Thursday, June 16, 2022

Our best for His glory. . .

When we were building an addition to our facility about 20 years ago, we ended up having to move into the new Sanctuary because of an air conditioning problem in the old one.  We had no pews or wooden chairs -- only the standard model metal folding chairs.  We had no altar or pulpit or lectern since they had not yet arrived from the woodworker.  They were not late -- we were early.  We had no cross other than the old processional cross we had from the now chapel.  But we soldiered on.

The altar was a slab wooden door on sawhorses with a full Jacobean frontal made of newly purchased fabric.  The nice makeshift parament did not betray the humble underpinings.  For a pulpit, we purchased a used one for a few bucks locally that fit the bill.  The lectern was an ordinary lectern from one of the classrooms.  Both had makeshift but workable falls to adorn what was rather humble.  With the processional cross behind the altar, candlesticks from the now chapel, and a couple of very large banners on stands behind the altar, it looked pretty good for a people who had to make a quick decision on a Thursday to be in the new Church on Sunday.

Every pastor planting a mission congregation or renting facilities in a multipurpose setting or holding services in another community or hotel ballroom or the like has had to make do.  We all understand it.  It is what must be done under the circumstances.  In every case, the intention is to do something better, more permanent, and more fitting of the Lord and His glory.  It is not that these things do not matter but they matter so much that we are embarrassed when we cannot do better and will work to improve what is a temporary situation.

What is shocking, however, is when the Church contents herself with things that are unworthy of the Lord because they are not our best for His glory but spectacles that mean to draw attention to ourselves rather than to Him.  When the things we offer the Lord are our best for His glory, it does not matter if they fall short in aesthetics.  But when we substitute for that which befits Him, His Word and Sacraments, those things that are experimental, purposefully pushing the edge of integrity, and reflections more of us than vessels for His purpose, something is wrong.

In the photo above, Roman Catholic Cardinal Schönborn has consecrated what some have called an “IKEA” Altar in a Dominican Church in Vienna.  If you look around the monstrosity that is passing for an altar, you see an ornate and elaborate church building that only draws even more attention to this modern thing that has been placed there precisely to become the center of everyone's attention -- and not for what happens on it.  Worse is the color -- the color of urine -- whether on purpose making the association or an accident.  I am not saying that something of this material could not have been used.  It could have been possible to craft something of lucite (which it seems or glass?) that would have fit its surroundings.  I would still not like it or approve but it could have been done.  Yet it was not.

Before we Lutherans laugh and rush to judge, we have our own shameful attempts at being cute or shocking in which the focus fails to emphasize glory, permanence, and significance and instead simply makes an artistic statement most of us wish we had never heard.  Wherever it happens, it is shameful.  Churches are not canvases for our own self-expression.  We make them for God, for what God does in them, and to draw our attention to Him and His gifts and not away from them.  Building, adornments, preacher, sermon, presiding, vestments, and everything else that screams look at me violates the first and most important principle of church architecture and art -- the focus is on Christ and His gifts.  When we forget that, it is downhill all the way.  I don't care of the architect or artist has a name recognized all over the world, when the church has become the canvas for that artisans self-expression, we suffer even more than God.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

I cannot seriously believe the “artist” who designed that altar could sign it as Bach did his compositions - SDG (soli deo gloria).