by Lauren Crane
Just as the early church’s hymns represented “Christological explosions of worship,” so should modern worship include attention to appropriate theological teaching and singing.
This was the idea behind Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel service on March 31. The service, which combined exegetical preaching from 1 Timothy 3:16 with pertinent, theologically-rich hymns, represented a new initiative by Southeastern president Danny Akin. Instead of opening the chapel service with a few hymns and then following with teaching from the Bible, Akin and the music faculty interspersed theologically pertinent hymns into a verse-by-verse exposition of the text.
The unusually-structured service also brought a movement of God’s Spirit, as worshipers were ushered into an awareness of God’s presence through an awareness of the heritage of music in the church. The result was that many lingered after the service, not to chat with friends but to remain in the presence of God.
“When one studies the early church he will see an inextricable relationship between doctrine and doxology,” said David Nelson, dean of the faculty. In writing on the value of worship, Nelson said, “Christian worship should point us toward the world to come, since the assembly of believers is a gathering of people who worship in this age, anticipating the age to come.”
“What we sing when we worship should matter, because what we sing should reflect our theology,” Akin said. Looking at the text in 1 Timothy, Akin said it is one of several early confessional hymns to Christ found in Scripture.
“What purposes did these hymns serve and what insights do we glean from studying them?” Akin said. “The hymns reveal the kinds of Christological affirmations made in the earliest days of the church. Because the hymns are earlier than their citation in the New Testament, they are even more primitive than their New Testament record.”
Akin also said the hymns of the early church represented “Christological explosions of worship and adoration.” Focusing on the scriptural hymn found in 1 Timothy 3, Akin said this has been referred to as “Paul’s How Great Thou Art. It is the high point, the very heart of this letter, wedding beautifully how we behave with what we believe.”
Beginning with the first stanza of verse 16, Akin said this scriptural hymn begins by highlighting the incarnational aspect of Christ.
“Unlike the pagan gods of the Greek pantheon that often masqueraded as men, the Son of God became a man adding to his divine nature a true and genuine human nature,” Akin said.
In this spirit of recognizing Christ’s humanity, Akin led the student body to sing Here I Am to Worship.
Upon reading and analyzing the text of this biblical hymn, believers should be reminded to sing also of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord when he was seen by angels, as is detailed in the text.
Quoting David MacLeod, a professor at Emmaus Bible College, Akin said the legions of angels doing God’s bidding “must have stood in stunned silence as God the Father allowed his son to be nailed to a stake. Surely, therefore, the angelic host shouted for joy at the sight of one of their number rolling away the stone to reveal an empty tomb and when, squadrons of angels escorted the Lord of glory back to his heavenly home.
“Witnessed in heaven by the angels, believers now bear witness on earth to King Jesus to the nations,” Akin said. “One is supernatural but the other is natural. One is superhuman but the other mere mortal. This Jesus is adored in heaven but He must be proclaimed among the nations. The latter is a divine assignment given to you and me.”
1 Timothy 3:16 also teaches that believers should worship the Lord by meditating on and singing about the salvation of the Lord by following the example of the angels, as set forth in scripture, Akin said.
“In heaven they sing about the salvation of our Lord,” he noted. “On earth, we must do no less. Indeed with the angels above we join our voice and sing Revelation 5:12, ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’”
As Akin expounded upon the final stanza of the verse, he urged the Southeastern family to wait expectantly on the promise found in the end of the scriptural hymn, as well as the end of the more modern hymn, which had not been sung completely.
“Thus, thru the singing of this hymn we confess that our Lord was revealed by His incarnation and resurrection (verses one and two), is witnessed by heaven and earth (verses three and four) and is honored on earth and in heaven (verses five and six). How then do we respond to this, our great God? The hymn written by Phillip Bliss says it as well as any I know. Its title: Hallelujah, What a Savior.”
The gathered students closed the chapel service singing the final two verses of Hallelujah, What a Savior.
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.