I just read something in Disciplines of a Godly Man that goes along perfectly with what Pastor Sam said yesterday about 1 Thessalonians 4:11b-12a–“…work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside…” (NKJV). Kent Hughes makes an important point, although most of this excerpt is him quoting someone else:
Lastly, our work must be done with an eye to excellence. Dorothy Sayers said that the Church in our time
has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.
Work that is truly Christian is work well done.
Genesis 1 logs God’s commitment to excellence when it says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (v. 31). Christians should always do good work. Christians ought to be the best workers wherever they are. They ought to have the best attitude, the best integrity, and be the best in dependability. (R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, p. 154)
I’ve grown up knowing that everything I do is supposed to be as unto the Lord. This should be true of all Christians, not just the ones who grow up going to a Calvary Chapel with parents who are in ministry and who sit in the main service because the 6th grade teaching is too “milky”. But I know that not all of us live like this. (Plus, I know it’s easier to grow up knowing what you’re supposed to do than it is to maintain that practice when you grow up and enter the “real world”.)
But what struck me most about this passage is the way the first part relates it to Church life, not just our vocation. “A painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture,” says Dorothy Sayers.
What if it said, “Music must be good music before it can be worship music?” What if it said, “Music must be playable on a secular radio station before we can consider its lyrical content for qualification for airplay on K-Love or Air One?”
What if all Christian movies were as well-made as The Passion? And what if Protestant filmmakers were as good as the Catholics? What would the world look like?
I read today about the high-church “Oxford movement” of the 19th century, when Anglicans like John Henry Newman tried to steer the Church of England closer to the Church of Rome. An important part of their worship was that singers in the choirs had vocal training.
The biggest problem with high-church thinking is that it’s all outward. Whitewashed tombs, Jesus would say. Musicians would be hired solely for their skills, with no consideration given to an evidence of a walk with the Lord or the presence of spiritual gifts. When I was in college, I was often hired to play with a string quartet at the Episcopal church in Malibu because I knew the music director, and she knew I needed the money. And I’m not even baptized into the Church of England! And I also know that my grandparents’ church in Garden Grove has a Local-47 union house orchestra. Because the words that are being sung contain certain words, no consideration is given to the theology or lifestyle of the people singing them or playing the underlying chords.
In Luther’s time, the Church of Rome financed its building projects with the sale of indulgences to the masses, exploiting both princes and paupers. And even a recent building project was outsourced to a Jewish architect. When asked how he felt about being the first Jewish architect in history to design a church for the Roman Catholic Church, Richard Meier answered,
I feel extremely proud. It is very clear that the Catholic Church chose my design based on its merits, not because of a need to make a statement in regard to their relationship to Jews throughout history. Three of the architects in the competition were Jewish. They were chosen to compete because they were among the top architects of our time. However, I think it is important that there is communication and mutual admiration and respect between members of all faiths. As the architect of this church, some might say that I am, to some degree, a symbolic bridge between faiths. (source: Wired New York)
Christian art isn’t the world’s art paid for by the Church’s dollars. There has to be something different, somewhere between the Catholic church’s extreme art production methods where their end justifies their means, and the Puritan removal of all art from the sanctuary (even to the extreme of the Church of Christ removing musical instruments altogether).
So, what I mean when I ask, What would the world look like? is: What would it look like if the Church (and I am speaking of the real body of believers, not the corrupted age-old institutions) could raise up this kind of quality from the inside without having to hire or outsource its art and music? What if people serving at their church saw their service as a holy sacrifice unto the Lord rather than merely “volunteer duty”? What if people on the worship team practiced as much as people who play in the pubs? What if non-Christians actually flocked to Christian “outreach concerts” because they heard the artists on the radio, and the quality of their music surpassed all the other songs on the station’s playlist? And what if, after the world pounded down our doors to get in, we didn’t have to water down the truth of the Word of God in order to prevent them from leaving?
What if we all gave of our time and our talents and our money to the local body of believers where God has placed us, and in this giving we really believed that the gifts were unto God? What if we didn’t need a tax-deductible receipt or a pat on the back or a word of praise from our fellow man in order to feel like our gift wasn’t in vain?
I want to leave you with a passage from Exodus 36 that deals with both of these issues. The first part speaks of excellence in craftsmanship and artistry, and it’s a statement about the creative gifts God gave mankind when he made us in his image, and how these gifts need to be excercised as unto the Lord. The last part deals with excellence and extravagance in monetary giving.
Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.
And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more. (Exodus 36:1-7, ESV)