As we pray and plan concerning our church building, we want to remember that we worship the God of all beauty. We want the beauty of the Lord to rest upon us as we undertake this task. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Ps. 90:17).
But biblical aesthetics is not for children, and we must not fall prey to false dichotomies. I have heard, for example, people assuming that beauty should be contrasted with simplicity. But this is fundamentally wrong-headed, because simplicity is a central aesthetic value. Beauty contrasts with ugly, not with simple.
Both with architecture and with liturgy, there are some who assume that “if one’s good, two must be better.” The liturgy gets cluttered up with bright colors and shiny objects, and the architecture of the church looks, at the end of this process, like a gingerbread architect on acid did the whole thing.
What is beautiful and what we think is beautiful are not necessarily the same thing. Our job is to build something of high aesthetic value, but to do so taking into account the fact that the transition between the old covenant and the new represented a basic move in the direction of simplicity and gladness of heart (Acts 2:46).
Those who talk aesthetics are not necessarily good at it, and those who prioritize something else are not necessarily neglecting our responsibility to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. And that should be our fundamental realization—real holiness brings real beauty. Sham beauty brings out the tendency that some have to try to glorify God by making the church look like the inside of a circus wagon. On top of that, it is not long before a true sense of the holy and the numinous disappears as well.
So let the stones cry out.