Corporate worship is the highlight of the weekly rhythm for Christians. It is the time when we gather together to exalt Jesus and renew our covenant with God. We are to do this in accord with the way he has revealed himself with his word.
Because of this, every aspect of corporate worship should be well-thought out. I think that evangelicals do a pretty good job, for the most part, in thinking through preaching, music, order of service, etc. when it comes to corporate worship. But what about the very non-essential matters? What about, say, how low we dim the lights?
I know what you are thinking: James, seriously? You are talking about light bulbs in church on your blog? Is this important in any sense of the word? This is worse than an argument about carpet patterns!
I would argue, yes, it is important. I would say, no, this is not worse than an argument about carpet. Paul said, “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Of course, he was talking about our manner of speech in a church service. But don’t you think that “all things” can extend even to our use of electricity to communicate God’s redemption?
My personal experience can testify to the fact that most of the churches I’ve been to worship in the dark. Not spiritually. I’m talking literally. The light bulbs are nearly turned off. The Bible has nothing to say about halogens and fluorescents, so there’s no reason to be dogmatic here. But Scripture talks at length about the concept of “light,” and I think it can give guidance about how to handle the dimmer switch on a Sunday morning.
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Jesus came as the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:2); he is the light of the world (John 8:12). God has shone into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of himself in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). The New Jerusalem, our eternal home, will be a place where there is no darkness (Rev. 21:25). Christians are called to be the light of the world, reflecting their Savior (Matt. 5:14).
Dimming the lights at church may get people “in the mood to worship.” It may get them “to focus on what’s going on up front.” But it sends implicit–though unintentional–messages. First, it sends the message that you can hide and not be seen. If the room is dark, we can slip into and out of the service without anyone noticing us. We may be able to fool others with our spiritual vitality, but God is light and he sees and exposes the hidden parts of our hearts. Light reminds us that our deeds will ultimately be exposed by the piercing light of God’s word (Heb. 4:12-13). No one is hidden and, eventually, your true heart allegiance will be found out. The church is a community of light: vulnerability, honesty, confession, forgiveness, and grace. Our worship environment should reflect this.
Second, a dark room also sends the message that church is a “personal time” with the Lord. You can literally not be noticed if the lights are so dim and you may forget there are people worshiping around you! Corporate worship is not personal time with God; it is a communal gathering with God’s people. When the blinds are open and the lights are turned up, we can (literally) see the people who worship around and with us. Physical light reminds us that if we walk in the light of God’s word, we have fellowship with one another and Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). To walk in darkness means that we are not in the fellowship of the saints. Our worship environment should reflect this.
Finally, a dark room sends the message that church is simply a place to have a cool experience à la a concert. It’s dark, the spotlight is on the guy with the mic, and I can sit snug in my little corner of the sanctuary and not engage with others. It can communicate a “come and see” mentality rather than a “be filled and go” mentality. It communicates that the point is to be entertained, not prepared to be ambassadors of the King throughout the week. Physical light reminds us that we are a commissioned people who are the light of the world, a city set on a hill (Matt. 5:14). We are people of the light who are sent out to light up the dark, dingy places of the world. Our worship environment should reflect this.
Whether sunshine or incandescent, we can use light to remind ourselves and communicate to others very important Christian truths. I’m curious: what are your thoughts on lighting in the church? Does it matter? Why or why not?