Songs sung in church are more than words and music. They are teaching tools and a record of a congregation’s values and beliefs. A new hymnal, just released by LifeWay Christian Resources, aims to set those standards in Southern Baptist churches for a generation–a generation that follows a seismic theological shift often called the “conservative resurgence.”
According to a news release, nearly half of 674 hymns in the song book are new to the Baptist Hymnal. The most obvious additions are numerous praise choruses often seen projected on large screens at metropolitan mega-churches. The hymnal retains a lot, but not all, of the old favorites.
So what did the planners leave out to make room for the new material? EthicsDaily.com cross-matched a song list from the LifeWay Web site while flipping through the 666 titles in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, the most recent edition.
Several songs from the 1991 hymnal not making the cut had to do with social ministry, especially to the poor. “Because I Have Been Given Much,” No. 605 in the old hymnal, included a line, “I shall divide my gifts from Thee with every brother that I see.” The hymn is gone from the new edition.
–“I’ll Praise My Maker” (No. 35) with “He saves the oppressed, He feeds the poor.”
–“Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness” (No. 81), which in the third verse refers to “the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.”
–“Arise Your Light Has Come (No. 83). “Fling wide the prison door; proclaim the captive’s liberty.”
–“Our Savior’s Infant Cries Were Heard” (No. 116) for Christ, “who was a refugee from Herod and his sword.”
–“No Not Despairingly” (No. 270) referenced “when poor ones call.”
–“Eternal God, May We Be Free” (No. 299). It confessed “an unconcern for those in need.”
–“There’s a Spirit in the Air” (No. 393) talked about “when hungry child is fed” and “when the homeless find a home.”
–“When the Church of Jesus” (No. 396) admonished “the world we banish is our Christian care.”
–“Believers All, We Bear the Name” (No. 399) talked of “meeting persons’ fuller needs of body, mind and soul.”
–“The Church of Christ, in Every Age” (No. 402). This hymn sang of both the church universal, apparently another sticking point, and “victims of injustice” who “cry for shelter and for bread to eat.”
–“Let Your Heart Be Broken” (No. 611) “for a world in need–feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed.”
–“To the Work” (No. 615), with “let the hungry be fed.”
–“For the Fruit of All Creation” (No. 643), which told how “in the help we give our neighbor, God’s will is done,” including “our worldwide task of caring for the hungry and despairing.”
On the heel of controversies including missionaries’ use of “private prayer language,” songs associated with themes associated with charismatic churches like “filled with the Spirit,” “tongues” and “healing” were also jettisoned.
For example, “The Great Physician” (No. 188) is gone. So are:
–“The King of Glory Comes” (No. 127). In the hymn, he “goes among His people, curing their illness.”
–“I Know a Fount” (No. 155), with its “blind eyes made to see.”
–“How I Love You” (No. 230) “for your presence in the place.”
–“Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire” (No. 423) and “Of All the Spirit’s Gifts to Me” (No. 442).
–“The Joy That I Have” (No. 443), with its third verse, “The Holy Ghost that I have, the world didn’t give it to me.”
Songs that stress the environment, God’s continuing act of creation or bridging the gap between faith and science were dropped. The best known is “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (No. 46). Also gone are “God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens” (No. 47) and “Creator God, Creating Still” (No. 51).
Calvinism gains ground in the new hymnal. “O Zion, Haste” (No. 583), with “he who made the nations is not willing one soul should perish” isn’t in the new hymnal.
Songs that suggested that Christ’s death atoned for everyone and not just the elect–like “Whosoever Will” (No. 314) and “Whosoever Meaneth Me” (No. 421) didn’t make the cut. Neither did “Oh What a Wonder It Is” (No. 548), with its “all who would believe in Him, He’d save them every one” or “Holy Bible, Book of Love” (No. 264), which proclaims that Christ “died for everyone.”
Neither did songs that question the eternal security of believers–sometimes referred to as “once saved, always saved–like “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (No. 308). Songs that referred to the “mercy seat”–one of two main biblical images about how the atonement works and not the one preferred by Calvinists–are out. They include “Come Ye Disconsolate” (No. 67) and “We Worship Round This Table” (No. 373).
Priesthood of the believer is out of fashion. Four of the five songs formerly listed under that heading are gone, including one that denounced “creeds and laws imposed by power.”
Four of seven songs in the 1991 hymnal relating to peace and war were stricken. They include “O God of Love, O King of Peace” (No. 619), which asked God to “make wars throughout the world to cease” and “O Day of God, Draw Nigh” (No. 623), with its pleas to “bring justice to our land” and that “war may haunt the earth no more.”
Hymns that might hint at what has been termed “generous orthodoxy” were scrubbed, including “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (No. 25). So was the emergent-church friendly “Stir Your Church, O God, Our Father” (No. 392) with its “interprets for our culture how Your truth can make us free.”
Songs that downplayed gender roles, like “O Praise the Gracious Power” (No. 226) and “A Servant of the Least” (No. 619), are gone. Eight of 10 songs devoted in the old hymnal to the family were dropped, likely a reflection of a 1998 Baptist Faith & Message that defined marriage in terms of authority and submission.
Some of the dropped songs celebrated ecumenism and the “universal” church. They include “We Meet Within This Holy Place,” which “bids separation cease;” “Christian Hearts, in Love United” (No. 378) and “Our God Has Made Us One” (No. 388).
Songs that might embolden a church to adopt a “welcoming and affirming” stance toward homosexuality are definitely out, like “Jesus Calls You Now” (No. 319) “as you are.”
Forty-two of the songs in the old hymnal devoted to “The Love of God: God the Son” were dropped, including “I’ve Found a Friend, O Such a Friend” (No. 183).
“Come, Let Us Reason” (No. 313) is out. So is “The Word of God is Alive” (No. 265), which declared the Bible “inspired” but not necessarily “inerrant.”
Alongside “God and Country” songs like “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the new hymnal is “O Canada.”
Replacing “Holy Is the Lord” at No. 666–a dubious number because of its association with the “mark of the beast” in Revelation–is “We Have Come Into His House.”
The Southern Baptist Convention publishing house convened a group of theologians to vet the songs to ensure they are doctrinally and theologically sound. A press release outlined their criteria: “Does the hymn speak biblically of God? Is it God-honoring? Does the hymn present a biblical view of man? Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology? Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion? Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation? Does it engage the whole person–allowing a person to express his deepest feelings? Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian’s Lord, Master and King (the idea of total submission)? Does the hymn present an Americanized/Westernized gospel (civil religion)? Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship (immanence and transcendence)? Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Correction: This story originally listed “Low In the Grave He Lay” as one of the hymns omitted in the new hymnal. The song actually appears but with a different title, “Christ Arose.” EthicsDaily.com regrets the error.
Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.