Simplicity Is Beautiful

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.

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Arnold RowntreeBert PerryJames BradshawK. Swanson Recent comment authors

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K. Swanson
K. Swanson

“Like a gingerbread architect on acid did the whole thing…” That made my day.

James Bradshaw

“As we pray and plan concerning our church building, we want to remember that we worship the God of all beauty”

Isn’t this subject to shifting trends of aesthetics? Perhaps at one point in history, the gauche decor of TBN’s sets may have been deemed beautiful, but today it’s merely overdone and tacky (well, at least to anyone who isn’t Liberace).

Bert Perry

I don’t know that simplicity is always beautiful I saw an aerial picture of Liberty University a few days back, and thought “that place looks like a giant Wal-Mart” came to mind.

Loved the “gingerbread architect on acid” comment, though. The same thought occurs to me when I hear a lot of Christian music–it is as if the “composers” were under the impression that they were only seven more instrumentalists away from true musicality.

Arnold Rowntree
Arnold Rowntree

The Greeks went from the simple beauty of the Ionic to the gaudy Corinthian and then the Renaissance followed suit and ended up in Rococo schmaltz. Modernism will do something similar. Its a pity churches don’t get to try this very often but others will follow your lead and there will be a development. The creation is groaning, waiting for architecture expressing “real holiness, true beauty”.