We all enjoy singing hymns that praise God, who admonishes us to worship Him with our lives, prayers and songs. We have favorite hymns; some hymns we may find difficult to sing.
All religions compose songs, written based on one’s understanding of their God. Some reflect traditions and may or may not be biblically accurate. Some may be more like performances for entertainment that may exalt the performer more than God.
In UCG we strive to make sure that all our hymns are doctrinally accurate and praise God. We have always had a team that reviewed hymns, past and present, and will review any submitted in the future. Hymns are checked for doctrinal accuracy and must be in keys that are more easily sung. A song that is not doctrinally sound does not praise God, nor does a song that requires stretching the voice beyond human ability to be melodic and enjoyable to God or man.
Because music has become a method of attempting to grow evangelical church attendance, some view this music as wrong, regardless of content. Some words are obviously wrong, and some are pure entertainment. Those would not be pleasing to God. The question, then, is should we avoid music that is biblically accurate, melodic and easy to sing simply because it is used by others with less understanding of biblical truths? Does singing these songs mean we agree with the evangelical beliefs? Should this, and any music not written by converted members, be considered satanic?
Some of the criticism received has noted that one or more hymns do not meet the perspective of the listener in instrument choice or words, or expresses concern because the hymn is used by others with less understanding of biblical truths. We will attempt to address some of these concerns.
Solomon had an incredible array of instruments when dedicating the temple. In choosing instrumental pieces for special music, make sure it is not simply for entertainment, too loud or uncomplimentary to praise. Care should be taken when evaluating music, so that decisions are not made simply by personal taste versus appropriateness to the situation.
Regarding lyrics, looking at a hymn in light of only one perspective or a single passage of Scripture may lead one to think that a hymn is not scriptural. However, the same song could be biblical, and therefore accurate, when looking at the song from the totality of Scripture. Should one avoid singing that song because of a single perspective?
For example, we know that Jesus Christ is the son of God the Father, and there are currently two Beings in the God family. However, we see that in a different perspective in more than one scripture. Isaiah 9:6 is about the coming Messiah and one of the listed names is “the everlasting Father.” Yet all through the gospels, Jesus refers to God as the Father, not Himself.
Scriptures are not contradictory, but complementary, and we do not completely understand everything about God. It is beyond us as physical beings to completely comprehend God, although we do understand the two God Beings, God and the Word who became Jesus. Would it be wrong to quote this scripture in a song because we only think of God as our spiritual Father?
Recently at a non-UCG function for women, one of our ladies noticed how they closed in prayer. She commented on how good the prayer was concerning how it was addressed to “God the Father” and closed “in Jesus’ name,” but realized that when others refer to God and Jesus they are thinking of the Trinity. We would be hearing the same words from our understanding of Scripture, not from Protestant or Catholic tradition.
Some hymns, viewed from a personal history, are like this. A limited perspective can lead one to think they are wrong to sing, even when these songs actually quote a particular Scripture. It states in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We understand that in the early years of the modern era of God’s Church there were many revisions to the songbook: the grey hymnal, the purple hymnal and finally the green/blue hymnal. Each new edition had songs removed and songs added. Even then, members had a range of feelings about these additions and deletions.
Dwight Armstrong wrote many hymns that we still sing today. While the words penned were biblical, most don’t realize that some of the melodies came from very old Scottish psalteries, which had other non-biblical words. The melody was used with words added by Armstrong or early Ambassador College students. Was singing these melodies with biblical words in praise to God wrong? Although very few, if any, members would know the original words, we acknowledge the feelings of anyone who might know them, and may feel uneasy singing them.
Some hymns may have been written by appropriating a melody from another song whose words are offensive. It would be difficult not to think of those words when singing that hymn. Anyone writing hymns should take this into account. In a country (or culture) where the song or melody may be quite common, and evoke other feelings, it is appropriate not to sing that song in that country or in a congregation that has members from that culture. Songs with melodies and words that parallel another religious culture or rituals may evoke wrong feelings. If a church has members that come from that culture it would be wise not to use such songs.
Many pastors may not be conversant with other national or religious cultures. If a pastor has members in his congregation that would have this type of problem, the member should go to the pastor and explain the situation. If warranted, the pastor can ask the songleaders not to choose that particular song to honor the feelings of the member.
Anyone who submits hymns to the administration must include the notes and the words where those who understand music can evaluate them both doctrinally, and for ease of voice in singing. It should also include a signed release for use by UCG. If history proves correct, we will eventually do another hymnal. Any submitted hymns will be considered for inclusion and some current hymns might be removed.
You can be assured that all hymns in our hymnal have been vetted through the lens of the totality of God’s Word. While all may choose what they sing, one’s position against a hymn should not become offensive to others praising God. If one chooses not to sing a particular hymn because of their position, it should be done with respect to others. It should not be an opportunity to display disapproval of the hymn to others by sitting down during the song service or looking at others who are singing to show you disagree with the hymn. Likewise, anyone not singing because of conscience should also not be degraded for his or her position. Praise to God should create harmony, not discord, as well as respect for one another.
The subject of music in church cannot be covered in one article. To develop a complete view of music the UCG COE has produced a 59-page study paper entitled “Music in the Bible,” which you can find at ucg.org/study-papers. If one reviews this, and still believes there is a problem with a particular song, a member should write up their objection, clearly stating the name of the hymn and where they feel it falls short of our standards. Submit this paper to your pastor, and if his answer is not satisfactory, then follow the approved process by submitting to Ministerial and Member Services at the UCG home office to pass on to the appropriate review team. This way your concerns will be addressed in an orderly manner that will create unity and harmony in the body of Christ.
UCG Council of Elders