Church Music Questions

worship risesOver the past week, there was a Greater Columbus Gospel Coalition meeting in which music liturgy was discussed.  The combination of pastors, worship leaders, and lay leaders from various churches and backgrounds had a gracious and thoughtful discussion.

From the two hour discussion, a number of questions and thoughts were tossed about that I found worth thinking about further.  Here they are for your thoughts as well:

  • In what way is your church gathering focused on helping one another reestablish our new center from “me” to “Thee”?
  • How do the songs that we sing help shape a culture and identity in Christ in the church?
  • How much do we believe the Word being sung in our songs?
  • How much do we struggle to encourage one another by our own singing side-by-side during the gathering of the church?
  • How do our songs carry the story of God each Sunday?
  • How do we help those who do not like to sing, open up sing unto the Lord for the sake of the others in the church?

What God Has and Has Not Promised

Storm on horizonLife is not always easy.  At times life can be downright discouraging and overwhelming.  Living in a fallen world, we anticipate that struggles will occur, yet sometimes we can still be taken aback.  Especially when it seems that the rough times come in the midst of serving Christ and others.

“Wait a minute! Aren’t I supposed to be blessed and have smooth roads in the service of God?”  A normal reaction. But a theologically misinformed response, unfortunately fed by a health and wealth prosperity gospel and spiritual consumerism mentality.  Just a cursory look at the lives of the faithful in the Old Testament, the lives of the apostles, and the life of Jesus will quickly dispel the external road of blessing myths.

This is not to say, of course, that there will not be external blessings, joy, peace, and satisfaction in life and ministry.  Experience and Scripture both testify to these in addition to the hardships.  So, it is important to have a balanced view of what God has and has not promised in order to avoid having an overly pessimistic view (which drains oneself and others of joy in the Lord) or an overly optimistic view (which can be rocked when the hardships do come).

I have found What God Hath Promised by Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) to be a helpful reminder of what God has not promised and what God has promised.  It is an encouragement to dig into God’s abundant grace when life and ministry get rough and a reminder to thank the Lord for his grace when experiencing times of satisfaction and joy:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God hath promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
  Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain, rocky and steep,
Never a river, turbid and deep.


The Church’s One Foundation Hymn

Hymn Stories: The Church’s One Foundation

By Tim Challies

Songs are a powerful means of teaching. The melodies, rhythms, and rhymes that characterize songs make the words easier to remember. The best and most effective songs combine lyrics and music to cultivate feelings that complement the meaning.

Samuel_John_StoneAll throughout history God’s people have used songs to teach. We can see this as early as Exodus 15 where Moses records the song Israel sang after crossing the Red Sea. It taught everyone who heard and sang it about God’s character in that great act of delivering his people. In the New Testament we encounter simple but important truths in the earliest Christian hymns.

The Rev. Samuel John Stone was well aware of the effectiveness of singing when he wrote and published Lyra Fidelium in 1866. As a curate in the small town of Windsor, England, he was aware of his parishoners’ habit of using the Apostles’ Creed in their private prayers. But he was concerned that many of them did not grasp the meaning of what they said. The prose felt too academic, disconnected from the average worshipper, and lacking a devotional spirit.

It was in this context that he wrote Lyra Fidelium, which consisted of twelve hymns, one for each article of the Apostles’ Creed. With each hymn he included a short “summary of truths confessed” in that article, along with a list of the Scripture passages supporting it. “The Church’s One Foundation” was the hymn he wrote for article 9 of the Creed, which affirms belief in “the holy catholic church” and “the communion of saints.”

“The Church’s One Foundation” is the best known of the twelve hymns in this collection. Louis Benson quotes one English archbishop as saying that “wherever he was called upon to open or dedicate a church, he could always count on two things–cold chicken and ‘The Church’s one Foundation’.”

The hymn’s long legacy undoubtedly owes to the many sweet doctrines it includes, its use of the words and concepts of Scripture to express them, and its uniqueness in teaching the doctrine of the church. Benson describes it as embodying “practically every doctrince concerning the church [Stone] held most dear (its divine origin, its unbroken continuity, its catholicity and essential unity, its orthodoxy, its sacramental grace, its communion with God and with the departed saints, its militancy and final triumph).”

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

‘Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

O Solemn Hour!

Good friday
O Solemn Hour! O Hour Alone!

By James George Deck (1802-1884)

I solemn hour! O hour alone,
In solitary night,
When God the Father’s only Son,
As Man, for sinners lost, undone,
Expires – amazing sight!
The Lord of glory crucified!
The Lord of Life has bled and died!

O mystery of mysteries!
Of life and death the tree!
Center of two eternities,
Which look with rapt, adoring eyes,
Onward, and back to Thee,
O cross of Christ, where all His pain
And death is our eternal gain.

O how our inmost hearts do move,
While gazing on that cross!
The death of the incarnate Love!
What shame, what grief, what joy we prove,
That He should die for us!
Our hearts were broken by that cry,
“Eli, lama sabachthani!”

Thou Hast Done

A Hymn To God The Father


The hymn below by English poet and cleric John Donne (1572-1631) says it all: God meets my ongoing sin with his inexhaustible forgiveness. 70 times 7.

Jesus is GreaterMy friend Shane Rosenthal sent me a note explaining that, according to some commentators, there is double meaning in the line, “Thou hast done” which repeats throughout the poem. It obviously refers to that which God has done for Donne in contrast to that which Donne has done (and continues to do). But the other meaning, especially clear in the last stanza, is a play on the poet’s own name: “Thou hast Donne.” It is his realization that despite his weak grip on God, God’s grip on him is perfect and forever, that finally ends his fears.

It never ceases to amaze me that, if you are in Christ, you can never, ever, ever outsin the coverage of God’s forgiveness. Amazing love…how can it be?

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast Donne ;
I fear no more.

Prone to Wander

In preparation for an upcoming sermon on James 5:19-20 at Grandview Christian Assembly, the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing has been flowing through my mind and heart.  In particular, the lines, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,/Prone to leave the God I love;/Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,/Seal it for Thy courts above.”

I have cause to reflect upon the times I have wandered and cause to reflect upon the Lord who initially sought me, continues to keep me, and has placed a caring community of Christians in my life who have been and are faithful to keeping me from wandering too far astray from the Lord I love.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Hymn for the Preaching of the Word

John Newton’s “Prayer for the Ministry of the Word” sings out a prayer to the Lord for the upcoming preaching of the Scriptures.  The words cry out for the blessing of the Lord upon the preacher so that souls would be fed, light would shine, people would walk according to the word, and God would get the praise.  The song can be set to various traditional hymn tunes, including that of “Amazing Grace” (and it would be interesting to see the song set to a contemporary tune):

Thy promise, LORD, and thy command
Have brought us here today;
And now, we humbly waiting stand
To hear what thou wilt say.

Meet us, we pray, with words of peace,
And fill our hearts with love;
That from our follies we may cease,
And henceforth faithful prove.

Now, LORD, inspire the preacher’s heart,
And teach his tongue to speak;
Food to the hungry soul impart,
And comfort to the weak.

Furnish us all with light and power
To walk in Wisdom’s ways;
So shall the benefit be ours,
And thou shalt have the praise.