arts and the church

The arts need the church. The church needs the arts. Neither needs religion, but the true living Body of Christ, which contextualizes creativity within the nature of Reality itself. The art world and the church are meant to dwell in the spiritual Kingdom of God–their true context! They are also both to be part of a full expression of who God is.

The creative aspect–whether individually or collectively–represents an aspect of God Himself, and a vital, life giving aspect. You can trace the divorce between this aspect of God and the other aspects by looking at church history. It is not just that the church stopped trusting the arts or even supporting artists after the reformation; it was something more subtle, and far more threatening for both artists and the church. It would be analogous to the Levites, in Jewish history, leaving all the other tribes once having crossed the Jordan in the opening scenes of the book of Joshua.


God first symbolizes Himself, then incarnates. We see this in a simple way in scriptures, where the whole of the Old Testament symbolizes and prepares a way for the New. But also in the Book of Joshua, we see the rituals of the Levites preceeding each step of the general occupation of the lands by the various tribes. Then again, at Pentecost in the new testament–the flaming tongues preceed Peter’s first sermon!; or back again in the Old Testament, Moses’ brass serpent which foreshadowed Christ. This particular symbol is also a sign of the restoration of a certain symbol. You will remember that Hezekiah had to destroy this brass serpent because the people were worshiping the symbol. When we worship art, God will destroy it. Nevertheless, my point here is God foreshadows Himself, it is one of His Ways to let us know in symbolic language what He is up to.

God begins most of His teachings by symbolizing them, then moves on to fully incarnate them–as in this story. It is essential that the artists stay in the drama for the whole teaching to be clear. What has happened largely since the 16C is that artists have had no place in the spiritual context of the church at all. Not only does this leave many artists as spiritually “homeless”, seeking other religious homes in buddhism or versions of new age philosophies, but it also leaves the church without a way to symbolize its true identity–the image dangles or is not projected onto the screen of the world, so no one can even interpret what the heck the church is anymore.

If the church is not just traditionalism, and is something more akin to a living metaphysical organism, then it needs its artists to express through the symbolic who she is! So the church also needs the artists to symbolize from her core identity.

But I think just as much, in order to feel a context larger than fame, celebritism, museum or gallery or industry sucess, artists also need the church. I do not here, again, mean religion or just tradition—but the true spiritual organism behind the church, which provides meaning for the imagination of mankind, and prophetically helps interpret the times one is creating in. For instance, to know that there is global restoration or reattaching of the symbolic is essential for knowing your own part in this global drama. It is the job of the church to interpret for artists the context into which they create.

Since Christ is Lord over every area of reality, the arts occur within the context of His Kingdom.

Most artist no longer know this existentially. And most churches no longer know their true spiritual domain on earth. Creativity occurs within the context of a spiritual kingdom and a spiritual history. The church should be manifesting this spiritual context and teaching this spiritual history. There is indeed a grand narrative, and all artist are in it whether they know it or not!


The fact that the arts are a global culture–each society having this aspect of collective creativity, means that the arts are an aspect of the reflection of God on earth. Creativity is part of what God is trying to express about Himself globally. I have found five cultures present globally: military, athletics, business, arts and religion. Each reflects a unique aspect of Divinity, and the Kingdom contains all five aspects without the interruption of the sinful nature of man. This is why it is essential for His Kingdom to come into each of these areas in order to make an accurate expression of God on earth. This is why Christ is the Reconciler and One who makes whole again. He is restoring the expression of His Father onto the earth in each of these global cultures.

Historically, the church has had all sorts of relations to the arts–some oppressive others very positive and open handed. Because of the nature and power of symbols, the church has often been tentative when approaching the arts, and giving it freedom–often instead being controling. However, as one knows Christ as Lord over all areas of Reality, there have been in certain parts of the church a growing excitement of His kingdom coming into the arts, and a renewed interest in what God is symbolizing in our own times.

Because of the nature of Reality, the arts are always in a unique position either to express what is already happening in society, or to forecast or prophecy into it. Because symbol preceeds fuller incarnation or expression, we can often “read the times” through its art. If we can read symbols, we can see what is happening or about to happen by looking carefully at the arts at any given time. It is the pre-broadcasting that could be helping the church see–ie to bring light–so that it can minister most effectively into its times on earth.

If the artists are not allowed to do this while connected intimately to the church, they will indeed broadcast another message, or attach to another religion, or even the market itself, or entertainment industry, etc. The symbolic stream will not stop flowing, but it can get detached from its true source and core identity. To integrate the arts back into the church is essential for both the artists and the church!

So as i began, the arts need the church, and conversely, the church needs the arts. Both exist in the context of the Kingdom of God, and need to conjoin properly to make the fullest and exact expression of God on earth!


In throwing out the church music and much of the art of the “corrupted” expression of the church, many of the reformers, unfortunately, also threw out the symbolic all together, and in effect ostracized artists–so, at the same time freeing many from traditionalism, left them no longer having a context from which to interpret their creative talents. It bore mixed fruit. For many it was the first time that they felt free to meet God personally without the mediation of tradition or the church itself; but in becoming anti-conclastic, the more extreme fringes of the restorational movement also did some lasting damage to the relation between the arts and the church. In short, the door came down on the church, but so did the amazing woodwork on that door!

Since, then there have been the two larger streams of the church each with its own creative traditions with Luther himself, of course providing many of the hymns for the protestant wing of the church, and the catholic church carrying many of its traditional ritual and symbolic architecture. However, a schism occured here that is still not healed, and still confusing for most artists trying to make sense–or even find a home in–the church.

Traditionalism basically uses creativity in a way which has no dynamism. It has none because the creative gets cut off from the core identity of the thing. Just as in an individual, if our creativity gets separated from who we really are, it starts to get staid or stultified. This is what was being reacted in at the reformation period of church history in addition to the indulgences and basic abuse of powers. Creatively, traditionalism is death to creativity because it cuts it off from the Living thing itself! This is not to say that traditions aren’t needed–rituals are collective symbols that are meant to help us participate in the reality to which they point. This is rather to say when tradition gets cold, creativity cracks off and becomes divorced from meaning–and artists can feel this!

God’s creativity is not separated from His other aspects. For He is one! And He is making us a whole experssion also, both individually and collectively. This is why we want to see the artistic parts of the church re-connected to the other aspect, because the church itself is a piece of high art God made about Himself, and specifically about His Son. If we are as Ephesians reads, “His poems”, then the church collective is a novel about HIM! It is then essential to integrate all of her parts, especially the parts meant to express her identity to the world–ie the symbolizers, the artists!


Obviously, the artist expresses freedom as a symbol. But when we look deeper at God’s creative nature, say in the book of Genesis, what else would artists symbolize on the earth about Him? We see God, at the beginning, hovering over the waters, considering the mystery. This hovering is part of the creative process–whether it be over the potential in a block of stone, or over a canvas–artist like to hover over the mystery–the “not yet” aspect.

I think included in this is also the pleasure of the next moments of the creation story, where things are then separated into land and sea–this naming and dividing one thing from another–this pleasure is making distinction. All of this could come under the artist’s desire to communicate the deeper meaning of things, and then to express it. God has this in Him, as you see the Bible itself is one such effort on God’s part to make Himself understood, even in His depths. I think it is best to start with God’s creativity to understand the more broken expression present in us. He hovered, He fathomed the depths, He divided things, He gave things names, and it seems to me He also played.

God’s playfulness is often underated, or not emphasized, but it comes out often in scriptures. This willingness to play around with new combinations is really the essence of the creatiion story–God liked playfully making new combinations, calling them forth, and then having relationship with them. This speaks of God The Artist, and it also intimates about what artists enjoy and reflect of Him.

Again, returning to the arts as a global culture, it seems we must need this playfulness, this enjoyment of expression, this pleasure in mystery as a whole. In the beginning, God CREATED. Yes, and what was that like; and why are we all still creating. And what is this creative process we have in us–well, it enjoys playing with new combinations (the essence of good humour is the juxtaposition of two or things normally held in different categories of the brain, so said Freud, in his very unfunny book on humour!). We like new combinations, and we like trailing off into mystery; and yet, we also enjoy making distinctions and naming them this or that. It is the pleasure of creating, and it is part of our domain on earth to be co-partners with God in His Creativity!

Creativity is part of our domain as humans on the earth. Here is a garden, He says to Adam, enjoy it, play with it–be creative!! Make up a name for banana tree! See if you can make even bigger fish swim in that pond over there etc. He lets us play around up to a point with His Own creation. This is under our stewardship role on the planet. Now Adam did poorly with this task and so have we; but the mandate to be creative did not change or disappear at the fall of mankind. He did not tell us we were no longer human including our creativity. We are still human made in His Image, and an aspect of this image is our creativity, which He still expects us to enjoy! We have not lost our humanness, we in fact, were given Jesus to restore our humanness. He was “the second Adam” the new man, and He offers access to His creativity which is not fallen. He is the great artist with an unbroken imagination in which things are properly associated with what they represent!

True associations flow from true identity, and this is a perfect flow in Christ who is the one restoring us into His Image! As we create in the knowledge of this restorational process He is performing in us, we are free to “go for it” in our creativity, and to be part of what He is symbolzing about Himself upon the earth! We in fact are part of that expression! We want to see this expression made whole individually and collectively in His Church. This is why the church needs the artists and the artists need the church!

History tells us that the relationship between the church and its creative branches or aspects has not always been convivial or even cordial. For the church to become a whole expression, it must welcome home its creative or symbolic aspects of its own self. In a way, it is self abusive to act as if one aspect of yourself is not welcome. Fortunately, Jesus does not treat any aspect of ourselves this way! If so, no one would be saved at all! Instead, He says to the whole self–you cannot heal yourself, but if you come to Me, I will do everything for you, and make you into the expression you are! First, die with Me, then, we will resurrect together into a new life–come let’s go! Let’s enter this process of becoming whole–this sanctification dance! He says this to the whole person, and the creative aspect is included in this beckoning!

If we look at identity as a house, to reject the creative, is like saying certain rooms are not part of my house. Boarded off, the floors start to sag and dust collects. The creative aspect is one aspect of identity–of who we are a humans, of who we are a cities, as nations and of who the church is in her unique identity. To not integrate this aspect of self is deadly on many levels. For this aspect brings life, hope, vision and possibility to the other parts. It also is part of what is being brought into the Kingdom of The Living God, and is needed to express this Kingdom on earth! As the Kingdom presses into the arts, we will see this aspect more and more express its ways and power. The church is to be at the vanguard of this creative renaissance on earth!

The church could model integrated creativity for the cities and nations to see and learn from as well; and once again, teach us how we should then live! We see this integration beginning in certain areas of the church. We are getting glimpses of what it looks like for the arts and the church to dance together in the Kingdom of God, and this is great news for the world!

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