Honest Hymns

I realize I’m not the first to think about this topic, but it’s interesting to visit the arena of church music, especially to pay attention to the lyrics. As fundamentalists, we’re often hard pressed to strive for purity in all areas of life. When it comes to music, one could accurately say this issue is one of the top issues of controversy. And that’s fine – too many churches have incorporated worldliness into their services. But, of course, the issue of music isn’t just about the style itself. Lyrics must also be considered.

Now I don’t intend at all to take a look at every common hymn and dissect it for error. These were all written by men and as a result, error is prone to happen. But what is very interesting to me is that there seems to have been a shift in evangelical hymn writing – a shift from hymns about God to hymns about self. Rather than using a hymn to praise God, newer hymns seem to emphasize us: our faith, our love for God, our holiness, our willingness to serve, etc. Now, I know the Bible contains psalms about self, but they are normally psalms of mourning or cries for help. If we are going to incorporate “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us” into hymns that we sing to the Lord, we’ve got to be honest.

If we were honest. . .

When it comes to songs about us, we’d have to change a few things. Instead of “I Surrender All”, perhaps it should be “I Surrender Some.” Instead of “O I Want to Be Like Jesus”, how about “O I’m Comfortable Where I Am, Thank You”? Rather than “Oh, How I Love Jesus”, we should sing, “Oh, How I Like Jesus.” Or “Where He Leads Me, I’ll Think About It” rather than “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow.” I love the suggestion in the above link that changes “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” to “Blest Be the Tie that Doesn’t Cramp My Style.” Also, consider “Mandatory Minute of Prayer” for “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” 

We could also simply add to some hymns to make them more palatable: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord – Just Not With My Life!”; “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken – Until I Get Tired of Holding It”; “I Am Resolved – For the time Being”; “Take My Life and Let it Be. . .The Way I Want It To Be”; “I Love to Tell The Story – Just Not In Front of My Co-workers, Friends, or Family”; or “Just A Closer Walk With Thee – Unless You Lead Me Somewhere I Didn’t Want to Go.”

Obviously, we can have a lot of fun with these songs. But a few serious thoughts come to mind. First of all, we don’t want to be overly nit-picky. Some of these songs were designed to inspire a certain attitude, not to declare to God how we really feel. That being the case, they should be sung with that in mind. Don’t sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” or “My Jesus I love Thee” because you think you’re praising God with your amazing determination and love. Rather, sing it unto Him as a hope for your own life, knowing that He certainly is worthy of such commitment and adoration!

Secondly, and building upon the first thought, if one were so overcome with the problems presented here, instead of changing a song from “I Have Never Lost the Wonder of It All” to “I Sometimes Lose the Wonder of It All”, how about “Lord, May I Never Lose the Wonder of it All”? See the difference? Personally, I don’t think changes must be made to the lyrics or titles, but if we did, I’d rather do it that way. In any event, we should strive for honesty.

Finally, I didn’t have time to do the research (maybe someone could help), but it seems that most songs about self do come from a later period. The earlier hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress is our God”, “Doxology”, “Glory be to the Father”, Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty”, “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” seem to have their origins from as early as the 2nd century up until the 17th. Somewhere in the middle of 18th century, songs about us began to be produced. This is about the same time as revivalism, to which many attribute man-centered evangelistic efforts of today. Interesting.

When it comes to worship, if we’re singing a song about God, let’s determine that it would be doctrinally pure. If it’s about us, let it be sung as an inspiration to move to the next level of the Christian life. Whatever we do, let’s determine to do it to His glory, and do all things honestly.

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3 comments so far

  1. TJ on

    Good point. It’s a little funny that you’ve raised the idea. I can vouch from personal experience.
    When I was 9 years old, I attended one of those good-old-fashioned camp meetings during which the congregation sang “I Surrender All” as an invitational song. I was overwhelmed with guilt because I knew that there were things I had never “surrendered” to Jesus. The thought kept echoing in my mind, “I’m lying if I sing this!” My older brother noticed my demeanor, took me aside, and explained to me how to be saved.
    Now, some may say that that was only the conscience of 9 year old talking. However, realizing that I fell far short of what God required of me led me to repent and believe.
    Can I now always sing that song without lying? More often than not, no. Nevertheless, every time I hear or sing it, it reminds me of where I am and where I should be in my walk with my Savior.

  2. Abigail on

    Have you ever considered that God has already given us His song book for praise in the Bible? If we sing His songs to honor Him we are offering words of praise that are truly acceptable and inspired by Himself. Do you ever wonder what songs Jesus sang? Did Jesus sing words of sinful men or the pure golden words of truth untainted by man- the words of His Father given to Him and us in His word? The Psalms Hymns and Spiritual Songs given to Moses David and the Prophets.
    Bless you
    Abigail

  3. seanmccoskey on

    What do you mean by “the next level of the Christian life?”


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