Hymns that do no damage to the enemy

In a previous post, I discussed the similarities between a hymn and a sermon. Basically, a sermon is more than just re-reading Scripture; a Hymn is more than just singing words of Scripture. They interpret; they apply; they preach. That is their purpose.

Yesterday in adult Bible class we were looking at the verse in Galatians 6 where Paul says that he would not want to boast in anything else save the cross of Christ. I began talking about how a sermon can be filled with Christian words, to the extent that even a long-time believer might nod his head and say, “Ah, now there was a fine Christian sermon.” And yet this same sermon may have no mention of the cross or the atoning death of Christ. It is the same with Christian music. Many songs that are sung in the church, especially of the “contemporary” variety, sound very nice. They may cause the human emotions to soar with ecstasy, and there might even be Christian words and phrases in them, like “Sanctuary” and “God” and “love.” And yet, there may be, in fact there often is no mention of the cross of Christ; no mention of the atoning blood.

I think that one could use two basic criteria to evaluate Christian music: (1) Are the words so generic that even a non-Christian could sing them? (2) Will this song do damage to the Enemy, or will it simply embolden him?

My belief is that if we are going to be singing any distinctly Christian songs or hymns, we ought to be singing ones that will cause the Enemy to retreat. It should be something that will actually scare him away. In my opinion, as much fun as it is to sing “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” or “Blind man stood by the road and he cried,” there is nothing in these songs that frightens the enemy. Now, compare that with: “God’s own child I gladly say it, ‘I am baptized into Christ…'” or “Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favor.” Is it not obvious which ones are spiritual Nerf Guns and which are spiritual bazookas? Which would you rather put onto the lips and into the hearts of your children? Even something as simple as: “I am trusting Thee Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee” will do much more damage to the Enemy than “Lord, prepare me, to be a Sanctuary…” etc.

Do the other songs sound nice? Yes. Is it sinful to sing them? No (unless they contain false doctrine). Will they stand the test of time and lay a solid foundation for our children? Doubtful. What brings joy to this pastor’s heart? Hearing his children and the children of the Church sing the hymns of the Church, and not just any  hymns, but those that proclaim and teach God’s Word in its truth and purity. Nothing is more delightful to my ears than to hear the children of the Church sing “Our Father who from heav’n above” or “These are the holy Ten Commands,” or “God’s own Child I gladly say it.” They can do it, if we just make these hymns part of the regular diet of Sunday school openings and VBS and other venues.

This attitude towards Christian music not just the stuff of aesthetics. It has very much to do with the fact that I will have to give an account for the souls entrusted to me. I don’t take this stuff lightly, nor should anyone. It is difficult at times for those not serving in the Pastoral Office to grasp this because even though DCEs and Parochial School teachers and other auxiliary offices of the Church may have important roles of service, at the end of the day, it is not the DCE or the School Teacher or the School Principal that will have to answer for the souls of the parish. There is only one who must bear that responsibility, and we bear it alone. We pastors are ultimately responsible for the faith and the souls of our members, not the elders, not the congregational president, nor any of the other support staff.

So, do you wonder why we pastors seem to be overly cautious when it comes to this stuff? That is why.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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2 Responses to Hymns that do no damage to the enemy

  1. Linda says:

    Thank you, my Pastor, for being an instrument of Truth in the Spirit’s hands. In some ways, you remind me of St. Paul standing on Mars Hill. Even though you address long-time Lutheran Christians, you bring curious ideas. Continue teaching and preaching in humility and with patience. Do not withhold Truth, but be emboldened because you care for us. Then, take care. Sing the Word in hymns loud and strong to keep your adversary at bay.

  2. rcottrill says:

    The hymn as sermon. Interesting thought. And I agree. If we are to teach and admonish one another with our hymn-singing (Col. 3:16), we’re going to need more than “Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain.” I sang that as a child in Sunday School, but even now I’m not sure what it means!

    I have the same concern with contemporary choruses. Some of them are fine, but they don’t go deep enough. The church that abandons the hymn book and sings only the latest worship choruses is short-changing its congregation.

    Thanks for the post. And if you enjoy reading about our traditional hymns and their authors, I invite you to check out my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns.

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