The arts have always played a very wishy-washy role in the church. Wait, let me rephrase that: the church has always been wishy-washy with the arts in the church. Since New Testament times art has been in and out of the church. There have been times in history in which the church led their culture in the arts, specifically drama. However, there have also been times when drama was banned from the church. Frank Burch Brown says in Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste, “Drama likewise had pagan and immoral associations for early Christians, as a consequence of which it met with strong disapproval from Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine.” (Brown, 41) The dispute between whether drama should be used in the church has gone back and forth since the beginning of church history. Going back twenty years from now the church again began to have a more distant relationship with the arts and drama, but now again the arts are beginning to be reconsidered and revamped in the churches.
Should the church be involved in drama ministries? Or should the arts be totally disconnected with the church? This is the question the church has been wrestling with for centuries and a question that needs to be answered once and for all. Unfortunately this is not a black or white issue, there is a fine line for the arts in the church. On the one hand, art can become an idol in the church and take the focus off of God, but on the other hand art can also draw people to a deeper worship of God. Rather than banning the arts or taking the other extreme, the arts should be taken more as a one on one case. Each time a art piece is created whether it be music, drama, or something else we should ask ourselves, “is this giving glory to ourselves, the art piece or to God?” If the arts are not used to bring glory to God than they should not be used in the church at all. Philip Graham Ryken in Art for God’s sake, “At various times in church history, such as during the iconoclastic movement of the eighth century or the Protestant Reformation in Europe, church leaders have tried to smash this form of idolatry by taking statues and other works of art out of the church and destroying them. Generally speaking, they were not opposed to the use of art, only its abuse. But some Christians failed to understand the difference, and there was a lingering suspicion about the visual arts.” (Ryken, 11) People are suspicious of plays often because they of the world’s influence on them. They think that if the world does it the church is only wanting to imitate the church. “The theater has long had an unsavory reputation for immorality; so too cinema, with its dubious connections toHollywooddecadence.” (Ryken, 12) Ryken also points out that we cannot get away from arts. When we rearrange the furniture, make a brochure, present a monologue in church we are producing art. “We gravitate toward what is familiar, popular, or commercial, with little regard for the enduring values of artistic excellence.” (Ryken, 14) Why not since we are doing it unconsciously do it consciously and do it to the best of our abilities. God even used art in the Old Testament when giving instructions for his temple. The art that he was being produced for him was bringing him glory, not detracting from his glory.
The questions concerning drama in ministry have often been “how far can we go?” and “how much can we do?” These are the wrong questions to be asking. Instead of asking how much a drama used for ministry can go as far as language and physical contact are concerned we need to be asking how can we use drama to further thekingdomofChrist? And instead of asking how much drama we should do in the church, we should be searching as many different venues and opportunities as we can find to use these gifts and talents which the Lord has given us for Christ.
In taking it to the streets, a book written for artists, J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early’s definition of a prophet is a truth-teller. As Christian artists we are truth-tellers and as truth-tellers are responsibility is to tell the truth. Unlike evangelists and teachers we are given a more discreet yet powerful way to proclaim a message. Many times a message will not get across in a sermon, because people do not like being preached to. On the contrary, art such as drama, can often get a clearer message to the audience than a message could. Dramatic artists have just as big a role to play as do preachers and teachers because the message given through a play is often much more affective. Paul M. Miller in Create a Drama Ministry explains the history of drama in the church and how it can often be more useful and powerful than a sermon. He says concerning the Miracle plays of the 10th century, “The purpose of these works was to provide vivid reality to the essential Christian doctrines.” (Miller, 13) The fact that drama can be used in a very powerful way in the ministry is not a new concept. God has been powerfully using drama for thousands of years to get his message across to his people.
So art is a powerful tool, but how can we make sure that it is used correctly? In For the Beauty of the Church Crouch wrote a chapter which says, “I think that we Christians have made our peace, more or less, with useful culture. Especially when it can be used as a means for our own ends. If the song has Christian lyrics, if the painting has an appropriately pious subject, if the technology is used to deliver the gospel…we are ready and even eager to be culture makers. Contemporary churches are full of more or less artful delivery mechanisms for (no doubt important) messages.” (Crouch,38) We have reduced art to what we can get away with rather than perfection. We endorse cheesy plays simply because the message we are trying to get across is presented. It often does not matter to us how silly the play is as long as we get our point across. The problem is that as we are trying to send one message the wrong message is sent: we do not have time for this and do not care how it turns out unless it turns out somehow. This is wrong. As Christians we should desire to do our best for the Lord. We are often so preoccupied with squeezing in the message that we overlook the fact that the message is already there. By doing this we try to take the place of the Holy Spirit and we pretend that we can dictate what people will get out of our play. Crouch goes on to say, “For a long stretch of Christian history, including some of our finest moments as creators of culture, an overwhelming majority of that which was made with conscious artistic intention did indeed serve explicitly Christian purposes.” (Crouch, 38) If we are in intimate relationship with God themes will often come out of our work naturally without us overworking it. If a teacher is living in sin his message will not be as powerful as if he were living in holiness, in the same way, an artist who is living in sin will probably not have worshipful art but beauty comes out when one is living in a right relationship with God. A message should never be forced it should come out naturally.
Another consistent problem with drama when used in the ministry is that it has the tendency of coming across very cheap. Often Christian movies and plays present a very idealistic view of the world. This does not connect with the audience though, to reach the audience we need something that they can relate to and that will sometimes mean that not all or our characters will become Christians or live a happily ever after life time. While we should definitely offer the hope of eternal life in our productions we should present an authentic view of the world. Angela Brown, who teaches Children’s literature, says that to write a story we should start with a story and not a theme. Starting with a theme destroys the story because the whole story will be revolved around the theme. The whole point of the story is to draw out a theme not for a story to be drawn out of a theme. John Courteous quotes Dallas Jenkins in an article on Action Institute Power Blog he says, “The problem is that everyone knows good art should always put story and character above message. Message films are rarely exciting. So by their very nature, most Christian films aren’t going to be very good because they have to fall within certain message-based parameters.” (Courteous) Because Christians get so wrapped up in having every idea be a redeeming idea we fall into the trap of not making good materials at all. Themes will eventually come out of good stories but rarely will good stories come out of themes.
Should drama be used in ministry? Absolutely, the churches relationship with drama and the arts should be restored because it brings redeeming purposes. Through the arts we should image forth shalom. (Kammerzelt) This meaning that we should be the light of the world, showing who God is and bringing redemption to this world through this arts. It is not that we are seeking to redeem the arts, we are instead seeking to reclaim the art in the church. We do not need to imitate the world, we are redeemed children of the creator of this world. We have the answers. We can tell the stories. We are God’s workmanship, his artwork. And as his redeemed artwork we can bring forth redeeming art as well.
Brown, Angela.Readingand Writing Children’s Literature lecture. 2011
Corbitt, Nathan J. and Nix-Early, Vivian. Taking it to the Streets.Grand Rapids,Michigan: Baker Books, 2003
Courteous, John. “PBR: Cheesy Christian Movies and the Art of Narrative”. Action Institute Power Blog. www.blog.acton.org. 1 May 2009. web. 11 December 2011
Crouch, Taylor, et al. For the Beauty of the Church.Grand Rapids,Michigan: Baker Books, 2010
Kammerzelt, Brian. Introduction to Speech lecture. 2009
Miller, Paul M. Create a Drama Ministry.Kansas City,Missouri: Lillenas Publishing Company, 1984
Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God’s Sake.Phillipsburg,New Jersey: P& R Publishing Company, 2006