Beauty, Part Two

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Art and Entertainment

Psalm 50:2 NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.

Matthew 26:10 NIV
She has done a beautiful thing to me.

At this point it is good to be clear about art and its close cousin, entertainment.  Art is the expression of the artist’s understanding of truth and/or beauty.  I say truth and/or beauty because not all truth is beautiful and every beautiful thing is not necessarily true.  Entertainment may be artfully done, and art may be entertaining but these are two different forces in the world.

  • Art is the honest product of the artist’s understanding of life as he/she observes it. Right or wrong, he/she is more concerned with doing the art well and telling his/her truth than with the resultant popularity of the work.
  • Entertainment is the product of someone who wants to please an audience. This is not necessarily bad.  Christian entertainers have a role to play in the refreshment of their audiences and can be motivated by a deep desire to tell the truth.  But for all entertainers, success, measured in sales, is a primary goal.

In view of these facts, entertainment is a legitimate goal for the Christian entertainer while it is something of which Christians must be wary from worldly entertainers.  Entertainment remains an option for the church.

Art, on the other hand, is a mandate for the church, not an option.  The expression of the truth of the Gospel is an essential part of our Great Commission to tell the world about Jesus. God has distributed communication gifts throughout the Body of Christ.  Local leaders must see this and engage this company of communicators in the processes of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism–the complete mission of the local church.  Historically, the church has favored those gifted in music rather than all the other arts.  The confusion of art with entertainment has blocked so many expressive art forms and the artists who created them.  I am hopeful that in this new century the church will get much smarter and engage more of the artists in the mission of the church.  In my career as a pastoral artist, I have successfully expanded the music ministries I led into full-fledge arts ministries to great success and deep Gospel ministry.

  • Bethel Arts Ministries: Bethel Life Center, Wichita, KS,
  • Carolina Christian Arts: First Assembly of God, Winston-Salem, NC,
  • Cathedral Arts Ministry: Suncoast Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, FL, and
  • Capitol Christian Arts: Word of Life International Church, Springfield, VA.

Each of these ministries consisted of at least a choir and orchestra, a theatre production company, a technical support ministry and sometimes even the literary and visual arts.  There was a place for everyone whom God had called and gifted to communicate.  The inter-generational transfer of faith and passion for the Kingdom was an ever-present result.

Years ago, while home in Arkansas on Christmas break from a demanding worship arts pastorate in North Carolina, I was awakened in the middle of the night with this complete thought.

I got up and wrote it down.  It was the cumulative expression of a growing vision that had guided my life and ministry for ten years at that point. This statement crystalizes the words of the Psalmist and the words of Jesus to Mary.

  • The truth of God flowing down from His throne on high is beautiful beyond description. Overwhelmed, all we can do is join the angels singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  And yet we must relay as best we can this revelation to our world. We cannot keep it to ourselves.
  • So, we worship, but this worship should itself be as beautiful as we can make it. For the leaders, each service is an opportunity to “do a beautiful thing” to the Lord.

The confluence of these two rivers, truth from the heart of God and art from the heart of the believer, form the river within the believer Jesus promised in John 7: 37-39.

Ministry to the Lord: The Essential, Equalizing, and Empowering Element
Worship is not something we do “for” the Lord as if we could somehow add to His glory.  Worship is ministry to the Lord. In this we follow both the psalms and the apostles in Acts 13.  Psalm 29 says, “Give unto the Lord…the glory due His name” and the record in Acts says the disciples were ministering “to the Lord.” Worship in spirit and truth is not something we just do for the Lord; it is a ministry we do personally from our person to His person.  The measure of our creative worship is not the pleasure of the people but “the glory due His name!” As I said in a hymn I wrote on this subject, “Let the measure of our praises be the glory due His name.” The root word in Acts 13 is the source of the word “liturgy,” often defined as “the work of the people.”  The literal meaning is to provide a public office at one’s own expense. (Strong NT 3008, Vine NT:3011) Put all this together and we see that when we worship in spirit and truth, the Lord has found in our community a place to do His work, to exercise His authority, and to display His glory. Our sanctuary and our lives become His office place and His Luke 4, Messianic ministry happens among us. (Luke 4:16-21)

Learning about Beauty from the Psalms
In three places the New Testament instructs worshipers to sing psalms: Eph 5:19; Col.3:16; James 5:13. These verses transform the Psaltery into New Testament truth.  It was the worship book of the early church and it still should be for us.  It is therefore incumbent upon those who desire to worship Him in public services to do as the Psalms demand, to “Make His praise glorious.” The Lord deserves no less than this.  We must summon the highest means of beauty to the worship service.  Musically this is a delightful mandate, and it requires the office of the Chief Musician, one whose study of music has no end.  He/She stretches beyond his/her natural tastes and takes on all of music as a life’s work.  If our worship is to reflect the complete beauty of the One we worship, we dare not limit ourselves to just what we like or what the marketplace is selling.  If our music is about our personal passions then a few singers and players may do the job. But if our music is about the full-blown beauty of God, we need more. We need to enlist the musicians listed in Psalm 150, the great concluding song in the Psaltery. Western Civilization has developed the all-purpose music machine–the choir and orchestra–and has used it successfully to fully express the grandest of ideas as well as the most intimate of emotions in every conceivable venue, from concerts, to theatre,  to recording, to film, and to public worship.  Just as the Psalms describe every human emotion, the orchestra exists to express every human emotion. That is why mankind invented it!  Why not engage all the elements of this ensemble we can muster to the task of “giving unto the Lord the glory due His name?”

It is helpful to remove from your mind the image of the huge choir and orchestra.  The worship choir can be just few singers covering at least three-part harmony.  As for the worship “orchestra,” you will be amazed at how a simple horn line of 3 to 6 players can add depth and beauty to the worship of the congregation. Here is a comforting truth: good musicians attract good musicians.  If the Worship Leader functions as a true Chief Musician, the “choir and orchestra” will be a living, growing thing, especially if the leader forms a functional relationship with the local music teachers in the schools. Music ministry and music education are natural, but too seldom used, allies in this campaign for beauty.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2021 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

To continue this essay to its conclusion, go to “Beauty, Part Three, Beauty and Worship”

Beauty, Part Two

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