Sunday, 22 November 2015

Theology in worship continued: How Great Is Our God

I am still not done with the arche thread, but a song I (mostly) sang last week in a collective worship context reminded me of the theology in worship thread, which is a very open thread. Previous posts tracked a number of songs considered by to be among the best of 2014, grounded on three or four criteria, one of which was apparently biblical faithfulness.

Last week, I turned something of a new page. No, I have not suddenly become a Trinitarian trumpeter, but I do now have a deeper desire to serve God and the church. It's quite exciting. One area where I can see coinciding my own Scripture-minus-creeds reading and the Church's Scripture-plus-creeds reading is on person distinctiveness. Since the fouth century, it has always been heretical to believe that the Father is the Son. Declared orthodoxy is that somehow the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the one true God in a qualitative way (one essence or substance). The big question is: is it still heretical today to be a modalistic Christian?

Today's song I object to because of the new shared-ground foundation. As before, first the song, then the lyrics to give readers time to have a think about where things might be going awry.

The splendor of a king
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps Himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see
How great, how great is our God

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead Three in One
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

Name above all names
Worthy of all praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

As with many modern worship songs, the Father is mainly absent. I actually would say that He is totally absent from this song, and I want to explain why that is because it must seem like a nonsense following on from the line "Father, Spirit, Son".

This song is pure modalism. It is one thing to sing only a song to Jesus - that's more than fine, provided churches do not do this to the overall detriment of the Father or to the detriment of the precious interplay between them and the Spirit. But this song is all about Jesus, it is describing him as king, correct, clothed in majesty, correct, inspiring awe, correct. Then we have the chorus (How great is our God..."), which could just about be seen as a step back to admire the full Triune God, or even more unlikely, letting our gaze now turn to the Heavenly Father by whom we are now connected through Jesus. But then you get to verse 4, and you realise that we are simply too optimistic in evaluating Chris Tomlin's care. His line about Father Spirit Son, Godhead three in one seems to now cast the song in a deep and rich historic depth. But if you had any doubt at all about what I am saying, look at the very next line: the lion and the lamb. BOTH OF THESE DESCRIBE GOD'S SON JESUS.

It's pure modalism, friends; albeit with a slightly different twist to the traditional Sabellian controversy. More on that another time.

We should all consider pushing the eject button on this song!

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