I get letters—lots and lots of letters. And, from time to time, I share some of the best of them. Here are some recent letters to the editor I thought you would enjoy. They concern hymnals, Christian celebrity, and Christian moms.
Letters on What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your discussion about hymns and hymnals, and even more so, reading the Letters to the Editor section and people’s additional thoughts. Thanks for your wise inclusion of some very helpful considerations from other viewers and their comments.
—Paul, Eugene, OR
As ‘older’ believers, we wonder what more recent generations will be singing when their mental faculties falter and all they can call to mind are memories of years long past. In doing nursing home ministry, we see those who have virtually no memory and cannot communicate, yet when old hymns are sung you can see the lips move and the words of those wonderful hymns come out. As praise songs change rapidly and few last more than a few years, I wonder what these younger people will be singing as they age and memory fades, with only the deepest memories remaining. While we love some of the newer praise songs and do not mind at all that we use some of them regularly in corporate worship, they do tend to take over and dominate the music of the church if the elders are not intentional in making certain the ageless deep doctrinal hymns are not lost in the drift to sing more exciting and ‘relevant’ songs. So far we have retained a pretty good balance, but if the leaders of a church are not firmly committed and do not teach the congregation well (re. the value of hymn singing), they will loose this battle.
—Don L, Godfrey, Il
We do not have hymnals, nor do we have a Power Point presentation on a screen. Rather, we get a bulletin with all the words to each hymn (including punctuation and brief directions such as when to sing the chorus and when to repeat phrases) printed. Alternatively one can download the bulletin to a smartphone or tablet.
We have a worship team leading the singing, and the congregation is the choir. We can hear each other singing. Some have the ability to sing harmony and do so. We sing a mix of familiar old hymns and newer ones, but the words matter and have to fit the theme of the sermon.
As a musician, I was put off at first by not having the musical notes printed, but I have learned to listen to the music and sing along. We often repeat the new songs so that they become familiar and now have a congregational repertoire that most people are familiar with. I am in my 60s and appreciate that the music is a form of worship and not the performance that we had seen in the past at some churches.
—Kay B, Nashville, TN
I’m a worship leader in a PCA church right now doing the blended thing, projection, and trying to “restore the voice of the congregation to worship” as I read in one of the articles to which you linked in the past. But can I just vent for a second?
Some of the hymns in the hymnbooks were stupid, repetitive, theologically vacuous, melodically uninteresting, and a waste of ink. Just because it showed up in a hymnbook and predates Howard Hendricks doesn’t mean it was any good.
I grew up singing lines that I wince at today. “For the darkness shall turn to dawning and the dawning to noonday bright…”—total post-millennialism. “Perfect submission, all is at rest”—really? I’ve never had submission or rest that I would call perfect. “Sweet hour of prayer…”—never. I mean, that would be ideal, but the experience is not regular, you know?
The list goes on. Now my background is with more Baptist hymnals, so maybe your covenant and Reformed editions eliminated the chaff. But in a hymnbook of 400 songs, really only 100 were useful and 50 were great. Maybe that’s the same ratio in new songs? Thousands written, hundreds useful, few great. How deeply we need discernment and pastoral oversight with all of it.
—Jim A, Sacramento, CA
As I concluded your article, I had to wonder if my experience and my church were anomalies. I would like to briefly comment on your points from the perspective of our congregation.
1. Established body of songs. You mentioned replacing hymnals every 10-15 years allowing for the admission of new and vetted material. It has been my experience we hold on to hymnals for 20+ years (due to expense). Our God never changes, but our culture does and we can miss language and musical shifts. It has always been the responsibility of the worship leader to vet the songs used for corporate worship to see that they are theologically sound and agree with that church’s doctrine.
2. Deep knowledge of songs. The onus has always been on the worship leader to embed songs into the church’s culture. Many hymnals possess songs that are never known or sung. Every church has its own unique repertoire, even when they use the same hymnals as the church down the way.
3. Harmonies. With the passing of choral training in the schools and music lessons, the average person does not read music. With or without a fully notated score they still sing unison, opting out of the notes too high or too low. Those who can sing harmony can and often do so without having the notes in front of them.
4. Skillful singing. The quality of our corporate singing improved once we got people’s heads up and out of the hymnal. They would look to the song leader for cues as to when to start and stop.
5. Christian music has not left the home just because the hymnal did. CDs have exploded the limits of what music can pour into the home and into home worship. The internet has sheet and chart music (often free) available for download.
My last comment would be you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. The songs in the hymnal that are worth keeping will survive beyond the hymnal and find new life and new expression in the Body of Christ. Just my humble observations.
—Olive, ON, Canada
Letters on Christian Celebrity and the Conference Culture
I tend to be a “groupie” (for lack of a better word) of biblically solid preachers. Since their message is not what we generally hear in today’s evangelical churches, I thirst for their teaching. I have listened to many sermons from pastors that attended the G3, Shepherd’s, and Ligonier Conferences. Being from small town Ontario, I doubt I’ll ever get to attend one of those events, although it is a dream of mine. But you had me pondering the question of why I listen to them (and would attend if I could!). Do I listen to John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, and Justin Peters because they’re famous Christian pastors? I don’t think so. I listen to them because they are excellent! I will admit that because they are famous their sermons are readily available to me online, so there’s that. But I know there are many small communities that have “pastor gems” tucked away in them who will ever only guide a flock of about 100 congregants. And I would listen to them if I could! There are so many uber-famous preachers out there that I wouldn’t pay one penny to see, because they are leading people astray. So it certainly is the theme of each conference that grabs my attention initially. “The Reformation,” “We Preach Christ,” “The Next 500 Years”—these are themes that are worth exploring. And in this day and age, any time spent listening to these skilled yet humble preachers is time well spent.
—Lisa D, Goderich, ON
Letters on Christian Men and their Godly Moms Series
I want to say thank you for taking the time to research the impact made by the mothers of these godly men. As the mom of 4 young kids, I was moved to tears to consider the following:
1. The impact that a faithful mom can make.
2. The way these men valued the work of their moms.
3. The way you (and others) value the work that I’m doing.
You know how tedious and discouraging the constant work of training young children can be, and often I’m so focused on short-term “successes” and “failures.” Thank you for taking the time to affirm the importance of the work of moms, and for reminding me of the long-term effect my labor today is having.
—Sara, Pleasant Hill, CA
Tim, I wanted to personally thank you for your encouragement. As a stay-at-home mom with 7, the weight of motherhood can be heavy and discouraging at times. Add to that, our culture has devalued mothers, and in particular those who choose to stay home. I am thankful for both parents and a husband who value my role as mother, but the weariness of long days and many tasks to be accomplished can be overwhelming and yet it has caused me to turn my eyes to Christ more and learn to depend on Him more. I have so appreciated these articles as you have highlighted how the Lord can use our faithfulness in training our children in the Lord and leaning on Him in prayer to further His kingdom and His glory. These articles have brought tears to my eyes as I have identified with the longings that moms have for their children to seek the Lord and the joy we have when He brings them to Himself. Thank you again.
—Rachel R, Atlanta, GA