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Saturday, January 7, 2017

This Hymns Business - Part 3

For His Mercy Endureth Forever

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this little series, I made note (as part of the accusations against contemporary worship or CW) the charge of CW being repetitive. Previously, I simply noted that repetitive is in the eye of the beholder. One of the common pejoratives leveled is to call all CW “7/11 music.” That is, “7 words, repeated 11 times.”

Although I would dispute the accuracy of such a generalization, let me take just two examples of how applying this standard to all music presents an interesting dilemma for the hymns-only folks.

I would first point to the only songbook we know is inspired of God, the Psalms. In Psalm 136, the words “For His mercy endureth forever” repeat 26 times; “5/26” if you will. Compared to 7/11, that’s fewer words repeated more times (with the understanding that Psalm 136 has additional verses). And how many times have we been told to find comfort in the fact that the words “fear not” appear scores of times in scripture?

We note that the Reformation is built upon six words, “the just shall live by faith,” a scripture which appears three times in the Word of God. When God repeats something, we pay closer attention. We would not accuse God of “vain repetition,” nor would we approve of man’s vain prayers. But when there is a scriptural., eternal truth about God or the faith, repeating it to emphasize it (not used as some sort of magical incantation) is surely edifying.

Let me point to just one example from the “sacred hymns,” this time going all the way back to 1899 for “O How He Loves Me.” We will start by looking at the chorus:

Oh, how he loves me,
Oh, how he loves me;
I know not why, I only cry,
Oh, how he loves me.

All kinds of problems there for the hymns-only crowd. Lots of “he loves me,” crying, and it’s repetitive. If we look at the verses, the problem only gets “worse” (using their criteria). The phrase “oh, how he loves me” is sung every other line, 10 times total for the song. The word “me” appears 16 times (and there are also a number of uses of “I,” “my” and “mine.”) “Love” or “Loves” appears 14 times.

Turning back to the original article, in which the author chose to compare “One Thing Remains” with “Rock of Ages” (we made our own comparisons in the previous notes), I’ll stick with the “offensive” CW song he chose and compare it with the “sacred hymn”O How He Loves Me.”

"One Thing Remains" 

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me [3x]

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love...

“Oh, How He Loves Me” 

I have a Friend, a precious Friend,
Oh, how he loves me;
He says his love will never end,
Oh, how he loves me;

Refrain: Oh, how he loves me,
Oh, how he loves me;
I know not why, I only cry,
“Oh, how he loves me .”

Why he should come I cannot tell,
Oh, how he loves me;
In my poor broken heart to dwell,
Oh, how he loves me; [Refrain]

He died to save my soul from death,
Oh, how he loves me;
I’ll praise him while he gives me breath,
Oh, how he loves me; [Refrain]

He walks with me along life’s road,
Oh, how he loves me;
He carries every heavy load,
Oh, how he loves me; [Refrain]

He has a home prepared for me,
Oh, how he loves me;
With him I’ll spend eternity,
Oh, how he loves me; [Refrain]

Now, if you can tell me how the second is discernibly more “sacred” than the first, I’d be interested to hear it. And I could surely find “deeper” CW and more shallow “sacred hymns.” As this study set out to emphasize, what matters in our music should be “is it biblical?,” and/or “does it edify (strengthen) our faith?” 

Music is meant to strengthen what is already there, it is not primarily a teaching tool. This is why the Mormons can sing the hymns (including the wonderful “Rock of Ages”) and not be moved and why I can sing “One Thing Remains” and be edified.

For those who think the hymns or the hymns-only position is somehow a sign of biblical orthodoxy or doctrinal purity, you’d love the Mormon position on music. Read all the pages and see how much they love and revere the “sacred hymns.” Mormons do not allow contemporary music for their “sacrament meetings.” 

“Some religiously oriented music presented in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings.” (LDS Handbook 2).

I’d rather gather with the truly regenerated saints, than with hymns-heavy LDS adherents. Wouldn’t you?

Final note: I do agree that there are many hymns which express deep faith and edify, but I cannot take the position that “hymn=good” or “contemporary=bad” lest I fail to test the spirits, lest I swallow false doctrine, lest I start to judge by standards not found in scripture. Music should be doctrinally correct, understandable and edifying. Beyond that, you’re creating your own “truth.”