In Christianity Today, there is a monthly feature titled “Under Discussion,” where one of the magazine’s writers poses a question – always a bit controversial – and then lists the responses in descending order from ‘yes’ to ‘maybe’ to ‘no.’ The responses are usually from well-known experts in the topic. Obviously, the magazine feature is designed to elicit discussion beyond those of the experts, so the comments which follow the online article are numerous and varied.
Dim the Lights
One such article in last month’s issue centered on worship. The title of the feature was “Under Discussion: Should Churches Dim the Lights for Worship?” The answers from the experts were interesting. Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship at Hope College, who is much in favor of dimming the lights, stated,
The ability to ‘turn down’ the lights probably best encapsulates the lighting levels for Christian worship for centuries, when the ‘brightness’ of modern lights was not a possibility. Lights that are too bright can make it difficult to experience a gathered sense of corporate worship.
If we follow this logic, then to really encapsulate the feeling of worship centuries ago, we’ll need to shut off the A/C, throw out the pews, and do away with our modern texts and hymnals.
Don’t Dim the Lights
At the opposite end of the discussion, Bob Kauflin, director, Sovereign Grace Music, took the position that we should never dim the lights in our worship. He states,
No. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it. Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements, the gospel has suffered.
As a worship leader, I’ll land squarely on the “don’t dim the lights” side of this argument. Kauflin addressed this same issue on his website, Worship Matters, in February. While Kauflin does understand the reasons for turning the lights down, he majors on four reasons to leave the lights up. You can read his article here.
As I’ve led worship in the Church for the past 25 years, I’ve experienced both lighted and dimmed worship, and I’ve made the decision to dim the lights or leave them bright in worship gatherings. In some situations, such as a Christmas program, I’ve called for the house lights to be dimmed. This situation is more ‘presentation’ than worship. In our Tenebrae service, we’ll dim the lights as candles are extinguished to convey the feeling of darkness – that the light of the world has been put to death. Needless to say, lights are full on Easter Sunday morning.
The Church Gathered
I think the main thing we all have to consider is as we think about this is the congregation. The Church gathered is meant to experience fellowship and encouragement as we sing about and proclaim the gospel. We gather strength from knowing that we all are sinners saved by the grace of God, and that our hope is in a sovereign, almighty God.
Kauflin sums up the issue clearly when he says,
When we start quantifying worship by the lighting and mood, we’re already in trouble. We’ve slipped from viewing worship as a Spirit-enabled response to God’s self-revelation in the gospel to seeing it as an emotional experience that can be humanly produced and manipulated. Worship is not simply a mood. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it.
God has given us means to motivate and affect people – the Word, prayer, the gospel. He’s given us the Lord’s Supper and baptism as visual and sensory ways to remember the gospel and its implications. Aesthetics are important, but secondary. Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements the gospel has suffered.
So, what do you think? Should our worship gatherings be brightly lit, or should we dim the lights?