Friday, September 25, 2009

Church Growth circa 1600 AD

During the summer our family visited the Detroit Institute of Arts In the section featuring art from the Baroque Era there were many paintings, some that were literally 10' x 10' and some even bigger.  As one who has not studied art I was amazed to find the following written at the entrance to the exhibit:

The Curtain Rises on Art as Theatre

"In this 17th century European art, people were made to look like actors on stage.  Look for theatrical touches:
  • Life size figures
  • Emotional facial expressions
  • Grand posture and emphatic hand gestures
  • Spotlighting against deep shadows.
Dramatic art met the needs of the Catholic Church.  After Protestant groups splintered away from it, the Catholic Church worked to defend, reinforce, and spread its beliefs.  Popes and the Catholic Church in Rome commissioned art to appeal to believer's emotions. Straightforward, powerful, religious stories set in extreme light and shadow could move hearts and teach without words..." 

The implications of this final paragraph are huge -- bypass the Word of God and appeal directly to the emotions.  Thus much of the art on display had clear religious themes with all sorts of speculative details woven into the interpetation of the images -- Martha and Mary Magdalene, The Assumption of the Virgin, The Entombment of Christ, The Immaculate Conception, and The Repentant Mary Magdalene to name a few (click on the link above and type Baroque into the search option to see what is in the gallery). 

There are also implications for the church today.  While many Protestants would rightly reject the use of religious art in worship (particularly images of the 2nd person of the Godhead), I wish to make a different point.  I've been to a few megachurches in my day and what goes on?  Appeal to the emotions via loud, repetitive, and syrupy music.  Add to that the use of big screens with lyrics posted for all to see, sometimes with backgrounds that change to create the right mood - seashores, mountain vistas, a brilliant sunset, etc.  Big screens are also used in the sermon for PowerPoint presentations, movie clips and downloads from YouTube for sermon illustrations.

To this observer it looks like modern evangelicalism is trying to achieve what the Counter-Reformation tried to do by "moving hearts and teaching without words..."  Contrast that with the Apostle Paul's methodology of preaching propositional truths from the Word of God: " pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles...And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom...And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (I Cor. 1:21-23; 2:1, 3-5).

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