The 150th Psalm is almost certainly the last psalm in the Psalter on purpose. That is, it was intended to be the finale of the hymnbook of Israel. It has sometimes been called “The Hallelujah Chorus of the Psalter.” As we read, take note of the use of instruments to create “a sustained fortissimo” of congregational praise. [Kidner]
In this series of sermons describing some of the characteristics of this congregation, characteristics we wish to preserve in the coming generation of the church’s life, we first considered our commitment to what we called Reformed Catholicism, a self-conscious, intelligent, and unapologetic commitment to the theology and ethics of the Bible as we understand them in the Reformed tradition joined with a spirit of Christian brotherhood that respects and cherishes all Christians, no matter that their theological commitments may differ substantially from our own. Then we described and defended our pulpit program, a commitment to the deep exposition of the Bible, with a principle focus on the consecutive exposition of books of the Bible. Then, in two Sunday evening sermons, we considered our emphasis on the Christian family as an incubator of faith in the rising generation.
Now, since we are in the middle of this series, it is a good time to explain, once again, what I am saying in these sermons and what I am not. What we are not saying is that we are better than other Christians. The sad fact is that Christians disagree about many things. We are Reformed in our theology and many fine Christians are not. There is nothing we can do about that. We must live according to the light we have. In other ways we think and worship in a way that distinguishes us from other believers. We bring our children to the Lord’s Supper much sooner than is the practice of many PCA congregations. They have a different view of covenant children and of their place in worship than we do. They think they are right. They believe their viewpoint is more faithful to the Bible. We disagree. Again, there is little we can do about this but explain, defend, and adorn our convictions which, we too, believe to be taught in the Word of God. Those who disagree with us may very be better Christians than we are. They may love the Lord more and serve him more faithfully. We have no wish to deny this. But inevitably, and in more ways than most believers realize, congregations act on their convictions, as they should. What good is a conviction if you don’t act on it? We are not making a judgment about other believers; we are in these sermons explaining why we have come to think and to worship as we do. We want you to understand our reasons. Of course we want you to agree with them. But, whether or not you do, we want you to know and to appreciate why we consider these convictions important and why we hope to see them preserved in the future of the church.
Tonight we move on to consider an important dimension of our public worship, namely our musical worship and especially the congregation’s singing. We have been working on our congregational singing recently so you know we think it important. To be sure all Christian churches sing, so singing in itself is not a characteristic of Faith Presbyterian Church. But everyone knows that our approach to sung praise, the way we sing here and what we sing here is increasingly unusual, even among PCA churches; indeed, even among the churches of our own presbytery. Virtually none of them sings as we do here. Almost none sings to an organ, they sing many fewer hymns and kinds of hymns than we do, many don’t have choirs, and so on. Our practice would not have been unusual some years ago, though it would have been somewhat unusual even then, but it has become increasingly unusual in recent years. Our kind of singing, our understanding of sung praise, our philosophy of church music, and our practice of congregational singing has grown increasingly rare. People visit our church and the first thing they notice is that there is no trap set, no microphone stands, none of the accoutrements of a praise band in the front of the sanctuary. We have had people investigate our congregation and decide not to join us precisely because the music is not what they are used to. That hardly ever happened a generation ago, but it happens frequently nowadays because the approaches to church music vary so dramatically.
Our Christian faith is uniquely a singing faith. No one else sings as Christians have always sung. In the worship of no other religion does singing occupy such an important place. Human beings sing all the time, of course: children, lovers, patriots, revolutionaries, everyone sings. So it is hardly surprising that Christians sing, though it is somewhat surprising that they sing so much more than do the practitioners of other faiths. In the Bible one finds God’s people singing all the time: of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt; of the conquest of the land of Canaan; of their victories in battle; they sang mournful songs after calamities; they sang of the blessings they received as individuals (as Hannah sang for her child and Mary for hers); they sang of God’s love for them and of their love for one another (as David sung a lament for Saul and Jonathan). There was singing in their homes (Ps. 118) and singing at the temple. Later they would sing of the coming of John the Baptist and then of the Messiah himself. In times of danger the saints sang away their fears (as did Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail). Martin Luther was giving expression to the place of singing in the Bible when he said, “Why say it when you can sing it.”
What is more, the Scripture teaches us that singing comes from God himself and that there is singing in heaven. We have music on earth because it exists in heaven. For all these reasons, therefore, singing occupies a large place in the Bible’s instruction regarding worship. “Sing to the Lord a new song” is both how the Bible describes the experience of salvation and what it tells Christians to do in the worship of God. There is something inescapably human about singing. Indeed, our ability to sing, our inclination to sing, our desire to sing as well as the power of music over our souls, are features of God’s image in which we have been made. No wonder then that the Christian faith, the true faith, is a faith that exploits to the greatest extent mankind’s musical capacity, our desire to sing, and the power of music over the soul. In worship we are most perfectly human and singing is part of that perfect humanity. In his day Augustine wrote of the worship service of the Christian church:
“Apart from those moments when the Scriptures are being read or a sermon is preached, when the bishop is praying aloud or the deacon is specifying the intentions of the litany of community prayer, is there any time when the faithful assembled in the church are not singing? Truly I see nothing better, more useful or more holy that they could do.” [Ep. 55:18-19 cited in The Study of the Liturgy, 495]
That seems to be very faithful to the example and the teaching of the Bible concerning the worship of God. Of course musical style changes from time to time and place to place. No one denies that. Nor is it possible to deny that some churches are able to do much more musically than others. I know of churches that sing to the accompaniment of a CD because they have no one capable of playing a piano. Other churches have very accomplished instrumentalists on any number of instruments and wonderful choirs. Some churches must sing in rented rooms with terrible acoustics, acoustics that defeat congregational singing, as this sanctuary with its acoustical tile ceiling did before it was remodeled. Other churches sing in sanctuaries in which a hundred people sound like thousands. We must, every church must, do what they can with the gifts they have been given. Again, nothing unusual about that; it is the Christian life. But none of that means that we shouldn’t think carefully about how we sing our praise to God, shouldn’t subject our musical worship to examination according to biblical principles, and offer the Lord the very best we can. Our best singing is bound to do us the most good as well!
As everyone knows there has been a revolution in congregational praise in recent years. Congregations in every denomination do not sing as they did a generation ago. Congregational singing has always been changing, but until very recently more gradually and less radically. A new style would be added to older ones and new and old would coexist happily together. But the musical revolution that has recently overtaken Christian praise in the western church was unusually abrupt and comprehensive. The older forms of congregational praise were simply replaced. A new musical style and new song texts were introduced in the place of hymns that had been sung for many generations. We find at Covenant High School that many of the young people who come from other churches do not know, in fact have never heard the hymns that Christian churches sang for centuries until they stopped singing them just a few years ago. The style of both poetry and music was taken over from popular forms of young people’s music, typically folk and soft rock, and the manner of singing was adjusted to that style. The organ was replaced by the praise band, with drums and electric guitars predominating as they do in western popular music. None of this is controversial to say. It is simply what has happened and everyone knows it. Not everyone has welcomed the change, however.
We, for example, are not impressed. We believe that the change that has overtaken congregational singing, while certainly not without good points, is more bad than good. And we have our reasons. As I begin to enumerate them, let me say that I fully realize that some of you may be offended at what I am about to say. People are always sensitive to criticism and they feel criticized when things they like and approve of are criticized. But if we are to be mature believers we must be willing and able to manage our disagreements. We should be able to appreciate why people we disagree with have the opinions they do and we should be able to respect them no matter our disagreements. What is more, there can be no correction of errors, no sanctification of our worship, if we are unwilling to consider arguments both for and against. This should be easier still if what is being recommended are practices cherished in the church for centuries and only recently abandoned, and abandoned in most cases with little real consideration of the issues involved. After all, we are hardly the only ones raising these concerns. There is now a cottage industry devoted to the critique and reformation of contemporary congregational singing. And there is objectivity to the critique. The argument is not about taste; it is about what the Bible teaches us about how God’s people should sing their praise of God.
I have no difficulty understanding the arguments for this new church music. It is familiar music and so it is accessible. It is the kind of music people, especially young people, are used to listening to on the radio or through the ear buds connected to their phone. All of this, it is argued, makes it easy for unbelievers and believers alike to appreciate what they hear in church and to feel comfortable when they visit a church service. What is more, the older music of the church is not familiar to this generation. It is not the kind of music they listen to. It sounds strange to them. All of that is easy to understand. On the other hand, these are hardly convincing arguments in and of themselves. The worship of the Christian church ought to be unfamiliar to an unbeliever. He doesn’t kneel, he doesn’t pray, he doesn’t sing praise to God, he doesn’t participate in anything like the Lord’s Supper, he doesn’t listen to a sermon with his Bible open on his lap. He enters a new world when he enters a Christian church and it should hardly surprise him if the music he encounters there is unfamiliar as well. The Christian church has its own culture and requires the enculturation of its people. It has been the distinctiveness of the church’s life and worship that through the ages has conveyed so much of its power.
Very early on in Christian thinking about worship and life this principle came to be understood: lex orandi, lex credenda, the law of worship is the law of faith. That is, how the church worships conveys its true beliefs; how a church worships conveys its doctrine in a very powerful way, sometimes more powerful than the teaching itself. For example, Prosper of Aquitaine, the disciple of Augustine, pointed out that the fact that we pray for the salvation of others, no matter our theology of salvation, proves that we really believe that salvation is God’s gift and God’s work. It does not finally depend on the human will. If God were not the one who saves the lost, why pray to him to save them? Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith. If you want to know what people believe, observe how they worship. What we do in worship not only most purely expresses our faith but most powerfully communicates it. But that principle, true as it is, means that what we do in worship is more important than our tastes. We must always ask what is being communicated by the way we worship God, communicated to our own hearts, to our children, and to the world.
We begin our argument with this all important fact: there is a hymnal in the Bible. We have been given a template, a pattern, a model for singing in the house of God. Think about what we find in the Psalter and other material concerning the sung praise of people of God found in the Bible.
- First, the hymns themselves, the hymn texts, the words to be sung, are a standard to which the singing of the church should rise to meet.
So much of the modern praise literature is composed of simple poems that ascribe praise to God. You have a few simple psalms of praise in the Psalter, of course, as you have it some of them Revelation, but more often than not the Psalms are more complex, contain richer theological argument, and situate the congregation’s praise and worship in their experience of life in ways the modern praise songs are not and do not. Most of the psalms are considerably longer than most of the praise songs now being sung with considerably more theological depth. It has always struck me strange that though American evangelicals generally believe that we live in a spiritually richer time, that we live on a higher spiritual plane than did the OT saints, that we have the Holy Spirit to a greater degree – that isn’t our theology, but it is theirs – nevertheless we sing much simpler songs than they did in the ancient church. But was the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit to dumb us down?
What is more, in the Psalter, as in a good traditional hymnal, there are hymns for most every occasion. There are hymns for the confession of our sins; hymns to express our faith in Christ’s redemption; hymns that address the challenge of our faith posed by the troubles and disappointments of life; hymns on the creation of heaven and earth; hymns on divine judgment; hymns on the nature of human beings; hymns on peace, joy, love, penitence, obedience; hymns on the Word and law of God; hymns for the Lord’s Day; hymns on the worship of God’s house; hymns on the family; hymns for virtually every conceivable experience or obligation of believing life. The newer literature of Christian praise has almost nothing of this expansive variety. Most of even the best of the contemporary hymns cover only a few themes.
In the Psalter and the rest of the Bible as well we find hymns from all periods of the church’s history. Even in the ancient epoch God’s people were singing the 90th psalm, a psalm written by Moses, a thousand years and more after Moses; the Psalms of David likewise. When the Lord and his disciples sang a hymn in the Upper Room the night of his betrayal, they sang from that section of the Psalter known as the Hallel, hymns that were centuries old, that had been written in a very different day and time. By this means, the church was gathered across time, the church militant practiced her unity with the church triumphant. The old hymns conveyed a sense of identity and belonging. A selection of virtually nothing but songs of recent composition utterly lacks this time-transcending character. It situates you in a certain time only; it does not make you a person of the ages. It cannot convey the sense of Christian identity and belonging that, say the Te Deum can, a hymn that has been sung for almost 2,000 years. Absolutely we need new hymns. We need to add to Christian hymnody the hymns that God has taught us to sing, but they are to be an addition to an already existing hymnody, not its replacement. We need the old hymns, at least the best of them, grand and powerful as they are, sanctified by such long use as they have been, even as we add to that collection hymns that we can write as no generation before us. Consider this: no generation in Christian history has thought as long and hard as we have about the authority of the Bible, about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, about the catholicity of the church, and so on. Those are hymns we should write!
It is more difficult for us to do that, of course, because poetry is in such serious decline as a public inheritance in the modern western world. As one professor laments:
“There is only one society in which [poetry] is considered unmanly, in which its more artistic forms are practiced only by an isolated elite who write, only for one another, texts which would be utterly incomprehensible to the general public. And that is our own [society] though only in the last century.” [Donald Williams in Touchstone (May/June 2013) 52]
As a result of the death of poetry as a public inheritance and public art, we have a dearth of theologically literate poets. Poetry is a demanding art and so is theology. So the poem of a theologically literate poet is always going to be better, much better, than a poem written by a musician, and most modern praise texts are written by musicians. There is a great difference between the hymns of Ambrose or Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley and John Newton, or William Walsham How – richly biblical, profoundly suggestive, full of pure feeling but as well so challenging to the mind – and the texts that make up the body of modern praise songs. The former are so like the Psalms; the latter are not.
Hymns impart the faith to us and our children; hymns serve to fix the faith in mind, they ennoble the faith; they instruct, they inspire, and they apply the faith to our hearts. To do all of that very well they must be, both as poetry and as theology, worthy of the faith they are to express and communicate. Much of what passes for congregational song in our time is juvenile, banal, and simplistic. Unlike the Psalms, one does not have to spend a lifetime getting to the bottom of these songs. All they offer lies on the surface. I’m not saying all new texts are unworthy, but I am saying that a steady diet of this singing will not deepen your faith or mature a congregation as the Psalms and the best hymns have always done. I wish I had time to make a reconnaissance of the hymnal to show you what I mean. Hymns a Christian congregation should sing should be rich and deep like the Bible itself.
- Second, the music of the Psalter was equally serious, thoughtful, and sophisticated.
To be sure, we know very little about the music of the synagogue, where God’s people worshipped week by week. But we know from Chronicles that David made a great point of putting the music of the temple, the instrumental accompaniment, the singing of choirs, and the choice of hymns in the hands of well-trained and experienced musicians. We don’t know what that music sounded like and we certainly don’t know any of the tunes that were used to accompany singing – though the names of some of those tunes are preserved in the Psalm titles – but we know that the music was technically proficient. In fact, there is technical musical notation in the Psalter – terms like sheminith, maskil, miktam, and perhaps selah – that we cannot translate precisely because they were technical terms, understood only by the professionals at the time. The more professional any field, the more technical terminology it creates. There were three choirs under the direction of skilled musicians with both male and female singers and a substantial repertoire of hymns and anthems.
Christian singing has hardly always been fine. I’ve been in churches where the singing was terrible. Without a doubt some churches sing better than others, often because they have better instrumentalists and better direction. The Gilcomston South congregation sung very well, filled the sanctuary with their praise, in large part because they had a fine organist and a minister who was himself a musician and wouldn’t stand for poor congregational singing. But the important point is that the Bible bears witness to the fact that it was thought important to sing in worship as well as possible. And so it has been through the ages that the church’s music has been much of the finest music in the world and often the most creative music. It was hardly ever derivative, simply borrowed from the culture. It created musical culture more than imitated it. Alas, not so in our time. In any good Christian hymnal there is not only superb poetry, there is beautiful music, music that serves the text wonderfully. But much of the music now being now being sung in American churches is, like the texts, not beautiful, not powerful, and not memorable. The modern praise repertoire is childishly simple as modern popular music has become. That isn’t an opinion, it is the conclusion of any number of musicological studies. Popular music has gotten simpler by the year. In our PCA denomination the musical settings now often substituted for those in the hymnal are typically simple and disposable. They are neither beautiful nor memorable. The tunes are rhythmic but very simple. I have often thought, when hearing one of these tunes, “I could have written that,” which, believe me, is no compliment. There is also a sameness to it. Abide With Me is sung to a tune very like the one used for For All the Saints.
The template for this music is the top forty and, as everyone knows, no song stays in the top forty for long. As in that music, so in this, the commercialization of church music, the selling of songs has been a driving force in the changes that have overtaken congregational singing. New songs replace the old very quickly and praise music that was sung ten years ago is unknown to congregations today. This is a recipe for mediocrity in Christian singing. American Christians sing fewer songs and change them more frequently. What is more, congregations now regularly sing music written by their own musicians, which ensures that only a very few Christians sing a particular song, for as long as that song is sung. This is a terrible loss because it was in the hymnal that the church found her unity. She is theologically divided, she is liturgically divided, and unfortunately divided in other ways as well, but at least she was together in the hymnal. Christians sang many of the same hymns and sang them to the same music. I’ve told some of you before that the last time I saw my sister alive was in a hospital room in St. Louis. Her roommate had been discharged and an African American hospital domestic had pulled the curtain while she was making up the bed for the next patient. We were singing hymns around my sister’s bed and the dear woman on the other side of the curtain sang with us through every one! A precious memory and one that I fear fewer and fewer Christians will ever have. Not only because great hymns for the hour of death are not being written and sung in the church but because each church sings its own music and the whole church no longer has a common hymnbook. Only great texts set to fine music can unify the whole church.
Ray Palmer’s magnificent hymn My Faith Looks Up to Thee was written for his own devotional use. He had no plan for it to be a hymn for others to sing, still less a hymn that the entire church would sing. But Lowell Mason urged him to let him compose a musical setting and the hymn took root in Christian hearts all over the English speaking world. Why? Because the beautiful music so perfectly served Palmer’s great text, itself so full of truth and emotional power. And so it has been with great, long-lasting hymns: the text and the music are equally beautiful and powerful in their effect. Think of Abide with Me, an almost perfect blend of text and tune or, for that matter John Newton’s Amazing Grace. It is precisely this lack of beautiful, powerful, searching texts wedded to beautiful, memorable, and fitting music that makes so much of modern church music so disposable, so fleeting, and so little loved that it is easily replaced almost at once. Proof of the importance of fine and fitting musical settings is that even superb texts can languish or be entirely forgotten if not served by excellent music. I grew up with a hymnal that contained William Walsham How’s majestic hymn For All the Saints, but we never sang it because it was so poorly served by its musical setting. But with Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Sine Nomine – written for How’s text because von Williams knew it needed something better – the hymn was given new life and its greatness was impressed on new generations of Christians. Real composers are required to provide music for the church!
Now hear me. I’m not saying that everyone should sing our hymns. The African church must develop its own music as much the Chinese church, as they both are doing. Their music will not sound like the music of the west. It should not. But they too will have to develop a Psalm-like hymnody, rich in both theological text and beautiful music that serves the text to which it is set. If they content themselves with simple praise songs they will remain immature churches that have much yet to learn of the worship of God. You can sing the praise song literature and embrace health and wealth theology. A good hymnal will teach you better! After all, the church has been singing praise to God for thousands of years. Any wise church will consult that literature and that experience and seek to build its own sung praise on that foundation. As Ken Myers cheekily puts it: no one goes to Haiti for the dentistry. People go and should go to people who know what they are doing! The church has thought carefully about its sung praise for centuries and has learned many important things about what and how a congregation should sing. We forsake that foundation only to our great loss.
That raises another concern with much of modern church music. The direction of the recent change in congregational singing has all been in the same direction, the same direction as the change in church architecture, the change in church and ministerial dress, the change in the language of prayer, the change in the language of the pulpit, the change in the posture of the congregation, and so on. Everything nowadays in church is much more colloquial, much more informal. Immanence is the spirit of American evangelicalism; transcendence is almost entirely absent in the worship of most American churches. The idea that the Almighty is present, that we have gathered in the presence of the King of Kings, the Judge of all the Earth, that he is a God of awful holiness, that his glory is such that no one can see it and live, this is not the atmosphere of Christian worship in our time. True enough, worship should be joyful and we should address God as our loving father, but never, never forgetting who and what he is! The new music not only does not seek to convey the transcendence of God, the genres of this music and the manner of its production are literally incapable of conveying the divine transcendence. Just as Birkenstocks and a Hawaiian shirt are never going to impart the authority that once belonged to the best of Christian pulpits, so the praise band will always struggle to convey the presence of the God who dwells in unapproachable light and who is and remains a consuming fire. Now hear me! I certainly do not mean that no Christian singing can appropriately be accompanied by a praise band. Some songs surely can be, perhaps might best be; but there is much that cannot be. That is a basic musical and liturgical fact. Music conveys a mood, suggests an attitude. Certain kinds of music convey specific moods. Jazz or folk or soft rock are not the music of majesty or the Last Judgment or the fear of God. Ours is a generation that does not fear God. Perhaps that goes some way in explaining why the church prefers the music it now sings.
Another way of making the point that I have been making is that in the Psalter both text and music are in a high register. It is not the music of the street. Not all churches can manage as high a register as we find in the Psalter, but churches that can certainly should aspire to it. The poetry should be fine, theologically rich, beautiful, emotionally powerful, and memorable in its expression. And the music should match the text, serve the text, and adorn the text. The best of the hymnody of the church has been in that same high register. It is accessible, absolutely, but neither childish, pedestrian, dull, nor disposable. Its quality is proved by its durability. A hymn that has been sung for centuries has been because of its inherent quality and the value that generations of believers have found in singing it.
My point is that music gives glory to the words. There are some songs in the Bible, for instance, that are very brief but that must have gained great power from their musical setting. Think of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus or Psalm 117, very like the text of the Hallelujah Chorus. That is what music can do, especially music intended for a congregation to sing. The same can be said of sentiments soft or melancholy. There are many things we should feel powerfully – whether reverence, sweetness, or inspiration – and the better the music, the better the song, the more powerful or appropriate the feeling, and the more pure the feeling, the greater the influence of the truth upon our hearts and lives. The right sort of music impresses the text upon a congregation. I doubt any of us really understands how much of what we believe and how firmly we believe it is due to the hymns we have sung and whose words and sound have been fixed in our hearts.
We’ve all had the experience of music’s power over us. I remember the man who said, after seeing the movie Chariots of Fire that the problem with life was that there is no background music. And I sometimes think that about hymns. If only I could live my life with the sound of a great hymn being sung majestically in the background or a sweet, contemplative hymn being sung softly in the background.
But congregational singing also partakes of music’s power to unite many hearts and voices. Christian worship is a shared activity. In our Christian faith, the corporate character of worship is of great importance. Many things can be done together in worship – all kneeling for prayer, for example, or reciting the same prayer or saying together the “Amen” – but only in singing is there such total fusion of the various members into a single entity, so that when they blend and follow the same tune and rhythm, only one voice is heard, that of the congregation as a whole. What is more, it is so beautifully a unity in diversity – men and women, sopranos and altos, tenors and basses, adults and children – all harmonizing in a single sound. Here economic and social status, age, sex, race, all disappear in a true communion of hearts. That is one of the reasons why congregations should learn to sing in harmony. Fewer and fewer Christians can sing parts simply because no one any longer expects them to. Sad, sad, sad, and so unnecessary! Church should be the place, as it has always been, where people learn to sing. Some final practical observations.
First, the new style of musical presentation for congregational singing is that of several singers singing into a microphone at the front of the church. Their voices, together with the amplified instruments in the band, fill the room with sound. It is now a common observation that the effect of this approach is to mute the voice of the congregation – it can often hardly be heard over the sound of the amplified voices and instruments. Loud music is, of course, the staple of the popular concert nowadays and that custom has been increasingly imitated in the church. But what has happened as a result is a matter of the greatest importance. The congregation itself hardly sings. I’ve looked around in many of these settings to see who is singing and find that many of the men have their mouths closed and some of the women as well. They find themselves in a concert listening, not in a congregation singing. This is a great mistake. It is, in fact, open disobedience to the explicit commandment of God, who orders his people to sing! Strangely we are reproducing the worship of the medieval church in which only the choir sang, not the congregation. Here at Faith Presbyterian Church we intend to do nothing that mutes the singing voice of the people of God.
Second, we use an organ as much as we do because we don’t have the capacity to accompany the congregation’s singing with an orchestra, as is recommended in Psalm 150. The reason they call the organ “the king of instruments” is because it comes closest to reproducing the sounds of every instrument and so can offer a rich variety of musical accompaniment, from soft to grand, from contemplative or penitential to majestic and exulting. It is the closest thing to an orchestra most churches will ever get. We will add what instruments we can, but, like any congregation, we must live within our means.
Third, we intend to continue to sing the depth and the breadth of Christian hymnody, from the biblical psalms, to the most ancient hymns – think of Hail, Gladdning Light or the Te Deum – to the beautiful hymns of the medieval church, the Reformation hymns, the hymns of the Great Awakening, and the most modern of hymns. We want it all in our hearts and upon our hearts, the finest hymns of devotion, of exultation, of submission, of faith, of spiritual experience and all the rest. Every Lord’s Day we will join our voices to those of the Christian ages and experience in that profound way the unity of the church and the fellowship of the saints. We do not aspire to be in any way, and certainly not in our worship, people simply of our own time.
We intend to sing the finest spiritual poems to the finest, the most appropriate, the most memorable, and the most beautiful music we can find. We will look for the best of the new, but we will always sing the old and usually in the form in which it has long been sung, because that is the form that has exercised the greatest power over the heart of the church and has the greatest capacity to unify us with both the church triumphant and the living church of our own day.
Those are our conviction; those are the reasons for them; and that is why we hope to continue to sing as we have been singing. We want to improve, of course. We want to add instruments if we can. We want to learn more hymns as we discover them. But most of all we want to sing our very best to God and enjoy the blessings that such singing has always bestowed on the people of God.