The ordinary preaching of the word of God, and particularly the good news of salvation, eternal life and an inheritance in Christ alone where moth and rust don’t destroy is what the Reformation church was all about. Therefore, that is what was elevated in Calvinistic churches.
[This editorial article reflects the opinion of its author.]
The Reformed churches used to whitewash the inside of former Roman Catholic cathedrals, making them more ordinary interiors not because they despised art or beauty, but because they were drawing a line in the sand and essentially saying: The ordinary means of word and sacrament were to be the focus and means of teaching maturing and preserving those in Christ. Because formerly things like reading and the bible itself were held in the hands of the Roman Catholic priesthood, things like religious paintings, sculptures and carvings were ways of depicting biblical scenes and events in cathedrals, and therefore means of continual teaching to the uneducated citizens of the middle ages, although some of these particular things were probably used as a sort of idol or icon in prayer.
As far as paintings, or etchings however, think of it like teaching a child through a picture book. Also, the way one’s eyes were taken upward in most cathedrals had some intent to make one think up above towards God or whatever mediators the adherent was taught to speak to. Later opulence and artistic flourishes became more about the majesty and authority of the Roman Catholic Church itself. Baroque architecture where beautification, majesty and power of the structure itself was more the point. This was part of Rome’s answer in their Counter Reformation.
So, whitewashing was taking one’s attention off of the building, the images, the eye-candy. The Reformers took the position that the building or what is in it is not what is sacred, or holy, or to draw one’s eye and attention. The ordinary preaching of the word of God, and particularly the good news of salvation, eternal life and an inheritance in Christ alone where moth and rust don’t destroy is what the Reformation church was all about. Therefore, that is what was elevated in Calvinistic churches. Except for less than thoroughly Reformed circles. You can find imagery in Lutheran churches today which itself is a tradition that is less thorough in Reformation than Calvinistic tradition. In the Calvinistic tradition through the Church of England there is Anglicanism, which unlike Calvin’s Geneva did seek to hold on more of the old ways in a sort of hybrid manor, and so Roman Catholic things like Lent, and Advent were kept going. Stained glass windows with biblical stories, and even images of Jesus (2nd commandment issue?) are found today in many Anglican (or Episcopalian) cathedrals and churches.
Advent is celebrated with different colored candles lit up in the area of worship (how well do flames before the Lord go in the bible?) to teach, and inspire spiritual nourishment just as Rome had done. For Lent, fasting and 40 symbolic days of sacrifice where spiritual disciplines and times of reflection independent of the normal means offered in the Church are propped up.
These are the hybrid ways, and less thorough of a Reformation. This imagery and ritual takes on an almost mystical type of reflection that seems to me most similar to the kind of reflections we do with the elements associated with the sacraments. Yet, we find the command to do these things nowhere in the scriptures. Therefore, absorbing these things into worship violates the Reformation principle that Sola Scriptura regulates worship and practice. This is of course known as the Regulative Principle of Worship.
Regulative Principle is part of Presbyterianism since John Knox. However, it seems that in the past 100 years or so, Presbyterians have started to absorb this practice from other traditions. It would seem that Presbyterians in a push to reach the world have looked at the culturally superior Anglican/Episcopal traditions and determined to be more of a traditional Swiss Army Knife absorbing that aesthetic into a tradition that had formerly rejected it.