Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist



Why Artists Need the Church

My post on Monday made an argument for why the church needs art and the benefits of supporting the artists in our midst.  Today, I want to look at the issue from the other side and discuss why artists need to be involved in a community of faith. I know this will ruffle the feathers of those artists who disdain the restrictions and limitations that can come with associating with one particular church. Yet, as beings made in the image of our Creator God, we need to be part of His people for three reasons: to be functioning members of the body of Christ as spoken of in the New Testament, to be nurtured and guided on our spiritual journey, and to find a place where our art can be practiced, challenged, and grown.

One of Paul’s most-used metaphors for the Church is the body of Christ (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 3; Col. 1), and as Christian artists, we must accept that we are part of this body.  Just because we do not like how the body is being run, does not give us the right to leave altogether. Christian unity is vital for the Church, and we must join with our brothers and sisters if we want to show the world what it means to be Christian.  If we are living in community, showing love to those inside and outside the church, then anyone who comes looking to the church for answers to spiritual questions will be met by a richer example of the full life that Christ offers.

This is not going to be easy. Churches have their drama, just like any other group of people; we are still living in a fallen world, after all.  But if we can work at our relationships, talk through our differences, and let our needs be of less importance than the needs of others, then the body can function with amazing love and purpose.

This talk of community may sound exciting to some, but to many, the world of an artist is an often-solitary realm.  Painters can spend hours alone, unwilling to show a piece to anyone until it is finished. Songwriters need the space to explore the music they create before it is first performed.  Writers are rarely great conversationalists while they are enthralled in their work.  As I write this blog, I sit alone in my house, drinking decaf coffee with my back to the world outside.  We need time by ourselves to sift through our imaginations before we can bring the gold to the outside world.

But this aloneness can become loneliness very quickly.  The church, however, is a community that meets regularly, giving a reclusive artist an excellent excuse to meet with others on a regular basis.  Weekend services, Bible studies, women’s retreats, and men’s ministries allow us to connect with other human beings and realize that we are part of a greater whole. Joining with others as they celebrate, mourn, question, doubt, live, and worship, is a great part of what it is to be human.  By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can gain a better view of the bigger picture, for our own sight is limited by the experience of only one life.

It is this shared experience that gives us the final reason to join with others in worshipping God: we are given a place to grow as artists. Gaining perspective on the lives of others will enrich the work of an artist before he or she even begins their next project, for it is in communicating the universal truths of our existence that art becomes memorable. A church can support an artist while the physical and emotional roller coaster of artistic creation takes its toll. It will be there to celebrate the victories, and to help clean up the failures. The church is also a ready-made audience for an artist, and better yet, an audience that wants its artist to succeed. This kind of crowd is far more rare in the secular world.

It is also in this congregational setting that our art can undergo the hard work of growth.  Criticism is the constant companion of an artist, and this truth will not go away in the church. Yet listening to the opinions of our critics can push us to greater and greater works of art. We may also find mentors who can help us train well, and ensure that we stay within the light as we explore the truth of a fallen world. If we push ourselves to create better art, to both glorify God and to uplift our brothers and sisters, then we will find that the results will gradually become more and more stunning. The church can give us this opportunity to push.

Too many artists have left the church because the church has not recognized the value of the artist, or because the artist has not recognized the value of the church. In reality, both artist and the church need to realize that they need each other. The life, beauty, and power that an artist can bring to the body cannot be found anywhere else.  The opportunities for spiritual and artistic growth that a church can provide to an artist should not be discarded or forgotten. For when these two groups, often at odds, come together to worship and glorify the God of all Creation, real beauty is found.






Why the Church Needs Art

To many people I’ve come across in my journey thus far, art is not a vital part of the human existence.  It can be an entertaining distraction from a dreary world, or a time-consuming hobby to be enjoyed on the side, but it is rarely thought of as an integral aspect of our humanity. Professional artists are thought of as people who refuse to get real jobs; people who need to get their heads out of the clouds and realize that their hobby should not be their main source of income.  “Anyone can do art,” they say, “so why should we pay some to do it?”

This tragic world-view upsets me as both an artist and a Christian. The Church was, at one time, one of the most prolific patrons of the arts, commissioning soaring cathedrals, massive and beautiful murals, intricate statues and icons, and educational and entertaining plays. The Protestant Reformation, however, brought with it a fear of anything related to the Papists, and shunned many of the beautiful works that the Catholic Church had created. The iconoclasm of the 16th Century destroyed many works of art that can never be recovered, a shame that we must live with today.

The church needs art, and therefore artists, to turn the eyes of their congregations to God, honour the beauty of Creation and the glory of God, and to respect the call that God has given to the artists in His family.

The idea behind icons in the Catholic Church is not to worship a beautiful piece of art, but to see through the art to the God who inspired it.  This is true of all great works of art. An stunning photograph of a morning landscape calls to mind the perfection of pre-Fall Creation. An evocative poem about the suffering of street people can awaken a love for our fellow humans. A Passion Play can bring the truth of Christ’s pain and love in a way that a sermon may never be capable of. Art is able to connect to people on a level that is much deeper than instruction and light conversation. Dr. Gordon Smith, in his book Courage and Calling states that the purpose of art is, “at the very least, to enrichen our lives from the inside out, to foster a depth of appreciation for the beauty of God and God’s creation.” This sounds like a calling that warrants more than a hobbyist’s devotion.

I understand the argument that the money that is required to create art could be spent on helping the poor and providing for the needs of those who are without.  This is true, and the cost of a modern cathedral could probably pay for the feeding of a small impoverished town for a long time. This argument, however, ignores a different group of the poor, those who are poor in spirit.  North America is rapidly losing its spirituality.  Materialistic Atheism has taken over as one of the only publicly acceptable world-views, a shift that breaks my heart, for many are left without the eternal hope that Christ brings. Through this, many Christians have focused on the here and now, honouring God by serving His broken people.  While this is commendable, I believe that we have let many areas of our lives slide away from a God-honouring priority.  Many churches today look more like community halls, unrecognizable as churches if it was not for the sign outside.  They do little to inspire awe and reverence for the Creator of the Universe in the way that the old cathedrals of Europe still do.

A college professor of mine told a story of two police officers seeking a place of prayer as one of their friends lay injured in the hospital.  When asked by a priest why they chose the Catholic church, as neither of them were Catholic and several other churches were nearby, they replied “It looks like God lives here.” I would love for every church to look like God lives there.

The Old Testament nation of Israel understood the place of artists within its community.  As gifted members of the society, they were given God honouring work to perform.  In Exodus 35 and 36, Bezalel is chosen by God to be the official head artisan for His people.  God filled Bezalel with His Spirit to enable the man and his associate Oholiab “to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers” (Ex. 35:35). They were then paid for their work from the offerings that the Israelite people brought forth. The people were so excited by the godly work of Bezalel, Oholiab, and their fellow artists that they gave too much money, and Moses had to turn potential patrons away.

Today, however, we do not see Artist as a legitimate calling from God, but we should.  We, as Christians, have left society to be crafted by the secular world, and then complain that movies are too violent and sexual, that music is degrading and promotes a lifestyle we cannot endorse, and our legal system is turning away from the code of morality that gave it birth.  Artists are the people who craft culture through music, movies, theatre, the visual arts, fashion, architecture, and the many other art-forms, and we need to support our artists if we want to make a difference in our society.  We need not financially support every artist for their entire lives, but we should encourage and guide them whenever we can, for they are integral to both our church lives and the secular world they work in.

Christian artists, imbued with the image of God, are capable of leading His people towards a deeper love and understanding of the Creator.  They can shine His glory for the world to see in ways that reach beyond the short days of their lives.  They are able to change culture, if we only give them the platform from which to work.  Artists are called by God to be artists, not hobbyists, and we need to accept that. They can reach out to the broken world with a message of hope, something the Church can always use for God’s glory.


Blog at

Up ↑