Recently a Roman Catholic bishop suggested that Christians could pray to Allah. Al Mohler posted a response on his blog. He wrote:
From its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son. How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion . . .and worse?
While I doubt that anyone who normally reads Worship Matters is thinking about worshiping Allah, it did remind me how important it is to identify the God we worship when we meet together.
Scripture tells us that the one true God exists in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are equally and eternally the one God. He is Three in One, or triune. We see something of the centrality of the Trinity in worship from Eph. 2:18, which says: “For through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” This passage implies that Christian worship is defined and enabled by the triune God. John 4:24 implies something similar. God the Father brings us into relationship with himself through the redeeming work of his Son, and applies that work to our hearts and lives by his Spirit.
“Father” isn’t a term we invented to describe God’s relationship to us. God has been the Father of Jesus from all eternity. And we don’t interpret God’s fatherhood through experiences we’ve had with our own father, whether good, bad, or non-existent. We derive our understanding of what fatherhood is from God himself (Eph. 3:14-15). God’s Word makes it clear that the Father is worthy of our worship (Phil. 4:20).
We come to the Father through the Son because he is the one mediator between us and God (1 Tim. 2:5). He came to live a perfect life, to receive the judgment against our sins that we deserved, and and to rise victoriously from the dead. Jesus is the perfect mediator because only he is both fully God and fully Man. As God, he can completely bear God’s wrath against our sin. As one of us, he is able to serve as our substitute both in his perfect obedience and in atoning sacrifice. Because he is God he is worthy of our worship, and the Father is glorified as we honor the Son (Phil. 2:9-11).
We come to the Father in the Spirit because the Spirit draws our hearts to Christ, to the Father, and to one another (1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 2:22). The Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, enables us to participate truly in the relationships of the Trinity, for our good and the glory of God. While the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship as God, his primary role is to magnify the Son for the glory of the Father, and to reveal God’s presence to us.
I could spend a lot more time expanding upon the nature of the Trinity. But that would make this post interminably long and there are books that have done a far better job than I ever could. I’ve listed some at the end of this post and I encourage you to read them.
The question is, how much do the songs we sing on Sunday define, articulate, reflect, and praise the God who has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit in Scripture? How many of our songs are limited to general second person pronouns or simply, “God?” Would there be much change to our song repertoire if we found out next week that God wasn’t triune? Would anyone in our churches even notice?
As a worship leader, I’m responsible to lead people in an accurate knowledge of God. I want people to be aware that we glorify the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Spirit. I can do that through the songs I choose and the way I pray. Saying that I don’t understand the Trinity (who does?) is no reason not to seek to understand God better and to display the glories of his triune nature as we meet. I want to be intentional about singing songs that draw attention to the distinct roles and relationships of the persons of the Trinity, while acknowledging that we worship the one true God.
A few years ago we sang a trinitarian song that simply exchanged the names of Father, Jesus, and Spirit in each verse. That made us aware that God was triune but didn’t help us understand the unique relationship and roles that each member of the Trinity possesses.
We can do better. While every Sunday doesn’t have to sound like “Trinity Sunday,” our song selections and prayers over the long haul should reveal our love for the Triune God. Some songs mention two persons of the Trinity (Jesus, Thank You by Pat Sczebel, O Great God , You Are My King by Billy Foote, You Have Been Good by Twila Paris), while others mention all three persons. Here are a few that we sing:
Come Now Almighty King
Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son
Holy, Holy, Holy
There is a Redeemer by Melody Green
Obviously, there are many more. The question is, are we using them intentionally? Let’s make sure that no one in our congregation has to wonder if the God we worship is Allah.
If you’re interested, some helpful introductions to the Trinity include Making Sense of the Trinity by Millard Erickson, God in Three Persons by Allen Vander Pol, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware.
In addition to the book by Bruce Ware, it might be worth mentioning his message “Worshiping the Triune God” from the WorshipGod 2006 conference, which is a free MP3 download here:
“The Name of Jesus” by Aaron Shust is another great example.
Hello Bob! I haven’t commented for a long time because I was away for 15 weeks at a Christian camp up north of Québec and I had no way to check your blog. Now I am back and I have started going at McGill university in Montréal. I decided to go visit the Anglican seminary on campus and talk with these professors to see if they were saved by grace, and they are not saved! I find it’s a shame that these people are ‘teaching’ the Bible but it’s all false. I asked them if they thought Jesus was God, and they replied no. They are pretty confused, and thank you for this post because it just reminds me of how important the trinity is to us. Don’t give up Bob! Oh and by the way I translated Jesus, Thank You in French, and we sang it at camp. The people were really touched by the song! Don’t give up in your ministry, and don’t stop praying for Québec!!!
Your brother in Christ, Gabriel
just a quick note, although this may not be wholly relevant to this topic. the name Allah is used as the name for God in the Indonesian and Malay Bibles, as it is the literal translation for those languages. Those who read the Bible in those languages do understand and appreciate the proper meaning of that word in this context.
keep up the good work, Bob! I appreciate your ministry and all that you do for the cause of the Gospel
I know folks usually don’t comment on others comments here but I was so encouraged to read Gabriel’s! The gospel is far reaching to every tribe, nation and tongue. It really builds my faith to read that they sang Jesus, Thank you in French! As far as the post, thanks Bob for sharing the gospel! It was a very encouraging post and such a sweet reminder of how amazing it really is that sinners like me have a relationship with God, the Son and the Holy Spirit! On a personal note, thank you for posting your daughters website (Perceive Design) on your blog. Kerrin and Megan have been working hard on some design projects for me. They are a blessing!
That’s fascinating. So I guess it’s safe to assume that this post won’t translate well into some languages…
As a worship leader, I feel it is very important to know the theological nature of the songwriters, or performers of the songs you are doing in a worship setting. This topic of the Trinity brings it to light since there are many writers and performers in popular Christian music that are of Unitarian influence, yet their songs and music are prevelant within worship circles. Or, they may not have written a song, yet they endorse it. The songs sound perfectly legitimate, yet they are unashamedly wrong in their conception, or their endorsement.
Pure practical question then: As a worship leader, how, or where, or can you at all, draw the line in using songs that are written by or endorsed by a Unitarian driven mindset in their conception, yet are “clean enough” or vague enough to be considered “Trinitarian” because they single out a “part” or parts of the Trinity? I ask this because there are some songs we do in our church that are “covered” by a few mainstream Christian groups, yet the groups have publicly slanted strongly toward a Unitarian view in recent years.
Thank You for your passion and your voice. It has helped me be a student of God
Let me start by saying that your last line was very encouraging.
Is “Unitarian” the word you want to use? Unitarians typically don’t believe in the deity of Christ. There are groups like Phillips, Craig, and Dean who are Oneness Pentecostals. They teach a form of modalism, that is, the teaching that God has manifested himself to us in three different ways (Father, Son, and Spirit).
In any case, I’ll use any song that proclaims biblical truth clearly unless I think the negative associations, personally or corporately, make it too distracting to use it. So, I’d use a song that Phillips, Craig, and Dean sing, despite their errant theology. I don’t think most people in my church would associate a particular song with the group, since I don’t believe they write their own music. And even if people did make a connection, most of them wouldn’t know that PC&D doesn’t believe in the Trinity.
I’m more concerned about doing songs from churches or ministries that put out a lot of music but tend to be shaky or confusing in their theology. In that case, singing one of their songs might lead someone to buy more of the group’s music or being exposed to their theology.
Bottom line, if I think singing a song has a strong potential of exposing people to bad doctrine through association, I won’t use it. But if we’re faithfully proclaiming God’s Word and teaching people to be discerning, the chances of that happening are minimized.
Is that helpful? Feel free to follow up.
haha it might not. There are always plenty of cross-cultural issues in theology which sometimes touch on very sensitive matters.
Unfortunately sometimes these cross-cultural issues even permeate into matters of worship (how we should worship, what instruments we are allowed and not allowed to use) and that sometimes creates a schism between Christians and even churches, especially in the east where sometimes being too “western” is frowned upon.
One of the main worries is that sometimes the songs we use here may present wrong or shaky theology, which is a worry because especially among the younger generations, the energy and volume of the music is paramount, rather than the theological soundness of content.
You wrote, “especially among the younger generations, the energy and volume of the music is paramount, rather than the theological soundness of content.”
The same could be said of the United States. Or probably anywhere, for that matter. I’m hoping this blog, and others like it, can contribute in some way to reversing that trend. But change is most likely to come when pastors and worship leaders in local churches look more to Scripture than rock concerts for their model of corporate worship.
Yes, when I visited AbbaLove Church in Jakarta, Indonesia it was interesting that Allah=God,Tuhan=Lord and Jesus=Jesus. Yet they were entirely Trinitarian in their theology. They lean reformed Charismatic as well as do you guys. Allah is just the Indonesian word for God and not, in their thought, considered a proper name referent to the God of Islam.
On to Trinitarian worship and balance. I once had someone approach me and say we don’t give equal time singing to the Holy Spirit. I was launched back to Dr. Kirkpatrick’s, my systematic prof, who said, “The Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity. He always points to Jesus.” Of course, I shared the quote with the member.
Hi Bob, I’ve always enjoyed the theologically solid lyrics + contemporary music of PDI/Sovereign Grace…
On worshipping Allah, do you know that Arab Christians and indigenous people groups in Asia actually do worship the triune God with the generic name “Allah”? And we had to contend with the authorities for the right to do so :)
You may like to check out the history of the term here:
Thanks for the info and encouragement. Yes, Enoch pointed out the same thing to me. In the West “Allah” obviously has a different connotation than in the East. Very helpful to know.
We are the Christian community in Indonesia, we are compelled to admit our country’s first principle is “Tuhan Ykang Maha Esa”, which suits other religions doctrines of oneness of God. However, I don’t think this principle suits the christian doctrine. We the christian in Indonesia should use the doctrine derived from the Bible: “I believe in one God (YHWH echad): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
Hello Bob am Bartholomew from Nigeria I was looking for materials to use in my teaching about the triune and came across your blog and honestly I have been so bless and u av made my teaching on Sunday much easier for me and have also increase my understanding about the trinity may God bless you