The next several Tuesdays I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the Christian’s engaging with the arts (visual and auditory) along with entertainment and media. Join the discussion and comment below!
Middle Age art is almost vaudeville in its division of secular and sacred. There was church art and church music, sacred in every stroke and tone, papal in its palettes. And then there was secular art and music, fit for the rest of life when outside the cathedral walls. 1517 changed all that with Martin Luther, a young monk who had enough of the selling of forgiveness and the gospel-clouding errors of the medieval papacy. His 95 Theses started the Protestant Reformation, and brought a new era to the understanding of the wholeness of true Christian living.
Luther recognized and clearly taught that for the Christian, whatever calling God bestows, it is a holy calling. The farmer, priest, politician and peasant worker each held their stations in life according to God’s gracious and holy purposes – and so long as they pursued them in faith, so God was glorified. Luther’s convictions on vocation (a.k.a., “calling”) was in stark contrast to the then taught distinctions within the Catholic Church, distinctions that made those who “took up the cloth” or who entered the holy life of monasticism of higher status before God than other vocations, and those activities that were overtly religious as earning greater favor with God.
Luther’s understanding of vocation flows directly from the New Covenant in Jesus:
“All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government– to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.” (Luther’s Exposition on Ps. 147)
For the artist and his art, for the musician and the listener, this is an enlightening truth: that as we set to use our gifts, there are no distinctions between sacred/secular as long as we offer them in faith and with eye to Jesus Christ. Hear reformer John Calvin’s voice alongside Luther’s:
“The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For God knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named these various kinds of living “callings”. Therefore each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life…and so that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.” (Institutes, III.xi.6)
Here is the end result of this reformation when applied to the music and the arts: no matter our station of life and our particular tastes or output of art – each has the potential to honor the Lord Jesus, to become springboards to glory!