Christian Beauty and Symbolism

Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.
Psalm 96:6 Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

You have hard the cliché “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” which is meant to say that beauty is completely subjective.  Scripture however teaches us that beauty is really in the one who made the eye of the beholder.  Beauty ultimately has an objective standard. It is God. God is beautiful.  
 
As reformed Christians, we strongly believe that God is the God of truth.  We are a people known for our love of truth.  We love to read, study, and develop the mind.  We also know that God is the God of our heart.  He does not want us to be “brains in a vat” but rather He wants us to worship Him in truth and spirit.  We are to engage our emotions as well as our reasoning.  
We see this total worship in Psalm 27:4 as the Psalm writer “beholds beauty” and “mediates” in the temple.  Beauty hits our hearts and moves our minds to contemplation.  There was something about being in the house of the Lord that led the Psalm writer to be in awe of the beauty of God and desire to mediate on Him.  God’s beauty captures our minds and our hearts.
God’s beauty is on display in His house.  Psalm 96 says that both strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.  When we gather for worship, we are doing what beauty is designed to make us do, which is to be in awe of God.  We are gathering to behold His beauty and to worship with hearts and minds. 

With this in mind, there are a few principles we can draw on for the worship gathering.  
One, the Beauty of God should be on display.  This is displayed when the truths of God are meditated on.  When we hear His word read, when we learn who He is, and we sing of his glory, we are having the beauty of God displayed.   Also, when we gather with other believers, we are seeing the image of God in them.  Of course no individual should attempt to detract from God’s beauty by making a show of their own but there is beauty when God’s people gather to sing and lift their hands in praise. 

Secondly, since there was something about the temple that displayed beauty and strength, we ought to be mindful of our worship environment.  While a church can gather in any location to worship and there is nothing more “holy” about one building over another in the New Covenant, we still ought, as we are able, to be mindful of what the worship environment says about God and about what we gather to do.   Is it a distraction from the worship of God?  Is it a cluttered mess?  Is it dirty and unkempt?  Does it convey strength and beauty?  Is it gaudy?  Does it convey a consumerist mindset?  Is it overly feminine?  Is it too comfortable or too uncomfortable?  If there is artwork, is it in conformity with God’s law or is it idolatry? Does the environment convey any notion of transcendence?  Is there any sense of beauty?
 
There are always budgetary and practical concerns that must be taken into consideration.  But how well you clean, you organize, and you tastefully decorate can help the mind be prepared to be in awe of the beauty of God.  On the flip side, your environment can also distract.
I am writing this so we at Sovereign King Church can be mindful of how we ought to be good stewards of the property that God has given us to use.  We need to be mindful of we clean up after ourselves and of how we prepare when we come to worship.  Do we come to be in awe of His glory?  Do we focus our hearts on him?  Does our outside match the inside we have?  Is our clothing conducive or distracting to this end?  These are all things we can be considerate of.

With this in mind, we are also going to be working to help beautify the sanctuary we meet in.  Lily Jackson is going to take the lead in this work with some decor that will add some color and life to the sanctuary.   

One thing you may have noticed is a new pulpit added a few weeks ago and a pulpit scarf added last week.  I wanted to take a moment and answer a question you might have about the letters on the cloth.  

But first, I wanted to point out that different colors have traditionally come to mean different things.  The color green has come to represent Christian life and growth from its connection to trees and plants. Purple is understood to represent anticipation of the King and repentance.  Black symbolizes death and sorrow.  White represents life and holiness.  Red represents love and martyrdom.  Gold is glory and kingship.  We don’t want to be superstitious about colors like a conspiracy theorist looking for hidden meaning everywhere but we can be mindful of past tradition if it is a help to our worship and not a hindrence.  

Secondly, the letters on it are what is called a Christogram which is a combination of letters that represent the name of Christ.  As you may know, in the early years of the Christian church, there was intense persecution.  Christians could not meet openly for fear of arrest, torture, or death.  They met covertly and came up with symbols that operated like a secret password amongst each other.  The most famous is the Ichthus, or what is called the Jesus Fish.  When two Christians met, one could draw half of the fish in the sand and if the other person was a Christian they would finish it.  These Christian symbols were like a logo.  Early Christians would put them in meeting locations, in their houses, or even on graves.  

One such Christogram was the IHS which you see on the cloth on the pulpit.  These are not actually English letters but Greek.  They are the first three letters of Jesus name in Greek.  As the church grew and Rome stopped its persecution, the Latin speaking Christians made them into an acronym for Jesus Hominum Salvator which means Jesus, Savior of Men.  It became a very popular Christian symbol over the years.  As Christians became English speakers, they kept the three letters coming up with a new acronym for it, In His Service.  You will still see the symbol in many church buildings around the world today.  

While we want to avoid any superstitious use of artwork, the symbol is a reminder that Christ is the Savior of men, that we are in His service, that He preserves his Church over the centuries even through persecution, and that there is no other name given to men by which we may be saved.  It is also a reminder of one of the mottos of our church, “We Are Nothing New.”  That is, we are part of the same Church that Christ established and promised to that the gates of hell would not prevail.

Finally, I want to encourage us all that we have the heart of the Psalm writer.  That we long to be gathered together in worship.  I pray that Sundays are the highlight of your week.  That in the worship of God, you catch a glimpse of His glory and that you long for the day in which you will be in His presence for eternity beholding his infinite beauty.  

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