Visual Images in Worship

The Protestant tradition has effectively incorporated the art of music into worship. We have found a compatible balance between music and the spoken Word. However, we still struggle today with how to handle images. This debate will only become more and more heated as our culture has moved from an information age into a visual age. With the rise of the Emergant Church movement, and a generation saturated by images, I feel it appropriate to begin a dialog about the role of visual art in the evangelical church.

Although it is correct for God’s Word to remain the focus of our worship, I would like to see a return of the visual image into worship. The Reformers were correct in finding fault with the iconodules over the worship of icons and relics within the Medieval church. But the thoughts of theologians like Karlstadt and Zwingli took the debate too far and resulted in a fearful overreaction to what honestly, most people do not understand.

Just as there is a danger of idolizing musicians there is also a danger of idolizing the visual art or even the artist. But we do not forbid musicians in worship. We only forbid visual images because of the strong attraction to them as items of worship during the Medieval age.

God grants the ability to some to express HIS truth without words. If God demands that we bring everything we do, feel, or say into a glorifying act toward HIM…and the artist brings his or her craft to glorify God…why is it NOT acceptable in the Christian places of worship? What makes Visual Art so different from other forms of expression?

I argue that it is not the image itself that is a danger. After all, paint on canvas is merely paint on canvas. It is the power we give the image that is dangerous.

As the church as found a balance between song and the preaching of the Word of God…so should there be found a balance that includes visual art. Worship songs (and hymns) find their inspirational source in scripture. Likewise, so should the expression of art be inspired by scripture. The main focus in all three MUST remain God’s Word spoken (preached) and written.

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