Q: Dear Pastor, why do churches have stained glass windows? Does the Bible mention them?
A: No, not really. Though the Bible does mention glass in some of its oldest books (Job 28:17), and we are told that there is glass in heaven (Revelation 4:6), there is no biblical mandate requiring stained glass windows in churches, if that’s what you mean. I’m confident this is the reason why many new structures built by our fabulous, non-denominational churches today do not include them. Stained glass simply isn’t a necessary item for Christian worship and it is very expensive.
But they are wonderful, aren’t they? And some would argue that stained glass windows help to set one’s thoughts on things above. They add to the worship experience, for sure, and are stunning creative works of art. They provide whole walls-full of beauty on a Sunday morning or sunny afternoon and often help usher in a joyful, meditative state for the viewer. The great cathedrals throughout Europe and the world contain breathtaking imagery and masterful, priceless walls of colored glass which are one-of-a-kind examples of artisan talent and devotion to God. To experience them from inside the echoing halls of these ancient worship places is remarkable. Heavenly!
Yet when stained-glass first appeared in churches around the third and fourth centuries, their purpose was compassionate and vital to the spread of the Gospel, not necessarily meant as a decoration. Widespread illiteracy in medieval times was a scourge plaguing the lower classes. The common people couldn’t read a Bible even if they were available to them. (The earliest known Bible printings began in the 1400s.)
Regular folks were therefore limited in their knowledge of God and solely dependent upon the teachings of a pastor or priest. They could not devote themselves to a study of the Bible so the artists began to construct colorful scenes which brought God’s testimony to life.
Important stories of the Bible are told in the elaborate windows of every ancient house of God in every corner of the world; the Lord graciously used members of the wealthy, educated classes to commission these special windows of instruction for their brothers and sisters of lesser rank. Soon the stained glass windows became a regular addition to the construction of every church. Parishioners listened to the teaching from the pulpit while gazing around at the sanctuary windows to learn the Bible in the only way available to them.
Our God is creative and resourceful to use everything he can to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. His desire is that “none should perish” (2 Peter 3:9) and that everyone is given the chance to embrace the knowledge of God and to know him personally. How wonderful that our God is faithful to bring his message to life as he reaches out to all people, no matter what their circumstances.
Adrienne Greene pastors two Christian churches in southeastern Indiana. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030.