Thursday, December 29, 2011

Could a Mormon Sing Your Hymns?

Jonathan Leeman's book Reverberation asks pastors, "Could a Muslim Imam or a Jewish Rabbi preach your sermon?"  His point is that it's frighteningly easy to simply give moral advice from the Bible and leave out the "stumbling block of the cross".  Often we don't even realize something's missing.

Recently I discovered how that same concept applies to music.  The Latter Day Saints (LDS) church uses many of the same hymns that we do.  You can check out the contents of their hymnal by clicking here.

While as we would expect they have added many songs that specifically allude to many of their unique doctrines (e.g., "If You Could Hie to Kolob"), a lot of the hymns are identical to ones we sing.

To be sure, there are often significant changes made to our favorite hymns.  (For example, why do you think they omitted this verse from Rock of Ages?)

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Sometimes the wording changes are very subtle, (and even without any note saying that the text has been altered from the original) .  Compare these two versions of the first verse of Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above and see if you can catch why they altered the text in the ways they did.
Sing praise to God who reigns above,
the God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled
and every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

Sing praise to him who reigns above,
The Lord of all creation,
The source of pow’r, the fount of love,
The rock of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul he fills
And ev’ry faithless murmur stills.
To him all praise and glory!

Not surprisingly, the last verse of that hymn was also omitted:
Let all who name Christ’s holy name
give God all praise and glory;
Let all who own His power
proclaim aloud the wondrous story!
Cast each false idol from its throne,
for Christ is Lord, and Christ alone:
To God all praise and glory.
However, the purpose of this article isn't to bash the LDS church.  Mormonism is just one of many religions that believe righteousness can be achieved through our obedience to the Law of God.  Sadly, there are many professing Christians who believe the same thing but just have a slightly different "checklist" than the Mormons.

And to get back to my main point: many of the hymns they sing are identical to ours.  No missing verses or changed words.  Away in a Manger.  Onward Christian Soldiers.  Even the Doxology.

So what's my point?  Should we stop singing those hymns?  Certainly not; these hymns express fitting worship to the true God.  But if they are all we sing, we are in grave danger.  We are in danger of losing the gospel that saves us.  If there is nothing in our worship of God that a Mormon (or a Muslim or a Jehovah's Witness or a Catholic or...) disagrees with, we have neglected a most important truth about God: how a loving God can let adulterers and murderers and blasphemers and liars and thieves and idolaters into heaven, without compromising His holiness.  All of us fit into one or more of those categories.  So we can't afford to have the wrong answer.  And we can't afford to neglect the answer by singing no songs that accurately explain it and joyfully praise God for it.  As church history shows, the gospel is easy to forget but harder to recover.

So this Sunday, ask yourself, "Could a Mormon sing this?"

Friday, December 23, 2011

O Tarnished Night?

No Christmas music is more beautiful or emblematic of Christmas than O Holy Night. Even people who aren't Christians love to sing it.

But a few of the words have always rubbed me the wrong way, especially, "'Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth".  Some have unofficially tweaked the words to "felt His worth".  Many other hymnals opt to omit this hymn altogether.

Today I learned from Wikipedia that the song was originally written in French.  John Sullivan Dwight, who produced the English "translation" that we sing today, was a Unitarian transcendentalist.  That explains several things about the lyrics.

Here is a more literal translation of the original French hymn (again, found on Wikipedia).  Sadly, these don't rhyme and they're not singable.  But see if you notice the slight but important differences in wording:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!