LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) -- Worship leaders and pastors gathered at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Nov. 8-10 for the Doxology and Theology national conference. Matt Boswell, pastor at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, hosted and organized the conference.
The theme of the conference was “liturgy,” and the main sessions highlighted the church’s need to sing, read, see, pray, and preach the Word of God on a regular basis. Each session highlighted one of those five liturgies in a 45-minute sermon, and included dedicated singing time and short, 15-minute talks.
Composer Keith Getty, who has written many modern hymns including “In Christ Alone,” spoke on how Christians can “sing the Word,” and argued that a church’s liturgical library plays a major role in shaping the spiritual character of a congregation. There are more than 400 occurrences of the word “sing” and related words in Scripture, making it the Bible’s most common command. This means the church should take its singing seriously, he said.
“What every one of us do — in choosing songs, in arranging songs, in singing songs, in playing for songs, and in crafting songs — is of such critical spiritual importance,” he said. “We have to love the Lord, love our families, and love our churches enough to make sure that the songs we sing will help build his kingdom.”
Getty explored three reasons for why Christians should sing, noting that they are (1) commanded to sing, (2) created to sing, and (3) compelled to sing. God wired everyone to enjoy music, and believers who have experienced redemption can’t help but express their joy through singing, he said.
“We need to make sure our congregations know that God has created us to sing,” he said. “It’s part of what it means to be fully human.”
Scholar Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, said Christian worship should be “Bible-saturated and Bible-directed” in his talk, which was titled “Read the Word: the historical, biblical, and pastoral importance of reading the Word of God in public worship.”
Many evangelical churches are reading the Bible less, Duncan said, while theologically liberal, mainline Protestant churches read more Scripture than their biblically focused counterparts. While this occurs in mainline churches more out of tradition than devotion to the Bible, “that should not be so,” according to Duncan.
“We’re the Bible guys,” he said. “The Bible ought to be in our services. Nobody ought to be able to escape the Word of God when they come to [our] worship services.”
Christian worship can be defined as a “Word-mediated encounter between the congregation and the living God,” Duncan said. While there are many reasons one might attend a worship service, one of the most important is to be present with God. Yet this is mediated by the Word, according to Duncan, because that is how the God of the Bible chose to reveal himself to human beings.
“The reading of the Word of God has been an essential component of Christian worship throughout the totality of the history of the church,” Duncan said, noting that the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4 told Timothy to “devote himself to the public reading of Scripture.”
“In reading the Word of God, God speaks most directly to his people,” he said. “So this act of worship — in which the verbal, self-revelation of God is addressed unedited to the hearts of his gathered people — ought not to be ignored.”
The other main speakers during the conference were Tony Merida, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Afshin Ziafat.
Singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken delivered one of the 15-minute talks, and argued that the source of any creative community life is the Trinity. The life of the Trinity indicates that all humans made in the image of God were created for relationships and community, she said. After her talk, McCracken led an hour-long hymn sing. The speakers who delivered shorter talks during the weekend were Matthew Westerholm, Matt Merker, Jonathan Welch, Mike Cosper, and others.
Doxology and Theology is a ministry designed to equip churches to lead their people in worship. Audio and video of the weekend’s events will soon be available at equip.sbts.edu.
Andrew Smith is the news manager at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminiary in Louisville, Ky.