Sunday, March 1, 2015

Theologically Discordant Hymns

Recently I attended the Mission Fifteen (M-15) conference in Kansas City, MO.  -  This is the conference that is held between Nazarene general assemblies.  It is sponsored by the U.S. / Canada Region of the Church of the Nazarene.  -  Actually, I presented a workshop on Wesleyan Worship during the Pre-Conference, and, hopefully before long, I will be able to link to a video of that workshop.

While at the M-15 conference, among the many workshops I attended, I went to one presented by Dr. Frank M. Moore.  Dr. Moore is the editor of the denominational magazine, Holiness Today.  He was presenting a workshop that promoted the new "Nazarene Essentials" edition of the magazine sponsored by the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene.

One of the many things that Dr. Moore was "up in arms" about (and really, rightly so!) was Nazarenes listening to and singing songs/hymns that contain Reformed lyrics.  Such really is a problem because, it is true, we really do (begin to) believe what we sing.  This is why it has sometimes been argued that Charles Wesley was much more influential for early Methodists than John.  After all, it was Charles' hymns, more than John's sermons, that shaped the beliefs of the people called Methodists.  -  They sang the Wesley hymns much more often than they read one of John's sermons.

Dr. Moore was quite concerned that in singing such songs we have produced members who think that we actually believe what we are singing, when we don't and never have!  Further, many do not seem to understand, at all, why we wouldn't or shouldn't believe such claims.

Frankly, I pressed Dr. Moore to give some examples of such Reformed lyrics.  I did this, not because I didn't have a good idea of some, myself, but because I thought there may be some attending the workshop who really had no idea what he was talking about.

The one song that he thought of, off the top of his head,was one that has previously been a topic of conversation among some of my colleagues, viz., "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend.

Actually, I quite like the song . . . for the most part.  However, there is one troublesome line, for we Wesleyans.  -  Here is the hymn in its entirety:

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.
 
Truly, there are a number of lines that could be read from a Reformed point of view, though, I would suggest, they do not have to be read from that point of view.  For example, nearly the entirety of the last verse could be understood from a Reformed perspective, but it need not be the case at all.  However, the one line that does cause an issue is the sixth line of the second verse which declares that when Jesus died on the cross, "The wrath of God was satisfied."  -  For this line, it has been suggested that we substitute the words, "The love of God was magnified," which is much more consistent with a Wesleyan perspective.
 
However, the song that came to my mind is the 1758 classic hymn by Robert Robinson, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."  -  The original words to the third verse (at least the third verse that appears in most modern hymnals) are:


 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now 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.

 
In a brilliant move (and I have yet to trace exactly how this happened), the Nazarene hymnal (and others in the Holiness Movement) changed this third verse.  Frankly, I am not aware of any other hymn that we (Nazarenes) have actually taken pains to edit theologically.  Nevertheless, I am thrilled that we have made this change.  -  The revised verse, consistent with Wesleyan theology, says:
 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace, now, like a fetter,
Bind my yielded heart to Thee.
Let me know Thee in Thy fullness;
Guide me by Thy mighty hand
Till, transformed, in Thine own image
In Thy presence I shall stand.

 
Frankly, I have been dismayed over these last few years, while serving in the United Methodist Church, that the United Methodists, who have spent time editing various hymns, have retained the original, non-Wesleyan(!), version in their hymnal.  -  I will confess that when we sing the hymn and project it at the United Methodist churches where I serve, we sing the Wesleyan version!

How unfortunate that the older, non-Wesleyan version has found its way back into the Church of the Nazarene via a contemporary version of the hymn that has had popular air play on the radio.  -  In fact, I was very surprised to hear it sung, not with the contemporary version, but in a choral piece at a Nazarene retreat. 

With music being seen by so many as having such importance in worship (and I agree that it plays an important, though not the primary role in worship), we pastors who have been given the responsibility to lead the Church in worship are responsible to make sure that what we sing is consistent with what we believe.  For, indeed, we will believe what we sing.

7 comments:

Victor Galipi said...

What is really unfortunate to me is that the latest UM Hymnal left out so many of the good hymns of Charles Wesley, and the ones that are left aren't sung that much in many churches, with maybe a couple of exceptions. Wesley's hymns have a lot of Scripture and theological depth, unlike many of the songs in our current hymnal and in many other hymnals and songbooks. If we are Methodists and we are Wesleyan,we should sing like it.

Todd Stepp said...

No arguments from me, Victor!

newenglandsun said...

I still lean toward the original version of Come Thou Fount as being much more profound and deep. I think that the process of transformation can still be found in it but it highlights it much more for what it is--a lifelong struggle.

I'm not certain if my own church would sing In Christ Alone though as it is much more of a modern hymn and we prefer older liturgical styles.

Todd Stepp said...

newenglandsun,

Thank you for your comment.

Many people, obviously agree with you. However, that original third verse is simply not Wesleyan in theology. It views Romans 7:14-24 to be the norm for the Christian life. Wesleyans do not. We understand Romans 7:25a & Romans 8 to be the norm God intends for the Christian life.

In other words, we believe that God desires to replace that "prone[ness] to wander" and that "prone[ness] to leave the God I love" with a knowledge of the fullness of God that binds our yielded heart to God by grace, and that transforms us in God's own image.

The original verse fits well with Reformed & Lutheran theology, but not with Wesleyan theology.

newenglandsun said...

Thank you for your response. I am not that familiar with Wesleyan theology to make a statement on that. The proneness to wander though seems to fit with a more ancient understanding of the Christian faith.

In addition, I do not know much about Reformed theology either. All I know is that St. Ignatius of Antioch said "I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more".

Of course, I agree with both Rom. 7:14-24 and the parts following after it but I do not think the transformation process is automatic or can automatically leave us free from sin. If it leaves us free from sin, I see no reason to go to church each Sunday just to repeat how I've strayed like a lost sheep because at some point that ends up becoming a lie.

I'm not certain though if I understand Wesley's theology well enough though. Is there a case where someone has in fact achieved this ideal Christian perfectionism in history though, out of curiosity?

Todd Stepp said...

Just two quick Wesley quotes that came to mind:

"The PERFECTION I hold is so far from being contrary to the doctrine of our Church that it is exactly the same which every clergyman prays for every Sunday: 'Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may PERFECTLY LOVE THEE, and WORTHILY MAGNIFY thy holy name.'" (John Wesley, "Answer to Rowland Hill's Tract" in "The Works of John Wesley" vol. 9, p409.)

And

"Thursday 21st, inquiring how it was that in all these parts we had so few witnesses of full salvation [i.e., entire sanctification; Christian perfection], I constantly received one and the same answer: 'We see now, we sought it by our WORKS. We thought it was to come GRADUALLY. We never expected it to come in a moment, by simple FAITH, in the very same manner as we received justification.' What wonder is it then that you have been fighting all these years 'as one that beateth the air'?" (John Wesley, "Short History of People Called Methodists" in "The Works of John Wesley" Vol. 9, p475)

And, perhaps this article would be helpful: http://craigladams.com/blog/christian-perfection-as-an-ecumenical-doctrine/

newenglandsun said...

Author sums it up as "the challenge to live a life wholly devoted to God". I can agree with that. But I'm not certain then the Wesleyan complaint against the original lyric of "Come Thou Fount". Given, I much prefer Gregorian chant and would rather see this resuscitated in my own church than the "pub songs" we call hymns.

This is closer to what I believe, in case you're interested:
http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/09/13/christianity-in-a-plain-brown-wrapper/