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Music & worship draw focus of Baptist theologians

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP) — A biblical argument for congregational singing, insights for planning worship and a case for multigenerational worship services are among the music-related topics being discussed by Southern Baptist theologians.

Such topics were featured in at least eight presentations on biblical worship at the most recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. At least five of those presentations were given by scholars affiliated with Southern Baptist-related institutions.

In all, the fall meeting in San Antonio, Texas, featured approximately 600 presentations, including some 175 by scholars with ties to Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and colleges that partner with Baptist state conventions.

Congregational singing

Jonathan Welch, pastor of worship development at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., presented a “theological case for congregational singing,” arguing Scripture demonstrates at least 10 functions of corporate singing among God’s people.

“Those entrusted with song selection” in churches should “choose songs that facilitate the full breadth of theological functionality represented by the ten points in this paper,” Welch, a doctor of philosophy student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a paper he presented at the Nov. 15-17 meeting.

Among the scriptural functions of congregational singing noted by Welch:

— It praises God.

— It expresses worship “in particular cultural forms associated with” the singers.

— It “can connect present worshipers with the historical past.”

— It “orient[s] the people of God toward an eternity of worship in Christ.”

— It allows believers to proclaim God’s Word to one another.

— It “is an expression of unity and solidarity in the … body of Christ.”

— It teaches doctrine.

— It expresses and influences emotions.

— It can “be an evangelistic witness.”

— It is a type of prayer.

“The Gospel of grace frees the Christ-follower from the works-righteousness of singing to please God,” Welch wrote, “but Christians who abstain from singing practically disavow the ten theological functions of congregational song.”

Freedom & order in worship

David Toledo, assistant professor of music ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, drew insights for planning and conducting worship services from 1 Corinthians 14. That passage, he argued, “provides the rationale and scriptural basis for the balance of form and freedom that is cherished by those in [the] Free Church tradition” of Southern Baptists.

Among Toledo’s insights, he argued for “the radical participatory nature” of corporate worship,” noting Paul’s teaching that “each one” in the congregation has a spiritual gift to be exercised in corporate gatherings.

Rather than focusing worship services exclusively on “obviously gifted leadership” through a concert-like setting, Toledo wrote in a paper he presented, “congregations must recover the appreciation of the giftedness of the entire assembly.”

Toledo drew on Paul’s teaching about the use of tongues in worship — though he did not advocate speaking in tongues — to offer insight on corporate prayer. Such prayer should be characterized by “Spirit-led expression” and “tempered by an understanding that the other members of the congregation must be able to offer their affirmation and endorsement of the spoken prayer.”

He argued freedom in worship should be balanced by “a fierce commitment to the supremacy of the Word of God in all matters of practice and theology.”

Isaac Watts & the Trinity?

Scott Aniol, assistant professor of church music at Southwestern, argued the hymn writer Isaac Watts expressed his views on the Trinity “in questionable ways” at times in sermons and writings despite his legacy of hymns with strong Trinitarian lyrics.

Watts, an 18th-century English minister who has been called “the father of English hymnody,” wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” among other hymns.

“Charges [that Watts] was less than orthodox in his doctrine of the Trinity” stem largely from works he published in the mid-1720s, Aniol wrote in a paper he presented. Though Watts seemed to affirm orthodox Trinitarian doctrine earlier and later, he argued between 1724 and 1727 that Jesus possesses “two distinct persons” — God and man. Traditional Christian doctrine asserts Christ possesses one indivisible person and two natures.

Watts also said he could not reconcile “both the literal deity and literal personality of the Trinity,” Aniol wrote, and that Christ may be due “mediate or subordinate forms of worship.”

By the end of his life in 1748, “it does appear that Watts reverse[d] some of his more questionable views from earlier works” though he continued to argue “belief in a particular explanation of the Trinity is not necessary for salvation,” Aniol wrote.

In the end, “whether or not he rejected [traditional] Trinitarianism” in some works is far less significant than “his lasting impact,” Aniol wrote. “Many of his hymns are strongly Trinitarian” and “have inarguably had a more lasting influence upon Christians and their worship than his treatises.”

Multigenerational worship

Robert Pendergraft, assistant professor of church music at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, argued the work of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson suggests all generations within a church would benefit from attending corporate worship together.

“Age segregation in worship stunts maturation and growth of the congregants by not embracing the needs of those at varying developmental stages,” Pendergraft wrote in a paper he presented. “This is not just a critique of those that separate children from the service, but also is directed toward any generational marketing, be it toward children, youth, young adults or senior adults.”

Pendergraft’s paper traced the eight life stages proposed by Erickson — a 20th-century psychologist who drew from “Judeo-Christian monotheism” — and argued aspects of corporate worship benefit individuals at each stage. For example:

— “The presence of children with their parents in worship allows the infant to develop … trust [in parents] … and allows the congregation to be constantly reminded of” its need to trust God “in the same manner.”

— Intergenerational worship allows children “to begin mimicking the actions of those in the congregation.”

— In corporate worship, “mature believers” can “walk alongside” adolescents “who are searching for a place of acceptance and point them toward the right defining source of their identity, the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

— “Older adults” can observe “a new generation of worshippers” and “realize they have left a legacy for the future.”

Pendergraft, who told Baptist Press “logistical considerations” of intergenerational worship “were beyond the scope of the paper,” concluded, “All congregants should have parts of the service in which they can cognitively and physically participate.”