Use of arts in worship is controversial in some traditions. Emerging or future worship churches value creativity and the entire spectrum of arts-related gifts. People who have had no place to use their gifts to glorify God are now beginning to find their creative gifts valued and affirmed. Our creativity is but a shadow of the creativity of God that we see in his creation. God originated all forms, patterns, colors and configurations. God’s creativity extends from the blades of grass and the form of an insect to the shapes of the clouds, stars, and human persons. In these and all other forms and shapes of the created order we see God’s creative power.

The scripture gives examples of the use of arts – visual, literary, music and dance – in worship. The Scripture affirms the visual arts, particularly through the use of the arts in the temple (2 Kings 6-7). The temple artists, under the direction of God, brought theological themes into the temple so that God’s people could actually see God’s truth. Many contemporary churches do not see the need for excellence in visual art. Visual experience is perhaps the most underutilized aspect of worship in most churches today.

In contrast, in the emerging or future worship setting, the use of imagery, symbolism and iconography, through all types of visual mediums create a richness of experience and encounter with the sacred. Good art stirs each person, no matter what their level of maturity, to new insights and visions.

In ancient times of oral tradition, the presence and mystery of God was conveyed with iconography, frescos, mosaics, paintings, stained glass and statuary. Churches in Europe and Asia epitomized the visual, sensory experience of the Almighty. The Protestant Reformation imposed a visually barren philosophy of many subsequent generations of Christians, as the Reformers reacted to the superstition and idolatry of their generation. Meanwhile, our culture is more and more driven by sensory experience, involving the visual, the auditory, tactile and even the sense of smell. The church is in many ways in a time-warp of sorts, print-saturated and word-based while a new sensory culture develops around us. Images are the primary language of many of our time.

The creation of a deeply sensory worship experience can “become a beacon of hope for countless people in the emerging culture who are looking for a spiritual center in a dislocated world… there is a tremendous potential for deeper experiences of worship when we move beyond words into the creative use of ancient art, contemporary graphics, artistic photography and thematic video.” “This complete examination of the visual environment of worship has prompted mainline churches and free churches to look more seriously at their own environment of worship.”

Other arts, such as the movement and literary arts, require the participation of the community in a way that the visual arts do not. These arts represent the dynamic character of God, a God who acts to deliver the people from their bondage. Movement art, whether in dance, the gestures of bowing, kneeling, and lifting the hands; or in a procession, is a choreographed expression of the dynamic God whose saving actions are being enacted in worship.

(continues in installment 6)