Many Voices, One Song: A Reflection on Sing! 2021 and Christian Unity

“The trumpeters and singers joined together to praise and thank the LORD with one voice. They raised their voices, accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and musical instruments, in praise to the LORD: ‘For he is good; his faithful love endures forever.’”

2 Chronicles 5:13 (CSB)

Today, Christian unity feels as fragile as ever… until we sing.

I just returned from Sing! 2021, the Getty’s annual Christian music conference in Nashville, and am grateful for the three days of singing, studying, and fellowship I enjoyed with my brothers and sisters there. I’m writing this post because I don’t want a profound dynamic of this conference to be passed by without mention. It’s a truth we need to hear. Specifically, I want to encourage you as you head to church this Sunday to remember this repeated refrain from the conference this week. Here it is:

Singing together about Christ strengthens our unity in Christ.

Or, put another way, the Christians that sing together stay together.

Or, put in an even broader way, singing strengthens harmony.

If you’ve not been to a Sing! Conference before, it’s like a multi-day concert interspersed with preaching, interviews, and a handful of new songs from the Getty Music team. Along with lots of singing led by Keith, Kristyn, and their long-time band members, the conference features frequent appearances from Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Matt Merker, Jordan Kauflin, and other collaborating hymn writers. The conference is aimed at equipping music leaders and pastors for their ministry while also debuting some of the Getty’s newest hymns.

This year, Keith and Kristyn Getty used the conference to emphasize how singing strengthens unity. Let me point out a few:

  • The plenary sessions feature special guests from all over evangelicalism, from preachers to seminary presidents to hip-hop artists to astronauts to cellists to radio hosts to visual artists and on and on. In one night, the Getty’s shared the stage with Christ Tomlin, Bill Gaither, Sandra McCracken, David Platt, and Trillia Newbell. The Getty’s broad scope of friendships themselves say something about singing and Christian unity.
  • Almost all the speakers this year made a point to deal directly with division in the Church, applying the truths of the gospel to our strained ecclesial moment. Though they disagree in plenty of areas, they are powerfully about the gospel truths that they sang together those three days.
  • Jeremy Begbie, a Duke University professor and musician, spoke precisely about the uniting power of singing. Referencing a harmonious multiethnic orchestra with members from warring countries, Begbie observed that “you can no longer demonize someone you’ve just been playing [music] with.” Begbie went on to discuss how chords themselves can be an apt metaphor for diversity in unity, calling the church’s singing “the sonic unity of the body of Christ.”
  • The Getty’s introduced a new gospel-style hymn all about Christian unity. Without stealing their thunder before its release, note the lyrics in the bridge: “Look at what the Lord has done/Now we love with the love of Jesus/Look at what the Lord has done/Made us one by the blood of Jesus.”

You get the idea: this song-filled conference was also filled with calls to unity, and the intersection of those two things is no accident. As H. B. Charles put it in the first session, speaking about 1 Peter 2 and the Church, “Living stones aren’t loose stones… they’re singing stones.”

Isn’t it interesting that when Israel came together to worship God at the dedication of the temple, the chronicler notes that “the trumpeters and singers joined together to praise and thank the LORD with one voice.” Multiple singers, multiple instruments, multiple notes, and yet one voice. What a beautiful picture of the unified worship of God’s people, an image that was recaptured in part by the conference this week. When God’s people sing together, we stay unified together.

Now, to be clear, our unity as Christians only and ever comes from our supernatural union with Christ. Jesus alone has the power to unite and sustain the unity of his Church. However, we are commanded by Paul to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (Eph. 4:3). And it’s only one chapter later that he tells us that to be filled with the Spirit looks like “addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). Therefore, Paul seems to be saying that one of the ways the unity of the body of Christ is strengthened is by singing truth together. Music has a powerful ability to melt our hard hearts and bring us together in four-part harmony.

So, when you go to church this Sunday, and you open your mouth to sing the same words in the same chords at the same time as the people around you, praise God for the ways he keeps his people together. Look to your left, look to your right, and bless the Lord for his marvelous gift of melody, meter, and truth that can point us to the most profound similarity anyone can have with another: to be together in Christ.

Martin Luther loved music for many reasons, especially its unifying power. On that note, I’ll let Luther have the last word.

“When man’s natural ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress, and embrace.”

Luther, “Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae iucundae,” LW 53

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