Church worship and icons

A friend of mine posted today some thoughts I’ve also shared and discussed with other ministry friends concerning church worship and icons. I haven’t blogged about it, though, until now.

Here’s what she said:

…why do we put so much focus on the people playing the instruments and singing up front[?] Why don’t we put them in the back, or something? People seem to focus on the people up there, instead of God. I know that (well, girls at least) talk about what the people are wearing, and the motions that they did, etc. That’s not focusing on God. Why don’t we just put them in the back, or how can we as humans trying to worship train our minds to focus on God and not those things happening around us?

This really happens all the time, doesn’t it? During the singing part of worship on Sunday mornings, it’s easy to focus on so many other things. “Man, the projector is really dim. We need to turn more lights off in here. And why don’t they make the lyrics a larger font?” or “Did those sunglasses really stay on his head through the whole service or did he just put them back on for the closing song?” I’m not sure it’s possible or even our job to remove all distractions from the worship place since worship ultimately takes place in the heart and life of the individual, but maybe there’s a couple easy steps we could take to make the environment more conducive for it.

And then there’s the use of icons in worship, which has been popular for centuries. In protestant churches we tend to lean toward the icon of the cross, but why should this is our main focus? I mean, yeah, Jesus suffered and died on a cross because of our sin and it’s definitely an important event to remember, but maybe His resurrection is equally as important. If there was only a cross and a dead Jesus then Christianity wouldn’t exist anyway. His resurrection proves that He defeated both physical and spiritual death (the penalty for our sin). Otherwise, death would’ve won. Although using the cross to remember his crucifixion is legitimate and important, I wish we had more icons of empty tombs around to remind us to celebrate His resurrection. Lilly’s once a year doesn’t seem to cut it.

Posted on June 26, 2006

  • Ashley

    So, even if I did mind that you quote me…it’d be a little too late. :) Although, I really don’t mind….

    Good thoughts, I’ve been thinking about it a bit further today, and have thought about you and your thoughts about the icon of a tomb, and I guess, i’ve never really thought about the tomb, and the coming back to life conquering death as something seperate. To me, it all started on a cross, and without the cross, none of it would have even began.

    I do think the environment needs to change, but I’m easily distracted as well, so maybe I’m just being selfish in wanting to try to make less distractions for me, so that I can maybe focus on God better. Instead of focusing on God, to drown out the distractions…

    Just a few more thoughts.

  • Nancy

    The resurrection validates /proves salvation to us faith by sight crowd ,BUT the death on the cross is sufficient in itself for salvation with or without the resurrection. Resurrection fulfills prophecy and gives us assurance of our life after death. But Jesus said “it is finished” ON the cross before He was resurrected. Food for thought – Tim’s Mom

  • Nancy

    I SOOO would like to move the music/worship team to the back balcony or the back of the church .I think you are so right ( Tim’s mom)

  • Greetings, all.

    My first response is along the same lines as the original post. I also wonder why the singers get center stage. I attend one of those seeker churches, so I guess this makes a seeker more comfortable, like it’s a concert environment. Still, it’s strange. I attended a campus meeting a while back where the musicians/singers were in the background, and the worship leader stood behind a mic stand with his guitar the whole time (no moving around, etc). I liked it.

    I have a thought, Tim’s Mom, about your comments on death/resurrection. Sure, Jesus said it is finished, but it’s not clear (to me, anyway) just what was finished. Brand me a heretic, but Paul tells us (1 Cor 15) that without the resurrection, our faith is in vain. Notice that it’s not the cross that he emphasizes.

    In a VBS I did a few years ago, we did face painting. I started painting empty tombs on the kids’ faces, instead of the usual cross. When I looked around, there was a line a mile deep of kids wanting the tomb. The resurrection is good news.

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  • the other James

    Okay, but now look at 1 Corinthians 1:17 & 18. Paul attributed much power to the cross and said that the message of the cross is lost to non-Christians. His emphasis in those statements is on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. I would lean more toward the fact that Jesus died for us to take away our sins, but was resurrected to show us He really was the Son of God.

  • Tim

    I definitely do NOT mean to suggest that the crucifixion or resurrection is any more or less significant than the other. You can’t have one without the other. Both are vitally important. I’d just like to see more balance in the attention given to both during worship.

  • the other James

    I can agree with that, Tim. The Qu’ran teaches that Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t be too different from the Muslims. And, of course, I can’t comment on the worship services you have attended. Then again, I can’t really say how much the resurrection has been emphasized in services I’ve attended, either.

  • Hi, this is my first time posting on your blog. I just want to say that I completely agree that the focus of worship should be on God and on icons or symbols. When icons become too involved in worship, I think it becomes easier to focus more on them than on God. That’s may be why God commanded us not to worship graven images (Exo 4:3-5) – to keep the focus of our worship on him.

    But I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with having singers upfront, since the emotions expressed by the singers on their faces and in their movements may possibly aid in worship if that’s if the worshipper chooses (as long as they’re not too distracting). But it might be interesting to try – just have the audio without the visual. I really think worship is an individual matter. Two people can hear the same sermon or song and have a completely different experience depending on their preparation and focus.

    One last comment about using the cross – I love how you put it:

    If there was only a cross and a dead Jesus then Christianity wouldn’t exist anyway. His resurrection proves that He defeated both physical and spiritual death (the penalty for our sin). Otherwise, death would’ve won.

    It’s interesting to note that the reason you pointed out is the exact reason that the Mormon’s don’t use the cross on their chapels. They believe in Jesus Christ and his atonement, that He suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and on the cross, and that He rose again, and still lives today. But rather than focus on the icon of His death (cross), they focus on the resurrection with steeples that point to Heaven. So you’re not alone in your thinking. :)

    Both his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross are essential for why He came to earth, and so was the resurrection. WIthout it, none of us would be able to be resurrected.

    Thanks for the great post.

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