Away? There is no third choice. In these trying times, this is the test we must use to determine the differences between the “holy and the profane.” When faced with some new thing calling to us to pass through a cultural door, these are the pertinent questions:
- Is this a part of the Outpouring of the Spirit? Does this exalt the Lord, edify the church, and does it move decently and in order?
- Is this a part of the Great Falling Away? Does this lead us away from Jesus? Does it require that we alter the Word of God? Does it minister to our carnality? Does this have the aroma of the Spirit on it or the stench of hell?
The Word of God is filled with information about what is holy–what is of God–and what is profane–what is evil. In addition, there is a spiritual gift called discernment. With this gift, we can sense the difference between the holy and the profane. We need not wonder about such things. In these Last Days, the distinctions are clear.
Renaissance–“When these two rivers flow as one”
Because of Calvary, a miracle happens–these two rivers, the River of Life from the Throne of God and of the Lamb and the River of Worship from the People of God to His very throne–can converge into one river. When the Lord inhabits and is enthroned upon our praise our worship becomes witness. When we rehearse the Jesus Story in public worship, we are sharing the Good News with the world. When our daily lives, powered by Secret Place prayer, are lived in honor of the Lord, we become living witnesses to the power of the Gospel every day in the marketplace and the public square. The anointing of the Holy Spirit causes conviction to erupt in the hearts of those who see and hear us, and they must decide about Jesus. Though many will not take the Good Seed into their lives, others will and “some broken bit of creation is restored.”
What do I mean by “renaissance?” The word means “rebirth.” There are two such “rebirths” in Western Civilization: The cultural Renaissance (14th century through the 17th century) and the Protestant Reformation(beginning in the 16th century.) The cultural Renaissance resulted in the rebirth of classical art and thought and led to the Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason. The Protestant Reformation led to the formation of Protestant Christianity. What these two events had in common was the use of ancient wisdom to form contemporary thought and practice, the culture of ancient Greece in the first instance and the Holy Bible in the other. The coming Renaissance will be the result of exalting scripture over culture in our day.
The pandemic, as well as other cultural forces, have stripped away so many of the worship arts, it is time to restore them. What are these missing arts?
- Music–more than congregational music. The Lord deserves the full dimensional music of gifted soloists, ensembles, instrumental and vocal musicians. To accurately reflect His glory requires music beyond the range of the congregation. This music should also represent all generations within the church, not just contemporary pop. Music is a multi-generational discipleship ministry.
- Theatre–We must tell the Jesus story in graphic, realistic terms. The Bible is a collection of stories and character studies. Great Christian theatre is about story and character and is intended to illustrate and apply the truths of God. The word “theatre” means a place to see something. Through those gifted in the theatre arts, we can show the Gospel to our world in so many meaningful ways. A fully functional theatre company provides a place for all the creative ones within the church. It is also, by nature, an intergenerational discipleship ministry. This must not be confused with entertainment–it is ministry in the tradition of Jesus Himself, the master story-teller.
- Literature–In His wisdom the Lord has chosen words as the primary conveyance of His truth. There are writers in the church, but do we use them in the work of the ministry? Do we value their calling as much as we do the singer or the instrumentalist? We should. We must if we want to speak into our generation with the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Visual Arts–Under the Old Covenant, God forbade the use of graven images as objects of worship. Under the New Covenant, we see the difference between idols and icons. An idol is a false god demanding worship. An icon is a graphic image designed to be a window into a spiritual reality; it is an aid to True Worship Though Iconic images encourage worship of the holy, they are not themselves objects of worship. In the same way the visual arts, and therefor the visual artists, offer many ways to assist the People of God in our worship and witness. The painters, photographers, sculptors, sketch artists, and computer graphics artists have a vital place in the coming Renaissance.
The Worship Arts and the Last Days Outpouring
Am I connecting two things that do not belong together? Obviously, I don’t think I am. The prophecy of Joel which was Peter’s text for his impromptu Day of Pentecost sermon contains a promise artists find essential: “dreams and visions from the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:17-18 NKJV
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.
What is the connection for this predicted Outpouring and the artists of the church? Simply this: every work of art begins as a dream and/or a vision in the heart of the artist. They are the only ones who can experience the dream or see the vision, but they do. It becomes the impetus of their creativity, the design of their work, and the message they wish to deliver. God has a purpose for each artist in the church and it is time for leadership to recognize these anointed ones and put them to work in the harvest.
The Renaissance is coming; it has to be on its way. We must shake off the bareness of the pop culture around us and take a deep dive into the holy counterculture of the church. “We’ve a story to tell to the nations that will turn their hearts to the right.” Three things we must do:
- Tell His Story.
- Sound His Praises.
- Reflect His Glory.
We can then stand back as our two rivers flow as one to the healing of the nations.
Are You Ready for a Renaissance of the Worship Arts?
© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
 Leviticus 10:10 NASB
 Psalm 22:3
 from Latin theātrum, from Greek theatron place for viewing, from theasthai to look at; related to Greek thauma miracle
 “The religious icon itself is merely a medium between the earthly and heavenly worlds”. https://russianicon.com/the-meaning-of-icons-in-the-orthodox-church/
Here is my detailed information on how to lead Christian Artists and organize the creative community in the Church.
Other articles of interest on this topic:
The Justice of My Cause
Heard and not Seen–The Invisible Orchestra
No One Has Hired Us: The Role of the Artist in the Mission
PRODUCTION MINISTRY To Be or not To Be? PART ONE (first of a series)
The Spirit-Led Artist Part One (first of a series)
I Pastor with Music
Sacred Music: What Should It Sound Like?
The Instrumental Imperative
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