Editorial: Singing, church, judgement, and fear

Singing, church, judgement, and fear: that’s what this coming issue of The Briefing is all about.

Recently I spent a week at the Hillsong Conference in Sydney. There were many wonderful things about the week, along with a number of troubling issues. I’m still trying to process everything that went on there, and I’ll say more about it in due course.

One thing that the main rallies did for me, however, was remind me of the power of song. A number of the songs over the week were really excellent, both musically and lyrically. These songs showed me again how music can tap into our emotions in a way that little else does, and weave lyrics into our memories. Singing in a packed concert arena along with 20,000 other people who were clearly passionate for the glory of Jesus to be known around the world felt a little like a foretaste of heaven, where God’s people stand around his throne and declare praises to him and to the Lamb (Revelation 4-5).

Rob Smith has some excellent things to say in this month’s Briefing about the varied purposes of singing (this article will go online here next Monday). Church music is one of those topics that tends to readily divide Christians—by all means talk about Jesus or even politics at a dinner party, but make sure you don’t mention  music. ‘Judgement’ and ‘fear’ might be two words you readily associate with discussions of church music. In fact, some of you might be right now composing (approving or angry) emails to me over my mention of Hillsong and their songs. How many of our churches have people up in arms over the style of songs we should be singing (hymns or contemporary Christian rock), the instrumentation (drums and electric instruments, organ/piano, or unaccompanied), the number of songs (four in a row to start the service or single songs spaced here and there throughout), or where the band should be located (on a stage or tucked away in a corner)?

Rob cuts through a lot of that in his article to bring us something that gives us lots of positive things to say about the place of music in church. For it really is a gift to us that as we meet together, gathered by Christ, hearing from him in his word, we have the privilege of speaking that word to one another in such a variety of ways. We can praise him for what he has done, we can read his word together, we can pray as one body to our Lord, we can declare our faith together, we can exhort one another to live for Jesus as his disciples—and then there’s all the things we do together that aren’t singing.

Alongside Rob’s article, there’s plenty more in this issue that I trust will be of benefit. Andrew Shead writes on how Jeremiah went about proclaiming judgement—hardly a politically correct topic, but a very biblical one, as he demonstrates (watch for it on Sept 17). Richard Coekin talks about church planting in the UK context (Sept 24), which is a useful complement to Al Stewart and Tony Payne’s article in issue #399. David Mears rounds up his series on the fear of God with a number of practical suggestions (Oct 1).

Singing, church, judgement and fear—that’s what we’re talking about this issue. Although perhaps not in the way you might have thought.

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