To thee we sing
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:1-2; ESV)
Recently, I sat in as a Gospel choral group was serenading the senior citizens at a local nursing home. The frequently cloudy minds of the residents seemed invigorated as they tapped their toes and mouthed the words of their old favorite hymns. As I viewed the joy reflected upon their elderly faces, I was once again convinced of the power of hymns regardless of one’s age or mental acuity.
It prompted me to consider how often we take hymns for granted as a normal part of our church services and forget that their use was once subjected to great debate within numerous congregations. Considerable controversy resulted in church groups concerning whether only the Psalms should continue to be sung or “humanly composed” hymns should be allowed in the 17th and 18th Century churches. Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was a life-long champion of “humanly composed” hymns, at a time when the great majority of English speaking churches insisted on the traditional Psalm singing. Tempers frequently flared and some churches actually split over the conflict. However, in others a compromise was reached. The Psalms would be sung during the early part of the service with a hymn would be sung at the closing, during which parishioners could leave the service or simply refuse to sing.
Although we may shudder at the thought of “humanly composed” hymns being banned from our present-day church services, the debate should remind each of us how disputes about the order or change in our churches can lead congregations to overlook the essentials of our faith and become more concerned with winning “battles” rather than forwarding the Word through changes in our services to make it more compatible with the times. Even today there exists conflict over the use of traditional old time hymns versus contemporary Christian music.
Visualize the absence from our churches of such great hymns as “Blessed Assurance”, “Amazing Grace”, “In the Garden “ or countless other so characteristic of our faith! Many of us first became aware of God’s love for us and for all the children of the world through songs sung at our mother’ knee or in our early Sunday school classes. Often the recalling of favorite hymns will provide us with encouragement and comfort in times of discouragement or despondency. Finally, like those aged residents of the nursing home we will be reminded of the truths of our faith regardless of the fading of memories of other worldly concerns.