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Art forms are a powerful vehicle for spreading the knowledge of Christ.
I have friends, husband and wife, who for the past 40 years have been using art forms – music, drama, art, dance – to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people all over the world. Nothing exceptional about this, you might say.
Yet 40 years ago, when my friends began to follow the calling which God had placed on them, the atmosphere in most evangelical churches was far from favourable. Spreading the gospel was perceived rather narrowly as ‘preaching the Word’.
Verses such as 1 Corinthians 9:16 could be quoted: Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! Art forms were regarded as rather suspect and distracting from the serious business of preaching the gospel.
Bono came across this attitude when he was a teenager. He was advised by a church leader not to go into the music business because it was dirty, and to concentrate his musical gifts on Christian worship.
Now worship ministries are very valuable; but what would have been lost to the world had Bono taken that advice! The Christian influence within U2’s music has reached many people who would never countenance listening to a preacher or going into a church.
His Christian faith may be thought of as unconventional. But which of the Old Testament prophets was conventional?
Those who were suspicious towards the arts had evidently not understood the message of Exodus chapters 35 and 36. There we find preparations for building the tabernacle, where the Lord would meet with his people Israel, in full swing. Everything is about to be constructed exactly as the Lord had shown it to Moses.
As the work is about to commence, Moses tells the people:
“See the Lord has chosen Bezael son of Uri, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers – all of them master craftsmen and designers”.
Bezalel and Oholiab were artists and craftsmen, with an impressive portfolio of abilities, which would play a key role to play in constructing the tabernacle.
That building would be at the centre of Israelite worship and was intended to demonstrate the Lord’s goodness to all the peoples around them (the Old Testament equivalent of preaching the gospel).
For this work the Lord did not look only for high quality craftsmen, but for people who could engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. The tabernacle was not to be a plain utilitarian building. It was to be beautiful, built by artists.
For the Lord loves beautiful things. The world that he has created gives ample evidence of this.
This description of the artistic gifts of Bezalel and Oholiab is the very first mention in the Bible of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament there are several lists of spiritual gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4).
None of them mentions artistic ability. Yet the first people to be attested as filled with the Spirit were artistic craftsmen!
Artistic gifts can come from the Holy Spirit just as much as those gifts which are traditionally regarded as spiritual, such as healing, prophecy or speaking in tongues. David was a gifted player of the lyre, and his playing relieved Saul from the attentions of a tormenting evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:23).
In 2 Samuel 6, David pleased the Lord by dancing before him with all his might. Elisha is able to prophesy when an (unnamed) harpist begins to play (2 Kings 3).
Art forms are able to touch people at a level that words cannot reach. Recently my wife and I visited a family member who has lost the power of speech through a brain tumour. He was a gifted musician, so we played him a clip of my granddaughter singing. HIs face lit up and he entered into the music in a way that he was not able to engage in conversation.
Art forms cross boundaries of nationality and ethnicity. Language differences do not get in the way. I recall once going to hear a Korean percussionist. I know very little Korean, but I was spellbound by his music, so different from Western music, but accessible to me, a Westerner.
Art forms are a powerful vehicle for spreading the knowledge of Christ. Many years ago our church hosted an event where a dozen or so Christian artists – sculptors, weavers, glass workers, painters – each demonstrated their work in a part of the building.
People could move around freely from one station to another, and the artists spoke about how their Christian faith influenced their art. We had never had so many people in the building who did not usually go to church; and they were not passive watchers. They engaged with the artists.
Epiphany Music are friends of mine and are talented classical musicians. One innovative thing which they do is put themselves in proximity to a person, ask the Holy Spirit what he would say to that person through music, then play a sound portrait for them. They do this for Christians.
Even more exciting, they do it in totally non-religious settings, for example at a centre for homeless people, at a refugee centre, in town high streets. The effect is very often profound, whether or not the person has a faith. Thus they reach many people whom the church is not able to reach.
God give us wisdom how to support and equip the artists and craftsmen, the Bezalels and Oholiabs of today, in leading people towards Christ.