Music and the Arts as Tools of Evangelism
On a trip to Key West my family and I visited the oldest church on the island as we walked the streets and visited the shops. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has represented Christ in Key West for over 170 years – at least we would hope so. In discussing the church with a local evangelical pastor, he noted that the gospel had not been heard from that church in many years. The theology is liberal and the social views of the clergy and membership allow for all manner of immoral behavior to be accepted as permissible. Truly darkness disguised as truth has a stronghold there.
Or does it?
As we entered the church, I found it interesting – even strikingly so – that amidst the activity and noise of the street outside the church’s interior was quiet. In fact, I would certainly describe it as a “sacred” quiet. As people entered the church, they whispered to each other. Many would find a pew and sit, listen, and observe the peacefulness discovered within the walls of the sanctuary. Calmness permeated the place and everyone seemed to know that respect and dignity were found there.
The church had been built (apparently rebuilt several times in 170 years) in the fashion of a small cathedral. The entire sanctuary was notably shaped as a cross. The entry was the foot of the cross, and as you approached the altar there were two “wings” with pews that shaped the arms of the cross. Unlike our modern buildings, cathedrals and churches of ancient times were constructed to preach the gospel without words. We can certainly see the reflection of God’s image in this human creativity when we consider that God, Himself, also preaches without words – for Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God” even though “there is no speech, nor are there words” (vss 1-3).
So, here in the midst of an apparently dead edifice and socially liberal congregation, I found the gospel being proclaimed. First in the quiet calm and peace found within those walls, and then more dramatically as I noticed the cross itself – the very symbol of the gospel and the good news of salvation in Christ.
But it didn’t end there. I began to walk about the building and look closely at the stained glass windows. There I found bold, unapologetic statements of Christian doctrine and truth. The doctrine of the Trinity – fashioned in glass – showing the truth of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons, yet one God. Reminders of God’s power as experienced by Israel in various Old Testament stories. Images from the medieval church reminding visitors of Christ’s work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, the uniqueness of Jesus as the God-man, the stories of the four gospel writers, St. Paul preaching at Mars Hill, Zaccheus in the tree, and on and on. I could have spent hours there and even my kids were intrigued as I began to explain the meaning of this artwork.
I tell this story because too often we assume that there must be some explicit statement of what we think the “gospel” is in order for us to be evangelizing. Although Christ’s work of redemption is central to the gospel, we must remember that it is part of the larger story of God’s work as He interacts with and cares for His creation. We can recognize the importance of truth presented in images, music (even without words!), and other creative endeavors as ways to present truth to the world around us.
I take my family’s experience at St. Paul’s in Key West as an example of this. Certainly, the church is presented as a tourist stop in the midst of the streets of the city. Certainly, the preaching of God’s word has diminished from what it once was. Certainly, we might question the morality of some who live aberrant lifestyles. Yet – in the middle of all that – the creative commitment of Christians many, many years ago infused the building itself with the truth of the gospel. For this we can be grateful – and maybe consider our own opportunities to “preach” the gospel in similar ways.