• Why I’ve Gone Mainline (for now): The worship is rich

    February 12, 2015

    hymns(NOTE: This is part three in an ongoing series. For other posts on this topic, click on “Mainline Musings”  under Categories on the home page of this site.)

    Right from the start, let me say that this is not a criticism of the more popular praise song movement among evangelicals. I’m not bothered by singing the same line twenty times in the same song, especially if the tune is catchy. And to be honest, many of the Psalms are similarly written (see Psalm 136 as an example, in which “His mercy endures forever” appears 26 times).

    I will say that I wish all praise song writers would strive for better than, “Lord, let your glory fall on us,” or other such theologically fuzzy lyrics. What does that even mean, “Let your glory fall on us”? As a pastor friend of mine said once, the word “glory” refers to the fullness, or full weight, of a thing—all that there is to it—so that if God’s glory ever fell on you, you wouldn’t be around afterward to say, “That was awesome!”

    Modern praise choruses take seriously the psalmist’s hope that all the earth would “sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps. 96:1). Indeed, one of the complaints among evangelicals about the older hymn-style worship is that the hymns are, well, old. But that’s only a half truth since they are new to those of us who have never sung them, which is most of us. Maybe we’ve all heard “Amazing Grace” and perhaps a few others, but most Mainline denominational hymnbooks have 400 or more songs, and for all intents and purposes, they’ve still new. The music can feel dated, especially if hammered out ungracefully on a warbling pipe organ or slightly-out-of-tune piano. But the texts! The words are often rich.

    One Sunday recently, I was sitting in a Methodist church, tired and generally unmoved by anything happening around me. Then we stood to sing “O Young and Fearless Prophet,” a “new” hymn.

    O young and fearless prophet …
    We marvel at the purpose
    that held thee to thy course
    while ever on the hilltop
    before thee loomed the cross

    The full weight—the glory, you might say—of that image jostled me out of my morning fog. I could see Jesus going about the crowds, knowing all the while what would happen in the end. Maybe at times he’d forget about it, but then a cold chill would come over him, and he would remember the cross ahead and the sense of abandonment that awaited: “My God, my God, why …” (Matt. 27:46).

    O help us stand unswerving
    against war’s bloody way,
    where hate and lust and falsehood
    hold back Christ’s holy sway
    forbid false love of country
    that blinds us to his call,
    who lifts above the nations
    the unity of all.

    What a needed reminder for those of us living in the most powerful country on earth, which lately seems always at war with someone. The earliest Christians were primarily pacifists, refusing to fight in Rome’s many wars, and while I don’t buy the no-war-ever-for-any-reason mindset—hard to imagine how sitting out World War II would have been the morally preferable choice—I do wonder if we might have avoided the brutal conflicts in Iraq and Vietnam if more of us had pondered “his call, who lifts above the nations the unity of all.”

    Stir up in us a protest
    against our greed for wealth,
    while others starve and hunger
    and plead for work and health;
    where homes with little children
    cry out for lack of bread,
    who live their years sore burdened
    beneath a gloomy dread.

    Not only are we the most powerful country on earth, we’re also the richest. The global economy has been slumping of late, and yet America is actually rebounding from its 2008 dip. Probably a good time for this hymn’s fresh reminder, published in 1931, during the Great Depression. If they needed a caution against greed then, during desperate times, then surely we need it now, during relatively bountiful times.

    That’s just one of the many old-yet-new hymns I’m discovering. Why have I gone Mainline (for now)? The worship is so rich. And since, as we discussed before, the homily takes a lesser role in Mainline churches than in Evangelical churches, I like to know there is a little more meat on the bone in worship than what a simple praise chorus can offer. The benefit of having the hymns teach a little more and the sermon a little less, is that what’s being fed us through the music has been past many eyes and ears before it ever received entry into the hymnbook. That doesn’t guarantee the theology is sound, but it’s a sure better test than a pastor’s solitary discretion when writing his weekly sermon.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll grow weary of the every-other-line-must-rhyme tendency of hymns, but for now I’m enjoying the old-yet-new of the songs that generations of Christians before me have loved.

    Posted in: General, Mainline Musings

Recent Comments

  • Heather said...

    1

    Matt, in case I haven’t told you recently, I love your writing and your perspective. AND, I’m thankful that you are my friend. 🙂

    Heather Thomas

    02/12/15 10:45 PM | Comment Link

  • Matt Rogers said...

    2

    Thank you so much, Heather! I appreciate it, and I’m very thankful to have you as a friend as well.

    02/13/15 12:15 AM | Comment Link

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