No, I’m not talking about the age-old question of why some are saved and not others. I’m talking in this post about hymns. Why some and not others? Why are you so nit-picky, pastor, when it comes to choosing hymns and music for the church and Sunday School? Why is this hymn better than that hymn? We hear such questions often in the church. Many people wonder with incredulity that there are even some hymns in the hymnal that make us grimace. It is entirely possible that no one will ever really understand this. Is it the music? Is it the words? Because we all know that music is an adiaphoron (non-essential), and the words of many of the songs are not wrong, Biblically speaking. So why?
Kantor Richard Resch is perhaps the one that coined the idea that a hymn is a “Sung Confession of THE Faith” (Not just my faith, or faith in general, but THE Faith. The Christian Faith). In this sense, they are like Creeds set to music. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea, and think it is one of the most helpful ways of understanding hymns and church music that is out there. I would like too add another idea, and this that a good hymn is like a good sermon. It is not just words of Scripture being repeated over and over again (that wouldn’t really make a great sermon I don’t think). A sermon expounds Scripture. It interprets it. It proclaims and teaches the Gospel. A sermon preaches Law and Gospel; delivers Christ and the forgiveness of sins; invites and urges hungry sinners to find their life in the Sacraments; exhorts to holy living and new obedience. A sermon does not just repeat Scripture, it proclaims and expounds it.
So also should hymns. I was thinking about this today because I was asking myself why I wouldn’t pick the song, “Seek ye First” on Trinity 15, when the song quotes the words of Jesus. But that is all it does. It is not wrong. It is Scripture set to music. But in a hymn I want something more. I want the hymn to be an extension of my sermon. I want it to preach and proclaim that Word. I want it to convict the singer and comfort him. That is why it would not be my first choice, even when it seems like it fits so well with Trinity 15. Like Resch, I see hymns and Christian songs as “Sung Confessions of the Faith.” I also see them, as far as the Divine Service goes, as extensions of my preaching. Thus I want to choose those hymns that most accurately and adequately support my preaching.