Chuck Colson on ugly American churches

Chuck Colson references Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible in this article from The Christian Post:

    “The neighbors watched the new church building go up in just one month—and what a sight it was! The church was a squat, square building made of unrelieved concrete. On the inside was garish red carpeting. A massive parking lot surrounded the church.

    Nothing could possibly have been uglier — and the fact that so many Christians build church structures like this reveals how far Christians have strayed from the place beauty and art are meant to have in our lives.

    As the late Francis Schaeffer notes in his book, Art and the Bible, we evangelicals tend to relegate art to the fringes of life. Despite our talk about the lordship of God in every aspect of life, we have narrowed its scope to a very small part of reality. But the arts are also supposed to be under the lordship of Christ, Schaeffer reminds us. Christians ought to use the arts “as things of beauty to the praise of God.”

    This is exactly what God commanded regarding the building of His Tabernacle. As Schaeffer says, “God commanded Moses to fashion a tabernacle in a way [that] would involve almost every form of representational art that men have ever known.” In Exodus 25, for example, God instructs Moses to make for the Holy of Holies “two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them.”

    In other words, God was commanding that works of art be made: a statuary representation of angels.

    Outside the Holy of Holies, lampstands were to be placed—that is, candlesticks of pure gold, decorated with representations of nature: almond blossoms and flowers.

    And then we have the descriptions of the priestly garments. Upon their skirts were to be designed pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet.

    Does God value beauty for beauty’s sake? It seems He does. Consider the two columns Solomon set up before the Temple. He decorated them with a hundred pomegranates fastened upon chains, as God commanded. These two free-standing columns supported no architectural weight and had no engineering significance, Schaeffer writes. “They were there only because God said they should be there as a thing of beauty.”

    And this brings us back to those ugly church buildings we often build. No wonder non-Christians often remark on the ugliness of our churches—an ugliness that is off-putting to anyone sensitive to beauty.”

Continue reading via this link.

I don’t feel like I have much to add to this that I haven’t already said on The Aesthetic Elevator. I might suggest, however, that people do have — in most places in America — at least one or two aesthetically pleasing architectural options. These are usually older denominations (Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and so forth) and older church buildings, although these same denominations do do a much better job with new design, in general, than non-denominational or Baptist congregations. For instance, the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches in my small town occupy very nice structures, even if somewhat basic in the case of the Episcopal church.

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By comparison, the non-denominational buildings look more like offices and warehouses than anything else. This, of course, saves money — and possibly makes use of an otherwise uglier vacant structure — , but it does nothing for the aesthetic of the community or to the praise of our worthy God.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

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