I should say first up that I’ve grown to appreciate and even love stained glass windows. But in my time I’ve heard — and, especially in my younger days, made — numerous criticisms of them. Criticisms such as:
- They promote idolatry.
- They don’t ‘teach’ much of anything without significant interpretation.
- They put off and intimidate unchurched newcomers.
I’m sure the list could be extended.
Although, I never really heard this one — let’s call it the missional critique of stained glass windows:
[T]he Church can never be satisfied with what it can be and do as such. As His community it points beyond itself. At bottom it can never consider its own security, let alone its own appearance. As His community it is always free from itself. In its deepest and most proper tendency it is not churchly, but worldly — the Church with open doors and great windows, behind which it does better not to close itself in upon itself again by putting in pious stained glass windows. It is holy in its openness to the street and even the alley, in its turning to the profanity of all human life — the holiness which, according to Rom. 12.5, does not scorn to rejoice with them that do rejoice and to weep with them that weep. Its mission is not additional to its being. It is, as it is sent and active in its mission. It builds itself up for the sake of its mission and in relation to it. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1 (pp 724-725)
What’s your feeling? Do stained glass windows risk undermining our identity, turning us in upon ourselves rather than turning us outward to face the world in mission and service?