If you follow me on any social media platform, you’ll know that I recently went to Rome. If you’ve known me for any period of time, you’ll know that I have always wanted to visit Rome. Why? One word: Vatican. I may not be a part of the Roman Catholic Church, but I have always longed to see the Vatican. Who wouldn’t? It’s full of art, architecture, and beauty.
While visiting Rome, I kept thinking to myself, “we need to reclaim beauty.” Here is what I mean:
I am a part of the American Evangelical Church. I have been my entire life. While walking through the beautiful cathedrals, all I could think about was how much the church used to appreciate beauty. It was sculpted in their structures, painted on their ceilings, and even engraved in their floors. Every single place you looked was beautiful. The American Evangelical church does not appear to appreciate beauty like the Roman Catholic Church. Now, before you get all angry and start saying, “we want to use our money to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless,” let’s analyze this a minute.
When it comes to mission, I am 100% in favor of giving all that we have to help those in need. We should be using our resources to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless. That is what Christ commands us to do. Looking through the beautiful churches, one might suppose that the Roman Catholic Church is not about those things. But they are. In fact, they do more than most. Just take a look at Catholic Charities, one of the largest charities in America.
As they help, they appreciate beauty, as well. It’s intriguing to me that evangelical churches are so concerned with helping the poor and criticize monumental cathedrals when they are willing to spend millions on buildings that won’t stand the test of time. This is what I am getting at. Millions are spent on new buildings but are these buildings beautiful? They may be modern, but I would argue that they do not contain the beauty that is found in the structures of several cathedrals (both Roman and other high-church denominations).
The church can be criticized for spending as much money as they do on buildings and I will listen to those critiques. But when you’re walking through the cathedrals of Rome, you cannot help but think, “they appreciated beauty in all aspects and they wanted to glorify God with these buildings.” And glorify Him they did.
Oftentimes, I wonder if people will visit the latest megachurch building 100 years down the road. My guess is, probably not. There isn’t really too much to see. The cathedrals in Rome are admired for their art and architecture. They are studied in classes. I am not for certain that many evangelical megachurches will be studied in classes.
Beauty needs to be reclaimed in the evangelical movement. We are so focused on being modern and contemporary that we have forgotten beauty. Popes would hire the best artists, architects, and musicians of their day to create works that would stand the test of time. If heaven is not a beautiful cathedral with incredible art, ornate ceilings, and a stunning choir singing in perfect harmony, then I’m not sure what it will be like.
Why? Because they create things that stand the test of time. Their works give us a taste of what is to come. While visiting San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome, I was able to hear a choir perform and watch mass. I didn’t understand a single word that was said or sung. But I didn’t have to to know that what was taking place was beauty. The liturgy compelled me to listen and participate. It drew me in. This is the thing about beauty. We might not understand it or even follow it, but we are compelled to it. Why else does the church still sing some ancient hymns and yet they do not sing many of the praise choruses that were created in the 80s (well, some churches still insist on singing “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” over and over again)? There’s a difference between timeless beauty and modern creations. Timeless beauty can still be created but it may not appear to be modern at the time.
I believe that one of the most compelling thing the evangelical church needs to do is to reclaim beauty. Craft songs that have depth in both lyrics and melody. Hire artists to sculpt and paint. Seek out architects that see in the past. Perhaps I am sounding old-fashioned in my age. I will admit that early 20 year-old Caleb would scoff at what I have evolved into.
We are so careful to create environments that are welcoming that we neglect to have beauty. I think we overanalyze the environment and it causes us to miss important points. People won’t be scared of high ceilings, beautiful sculptures, and divine liturgy. It compels us to enter and participate.
We can do both/and. We can be charitable and beautiful. We have done it in the past and we can do it in the future. Life was not meant to be bland and boring. Church wasn’t either. Let me tell you, there was nothing bland or boring about the aroma, music, art, and structure of the cathedrals in Rome. In fact, to me, that was what church was always meant to be: a little taste of God’s coming Kingdom.