Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe.
Forward into battle see His banners go.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng.
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
“Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,”
This through countless ages men and angels sing.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Do you remember the words of this hymn? Do they make you think of a choral festival? The word “soldiers” probably does not bring to mind images of singing teenagers, but this is exactly the kind of work that was going on at the ACCS Choral Festival in Spokane, WA.

Dr. David Erb, Fellow of Music at New Saint Andrews College (NSA), led the charge with countless others from NSA and The Oaks Classical Christian Academy, as well as the music directors from eleven area schools (reaching from Alaska to Idaho). The theme this year was “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which is about as counter-cultural as you can get. Over 400 secondary and college students gathered at The Oaks for a one-day choral festival where they received vocal training, specific instruction in choral works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Martin Luther, and William L. Dawson, and, most importantly, discipleship.

Dr. Erb’s engaging and humorous teaching style grabbed the students’ attention as he sought to produce a full, well-balanced tone. He explained why we should sing with focus and excellence. Our God is “Lord of Sabaoth,” which means “Lord of Hosts,” and when Schubert set the text of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he set it in the style of a march. “How we say something is just as, or more important, than what we say,” Dr. Erb persuaded the choir. The reason Schubert set these words in a march, rather than, say, a circus tune, is because he had something to say about who God is. The Lord of Hosts is a Lord of armies, and the world trembles when we sing of this.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise

The world is training our kids to raise a rainbow flag to celebrate sexual immorality; we strive to train our kids to raise the Lord’s banner of righteousness: “Forward into battle see His banners go.” The coming together of over 400 students from classical Christian schools is a picture that defies the current culture: believing teenagers, modestly dressed, respecting authority and each other, working hard to achieve a level of mastery in a single day, singing song after song praising the holiness of God. This is important work. Our children need this experience of working hard to present an acceptable sacrifice of worship to God, collectively, with their peers in the body of Christ.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod
We are not divided, all one body we
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity

I am a classical pianist by trade and have been involved with the choral community for a number of years as an accompanist. Currently the choral community, as a whole, is deathly afraid of catching or spreading COVID-19, and they sing with “veiled faces.” Beyond this, they are increasingly focused on spreading messages of tolerance, diversity, and equality apart from the knowledge of God. There are still choirs which sing great masterworks by Bach, Mendelssohn, and Schubert; however, they lack the fellowship and unity of the Spirit and thus are missing an essential piece of bringing these pieces to life: worship.

What the saints established that I hold for true
What the saints believed, that I believe too
Long as earth endureth, men the faith will hold
Kingdoms, nations, empires, in destruction rolled

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane
But the church of Jesus constant will remain
Gates of hell can never against that church prevail
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail

The ACCS choral festival is about more than just providing a singing experience for a bunch of teenagers. Dr. Erb intentionally frames his rehearsals with the purpose of worshiping and glorifying God. His goal is to create worshippers of our children, continually directing their eyes toward Him. “This is a taste of heaven,” he encouraged the students, as he reminded them that they were singing with a bunch of kids that they did not know – just like we will in heaven. Indeed, when parents and friends arrived in the evening to witness the production, we were invited to worship alongside these students as they were in turn worshiping alongside the cherubim and seraphim who are continually before the throne singing, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King
This through countless ages men and angels sing

My two oldest daughters attended the festival this year. We traveled from the Seattle area to Spokane, which required a hotel stay – a sort of school-sponsored “sleepover” with the girls’ classmates. It may be that their fondest memories of this weekend are the time spent with friends, staying up late singing at the hotel pool, watching movies, and enjoying some freedom away from the academic demands of school. I do not think they realize yet that undergirding all of this, seeds were being planted – little nuggets of spiritual insight, a one-of-a-kind experience of singing with over 400 like-minded teens, an equipping with the knowledge that when the saints gather to praise the Lord, He is pleased and we are fulfilling our purpose as worshippers.

This is the third year that The Oaks has hosted such a choral festival. I hope that it will continue for many years to come, and I hope that you will consider encouraging your children to attend if they have not already. This is the time in life when we get to give our children opportunities like this. If they choose to major in music, maybe they will have a similar experience in college. If not, they will likely not experience this kind of focused training in great choral works in their church. They will definitely not find the unity of fellowship and common purpose in a community choir. This is the time. Equip your kids. Send them to the festival so they can be equipped as soldier worshippers.

The book of Chronicles shows the choir being put out in the front of the people of Israel while God went to fight for His people. This business of worshipping is not for the faint of heart, but for soldiers. Thank you, Dr. Erb and team, for admonishing our children in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, for equipping them as soldiers to hold forth the Word of truth, and for teaching them to worship our God who deserves the highest praise. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. All the earth shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea… ✤