Select Page

When Art Divides the Church

When Art Divides the Church

I ran across an article today, entitled “Let’s Stop Singing These Ten Worship Songs”. I’m not going to link to the article because I don’t want to give it any more attention than I already have. The article was bad enough—picking apart the artistry of worship songs and why they should be considered repulsive to the church. I get it—theology is important. It’s especially important when it comes to corporate worship. But the majority of the writer’s issues with these songs were merely preference-based.

If the article was bad, the comments were worse. You have both sides vehemently opposing one another. People were calling each other whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. It got pretty nasty.

Why is it that art seems to be one of the main sources of strife within the Body of Christ? Theological differences—often nit-picky and love-lacking—are bad enough. But art? Art is a reflection of the creative power flowing through the very heart of our Creator. It’s a chance to take part in revealing God’s nature to the world. A chance to inject beauty back into a fallen and hurting world.

Art is a chance to take part in revealing God’s nature to the world.

But it so often launches us into fights with one another. We have worship wars. We have people leaving churches over art. We debate about styles and fashions. How could something so beautiful cause so much division and damage?

I’ll tell you this much. The people spreading vitriol in the comments below these articles certainly aren’t the ones creating the art. These commenters are critics. They sit at the dinner table and criticize each course—contributing nothing on their own. They don’t even bother to help clean up once they’ve tossed the meal others prepared onto the ground.

Critics don’t add to the conversation. They merely consume, and then spew their hate.

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” – The Alchemist

Unfortunately, there isn’t too much we can do about the critics in this world. No matter what, there will always be critics. As long as there’s beauty in the world, there will be those who wish to tear it down.

We don’t have the opportunity to eradicate critics. But we do have the ability to eradicate criticism within our own hearts. We can choose to lift up and exalt others when critics seek to tear them down.

I’ll tell you this: You can either be a critic, consumer, or contributor. You can’t be all three.

You can either be a critic, consumer, or contributor. You can’t be all three.

We know the critic. He tears down. He’s frankly a jerk.

We know the consumer. He enjoys and, at times, defends art. The consumer is an artist’s friend.

But the contributor…the contributor is where hope is found. The contributor makes art and praises others who make art. He celebrates beauty with his work and his words. He adds to the conversation and encourages other voices to join in.

The solution to the problem of art dividing the church is for more to contribute. We contribute to the beauty, and we ignore the voice of the critic.

The solution to the problem of art dividing the church is for more to contribute.

It’s so tempting to answer every criticism. It’s so tempting to defend our art or the art of others. But that just adds more to the echo chamber of division within the church. The critics won’t be swayed. And by listening and responding to their criticism, we make their voice matter. Our response to their criticism fuels the criticism even more.

Our response to their criticism fuels the criticism even more.

So what do we do when someone criticizes the new worship song we wrote? We remain silent, and we write another one.

What do we do when someone dislikes the video we shot and edited? We remain silent, and shoot another one.

What do we do when people criticize our use of stage designs in our service? We remain silent, and design another one.

It’s true; there are things to learn from critics. Criticism isn’t entirely bad. But we don’t need to defend everything we do. We can listen, apologize verbally for their offense, but then unapologetically keep creating.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Rachel Carson

We don’t fight. We don’t hate. We create in response to the insatiable desire to create that God has placed inside each of us.

We create in response to the insatiable desire to create that God has placed inside each of us.

Art might always be a divisive force within the Church. It’s so linked to our soul—emotions, thoughts, and desires—that it’s doomed to be a bit messy until Christ comes back and purifies us all thoroughly. But it doesn’t have to be a divisive force inside ourselves. Create in spirit. Create in truth. But be sure to create.

About The Author

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of "Created for More," a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas, roasting his own coffee beans and enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanmalm.

9 Comments

  1. tanookisuit_ty

    I googled that article. I couldn’t resist. I’m the dumbest boy in school.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan

    I fully agree with your conception of the critic. At the same time, we do not all have the same gifts but are often members of the same church. What avenue do you advocate for the person who is not gifted as an artist, yet does not wish to be a consumer of some specific element? When speaking of a specific artistic component, they definitely should be as encouraging of their brothers and sisters as they can, and if they simply can’t probably should choose to say as little as possible, yet when we are speaking of the “artistic direction” that a church may be taking, should they really have no say? Surely there must be some appropriate avenue or venue for them to applaud peoples efforts, but still say that this direction is not one they would like to go?

    A church of people who prefer classic hymns could certainly be frustrated by an individual who is determined to drive the service along contemporary ideas. The frustration would not be because of intrinsic value, but simply personal preference. Should they not be able to express that perspective, and should a church with a membership that primarily prefers classic hymns not be able to have some sway in this matter? Where is the role for constructive criticism in these categories? All criticism isn’t bad, just as all creative artistic efforts are not good…

    Reply
    • Jonathan Malm

      Good question. That ultimately comes down to who is leading the church. If it’s a pure democracy…the congregation makes all the decisions…sure they can say whatever they want. It’s not criticism if you are ultimately responsible for the decisions and directions. But if the congregation has elected a pastor to lead the charge…the pastor ultimately leads the direction there.

      One thing to note…I’ve found democracy always makes for poor art. I’ve never known a painter who has left the decision for his paint strokes up to a group of people. Hope that gives some insight or at least food for thought! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Chris Sullivan

    The Church was never intended to be a democracy it is a Theocracy. God is the Head of The Church and we should follow His Word and teaching .The pastor is never “elected’, he is or should be called by the church. Also being an artist is not a spiritual gift. Everything we do and say and breathe should be for the glory of God and if these songs, especially if they are sang in church, fail to honor God in any way we should throw them away. The bible says that if we break one part of the law we are guilty of breaking the whole law.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Malm

      Agreed. Practically, however, a church committee or congregation still finds the pastor. One hopes God is the source of that decision. :-/ And agreed on songs that fail to honor God. 100% true. I’ve found even when songs honor God that disagreements and strife arise. That—a narrow space—is what I was trying to cover in this article. Love your input!

      Reply
  4. Chad Wilson

    Thank you so much for this article! It speaks refreshment into dry places.

    Reply
  5. Keith

    Interesting article, Jonathan. I admit art can be divisive and to be fair we all have different likes and dislikes that we use to form opinions.

    So, what to do when we receive that unfavorable opinion? Is that opinion grounded in sound biblical interpretation? My guess is all artists who happen to be Christians, have a person they share their creative ideas. Is that person someone who is wise? How does your artistic talent complement the Word of God and are your ready for reproof or correction if it does not?

    My thinking here is, maybe just maybe, sometimes our art focuses a bit too much on our talents and less on glorifying God. If so, should we humbly accept correction? I say yes, but it certainly that should come in a private and loving way.

    I do not think ignoring all criticism is a good approach. We should be open to edification.

    2 Timothy 3:16-17

    16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    John 3:30

    30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

    Glory to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

    Keith

    Reply
    • Jonathan Malm

      Critique is very important. There’s a difference between critique and criticism.

      Criticism tends to tear down. Critique tends to correct. And you can usually tell a critique from the fact that the person offering it has some sort of authority or responsibility for the work. This is either because they are a boss, manager, or because the artist (wisely) asks for feedback or submits to their opinion.

      Hope that helps! I believe we agree on this…just trying to split the hairs to find our common ground. 😉

      Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become an INSIDER

Get exclusive articles and church resources delivered directly to your inbox. Join 11,000 other churches and become an INSIDER.

CATEGORIES

SPONSORED