Sunday, November 02, 2014

Makers of Culture

To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation-including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent--is a sphere of Christian ministry, a way of serving God and neighbor that is grounded in God's truth. Christian laypeople must be encouraged to be leaders in their fields, rather than eager-to-please followers, working from the assumptions of their biblical worldview, not the vapid clich├ęs of pop culture.” 
― J. Gresham Machen

There was a time when the Church, and the laypeople who made up the Church, proclaimed the glory of God by producing great art. There is no shortage of images, sculptures, cathedrals, musical scores, and literature to illustrate what man can do in his desire to bring glory to the Father. Bach proclaimed, "The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul." Michelangelo prayed, "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I accomplish." Art, both the ability to enjoy it and the ability to create it, is a gift from God, who created all things.  So why is it that Christians today seem hell-bent on mediocrity?

In today's culture, Christians seem to think that everything they produce must include some great evangelical altar call, so that art and music and dance turns vapid in the chasing after a message. But God never called artists to be evangelists. He calls people to pursue excellence in WHATEVER they are gifted to do. It is increasingly frustrating to be an artist and a believer these days. The art world is increasingly antagonistic to faith, and the Church sees no value in art. Francis Schaeffer recognized this years ago, and wrote an entire book about the role of art in the Church. He wrote, "Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism."  Yet, what has happened in the Church has so devalued the excellence of technical skill that artists either leave the church in order to have freedom to pursue their calling or they bastardize their work so that it meets some standard of "ministry."

I rebel against that idea. God created some to be evangelists and teachers and healers (1 Corinthians 12). Others He created to be artists and musicians and dancers and journalists and businessmen. One set is not more elevated than the other, and neither set has the sole responsibility to glorify God. Instead, the Church needs to support the businessman and the artist as much as it does the missionary, for all believers have a role in the Great Commission. The pastor must not tell the artist what or how to create any more than the businessman must tell the pastor what to preach. Similarly, artists must not try to conform to some expectation, be it commercial or spiritual, but rather lead in excellence of technique and skill and beauty. The businessman should innovate and create, not for self-gratification, but because God has given him the skills to do so. Christians need to not fear excellence in their fields just because their skills are not necessarily church related. God has gifted everyone differently. What He most desires is that those who follow Him seek excellence and wholehearted commitment to whatever He has called them to do (Colossians 3:23).

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” 
― Martin Luther

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