Are you longing for refreshment in your individual and congregational worship? This conference is for you. 7200 people singing together in four-part harmony… A taste of heaven.
As I sit down to begin writing about my reflections from the 2022 Sing! Getty Worship Conference, it is just minutes after we have returned from our trip to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, an excellent place to hold a conference. My heart and mind are full from what I experienced at the conference.
Many people have asked me just what the Sing! conference is all about. It’s like no other conference that I’m aware of. I could say it is part theology conference and part concert, but that doesn’t really get to it. It is organized by modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty. The conference began in 2017 and this year’s conference was the sixth in a ten-year plan. Sing! is an initiative to help individuals, families and churches deepen their faith through singing. The annual conference combines rich times of congregational singing, teaching at main sessions and attendees pick four breakout sessions. Each year, the ever-growing Getty writing team introduces us to new hymns from writers such as the Gettys, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Skye Peterson, Laura Story and others. Continue reading
Remember that question in Part I of Think Before You Sing (read Part I and Part II) I wanted you to mull over… What is the purpose of worship?
Is it to give us an emotional impact by replicating stadium-style worship concerts? Is it to bring young people into the church or brand our church?
Try this answer on for size: We are to worship God how God wants us to worship Him. Worship should first and foremost be designed to please God.
Worship must not be designed to please the unbeliever for evangelistic purposes or the believer to raise emotional fervor. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Yes, worship also raises our religious affections. So who would have guessed that Jonathan Edwards from the 1700’s would write about religious affections? A stuffy stodgy old Puritan? I dare you to read more about it: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2016/09/21/the-religious-affections-by-jonathan-edwards-a-qa-on-an-evangelical-classic/
Jesus taught the most basic principle for worship—“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Zeal of the heart is not sufficient to make our praise pleasing in God’s sight. One of the most enthusiastic worship services in history was the worship of the golden calf, and that did not end well for the worshipers (Ex. 32). Praise from the heart is not enough to please the Lord if we are not worshiping the true God, and so we must prize truth alongside ardor when we praise our Creator. We must emphasize both heartfelt praise of our Creator and worship that is structured according to His Word.
Are you a Spectator on Sunday Morning? I agree with modern hymn writer Keith Getty ~ Worship should also be the congregation singing to each other the goodness of the Lord; singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) and joining with the voices of Christians over thousands of years in singing timeless truths. It’s time to tear down the performance-oriented/concert-style stage, make the Word and the pulpit central again, turn down the volume of the instruments, turn up the houselights and enjoy singing alongside and hearing our Christian brothers and sisters sing of God and His glory accompanied by a variety of instruments. Can I get an Amen?
In Part I while thinking about worship lyrics and theology, we discussed “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong – you can read Part I here. I’m reminded of a song popularized years ago by Michael W. Smith, “Above All”. I recall Contemporary Christian artist and now pastor, Steve Camp, commenting about the poor theology in the song, which contained the chorus:
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
The song does affirm the substitutionary atonement of Christ. But it tells us that when Christ was on the cross, he thought of us (man) above all. Is that correct? No, Jesus went to the cross out of obedience to his Father, pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Son entered into a sacred agreement (the covenant of redemption) with the Father in eternity past. He submitted Himself to the obligations of that covenantal agreement. An obligation was likewise assumed by the Father — to give His Son a reward for doing the work of redemption. Christ became the heir of His Father’s promises and we are joint heirs with Christ.
We have to be careful when singing contemporary and traditional worship songs containing bad theology. Even the great hymn by Charles Wesley “And Can It Be” has lines that are questionable, indicating that Christ “emptied himself of all but love”. This is called kenotic Christology and says the Son of God set aside certain divine attributes when He became incarnate. Such is impossible, for then He would not be fully God and could not save us. John Calvin comments, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.”
What about Charles Wesley writing that God himself actually died on the cross?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Verse 2: ’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
Here’s a good article that addresses this error: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/
OK, can I just add an addendum…there’s bad theology in lyrics, and then there’s just bad lyrics. Take for example “Knowing You” by Graham Kendrick:
Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re the best? Really? Doesn’t it sound like a beer commercial? Our worship leader changed those words to “you’re my rest” which is a lot better.
So, yes, the theology in our hymns does matter. Words Matter. Fortunately, I’ve not had to worry about that at the church that I attend. One faithful servant has picked out the music to correspond with the text being preached for many years now. She chooses the best of the old and the best of the new, and often chooses songs written by Keith Getty, who desires to revive congregational singing. Check out his new book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church.
I’d like to encourage all of us (myself included) to learn to sing out of the hymnbook that God has already provided for us. No, not the Trinity Hymnal. The Book of Psalms!! You can’t go wrong with these lyrics. Crown and Covenant has put out Singable Psalms in pocket size. You can go to their website, crownandcovenant.com and also psalter.org and find companion resources such as a familiar hymn tune list & library, harmony helps, text search tool, phone apps and recordings.
So in Part III we’ll discuss the question… What is the purpose of worship?
Let me hear your answers!
Back in May, while in Atlanta for business, we visited a large church in our denomination. One of the songs that was sung during the worship service was new to me. I later found out it was “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong. The song is now being sung in worship services around the world, has become a best-selling song on the iTunes charts, and recently received Dove Award nominations for song of the year and worship song of the year (Dove Awards are the Christian music industry equivalent of the Grammy Awards). It is a song that is memorable musically, and allows Christians to focus on the name of the Lord, but does it contain some questionable theology? And does the theology of the worship songs we sing matter, or are they just intended to impact our emotions?
After the worship service, both my wife and I commented on lyrics from the song that hit both of us the wrong way. Those lyrics from the second verse were:
You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now . . .
These lyrics seem to infer that Jesus (and by implication the Father and Holy Spirit), was somehow lonely and incomplete without mankind. Jesus didn’t want heaven without man so He brought heaven down? But that is not the case at all of course. The Trinity has been in perfect fellowship, love and unity since before the beginning of time. And the only time heaven will be brought down is when the new heaven and the new earth is revealed (Revelation 21).
Two pastors and theologians that I greatly admire also share concerns about the song. For example, John MacArthur states “The writer of “What a Beautiful Name” would have us believe that the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was because He “didn’t want heaven without us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not remotely biblical. In fact, it’s doctrinal malpractice by people who should know better.”
And John Piper, in responding to a concerned listener on his “Ask Pastor John” podcast, states “It fits too easily into a theology of a God who created because he was lonely, and then saved people for the same reason. He just can’t be happy without us.”
Jesus taught the most basic principle for worship—“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Zeal of the heart is not sufficient to make our praise pleasing in God’s sight. Praise from the heart is not enough to please the Lord if we are not worshiping the true God, and so we must prize truth alongside ardor when we praise our Creator. We must emphasize both heartfelt praise of our Creator and worship that is structured according to His Word.” (From Glorifying God in Worship – Ligonier Ministries) We should thoughtfully participate in worship every Sunday, and be aware of the words that we are singing to God.
What other hymns or worship songs would you call out that have questionable theology? I’ll have a few more for you in Part II of “Think Before You Sing”. And while you’re waiting for those, mull over this question for me: What is the purpose of worship? Stay tuned for Part III !!!