Oh that is my FAVORITE HYMN! Can we sing that more often, pastor? This is a question that I get from time to time, and it certainly is one worth thinking about
How do we pick hymns? Why do we sing some hymns and not others? Is there such a thing as good hymns and bad hymns? All of these are questions that get us to the heart of who we are as a congregation. We could ask the question another way: what is happening when we gather Sunday morning, and how does what we do reflect what God is doing?
Let’s begin this important topic by looking to the Holy Scriptures:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16-17 NKJV)
Several things jump out at us about church music as we examine this text.
1. Music in the Church is connected to the “Word of Christ.” In other words, the music we pick, the hymns we sing, etc., must hold up Christ and the Gospel first and foremost. This may seem obvious, but much of the so-called “Christian” music out there has nothing or very little to do with Christ and His work.
2. These psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are to be rich and full of all wisdom. They are not to be simplistic and lead the people of God astray. Rather, they are to uphold the very best when it comes to proclaiming the Word of Christ.
3. This music is to be used for teaching. In other words, Christian hymns are about doctrine! When we give our congregation the very best of the church’s song, we are teaching them about Christ, who He is, and what He has done for us by His death and Resurrection.
4. The music is to be used for admonishing. This is an unusual word for us, but it is important. Christian hymnody is to have both Law and Gospel. It is to teach us what God demands of us in the Law, and what God gives us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
5. Finally, Christian hymnody is to be done in the “name of the Lord Jesus.” By upholding Christ and His work on the cross, we give thanks to God. Our hymnody must be Christo-centric. In other words, Jesus must not simply be mentioned, he must be at the heart and soul of our hymns.
This is a pretty high standard, isn’t it? Yes it is. It’s a very high standard because the proclamation of the Gospel is the most important work on earth, indeed, it is the very point of our existence as a congregation.
Now what does all this mean for us as a congregation? It means that we work very hard at Holy Cross to sing hymns that are both familiar and new. Some of our hymns are literally thousands of years old. Others are almost brand new. We hold on to the old, and we test the new to see whether the words and the music hold up to the weight of the message of the Gospel.
So next Sunday when you hear a hymn that maybe you don’t know as well, take a minute to sit back and look at it again. Ask yourself these questions:
1. What does this hymn tell me about my sinful nature? (The Law)
2. Does this hymn give me Jesus and His work for me? (The Gospel)
3. Would I want to sing this hymn when I’m on my death-bed?
4. Will this hymn stretch and strengthen my faith in Christ?
5. Do I want my children learning this hymn, so that they will know it for the rest of their lives?
If you do this, I am confident that the music of our church will open yours eyes to the wonder of God’s work in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world to Himself.
—–Pastor Todd Peperkorn