The 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 hymnbook, just released by LifeWay Christian Resources, aims to set those standards in Southern Baptist churches for a generation, a generation following a seismic theological shift often called a "conservative revival."
According to a press release, almost half of the 674 hymns in the hymnbook are new to the Baptist Hymnal. The most obvious additions are the many choruses of praise often seen projected on giant screens in metropolitan megachurches. The hymnal retains many, but not all, of the old favorites.
So what did the planners leave out to make room for new material? EthicsDaily.com compared a playlist on the LifeWay website while flipping through the 666 titles of the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, the most recent edition.
Several songs from the 1991 hymnal that were not included had to do with social ministry, especially to the poor. "For much has been given to me," number 605 in the old hymnbook included a line, "I will share my gifts from You with all the brethren I see." The anthem came out of the new edition.
So they are:
– “I will praise my Creator” (nº 35) with “He saves the oppressed, He feeds the poor”.
– “Say, my soul, greatness” (n. 81), which in the third verse refers to “the hungry fed, the humble exalted”.
– “Get up, your light has come (n. 83). “Open the prison door; proclaim the freedom of the captive.”
— "The childish cries of our Savior were heard" (n. 116) by Christ, "who had taken refuge from Herod and his sword."
- "No, not desperately" (n. 270) referenced "when the poor call".
– “Eternal God, may we be free” (n. 299). He confessed to "a lack of concern for those in need."
– “There is a spirit in the air” (#393) talked about “when a hungry child is fed” and “when the homeless find a home”.
- "When the Church of Jesus" (n. 396) admonished "the world that we banish is our Christian care".
– “All believers bear the name” (n. 399) spoke of “satisfying the most complete needs of body, mind and soul of people”.
–“The Church of Christ, in all times” (n. 402). This hymn was sung by both the universal church, apparently another critical point, and the "victims of injustice" who "cry for a roof and bread to eat."
- "May your heart break" (n. 611) "for a world in need - feed hungry mouths, soothe bleeding wounds."
– “À Obra” (nº 615), with “that the hungry be fed”.
– “For the fruit of all creation” (n. 643), which tells how “in the help we give to others, the will of God is done”, including “our global task of caring for the hungry and desperate”.
In the wake of controversies, including the missionaries' use of a "private prayer language", songs associated with themes associated with charismatic churches such as "filled with the Spirit", "tongues", and "healing" were also removed.
For example, "The Great Physician" (#188) is gone. So they are:
– “The King of Glory is coming” (nº 127). In the hymn, he "goes among his people, healing their diseases."
- "I know a fountain" (n. 155), with its "blind eyes made to see."
- "How much I love you" (n. 230) "for your presence in the place".
— "Although I can speak with the bravest fire" (n. 423), and "Of all the gifts of the Spirit to me" (n. 442).
– “The joy that I have” (nº 443), with its third verse, “The Holy Spirit that I have, the world did not give it to me”.
Songs emphasizing the environment, God's ongoing act of creation, or the bridge between faith and science were dropped. The best known is “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (No. 46). “God who stretched out the dappled skies” (nº 47) and “Creative God, still creating” (nº 51) also disappeared.
Calvinism gains ground in the new hymnal. “Make haste, O Zion” (No. 583), with “He who made the nations does not want a soul to perish” is not in the new hymnal.
Songs that suggested that Christ's death atoned for all and not just the elect, such as “El que quiera” (No. 314) and “El que quiera ser por mí” (No. 421), were not included. Neither "Oh, how wonderful" (n. 548), with his "All those who believe in him, he will save them all" or "Holy Bible, Book of Love" (n. 264), which proclaims that Christ "died for everyone”.
Neither are songs that question the eternal security of believers, sometimes referred to as "once saved, always saved," like "Pass Me Not By, O Gentle Savior" (#308). Songs referring to the "mercy seat," one of two key Biblical images of how atonement works, not the one favored by Calvinists, are out of the question. They include "Come Disheartened" (No. 67) and "We Worship Around This Table" (No. 373).
The believer's priesthood is outdated. Four of the five songs previously listed under that title are gone, including one that denounced "power-imposed creeds and laws."
Four of the seven songs from the 1991 hymnal related to peace and war were played. They include “O God of Love, O King of Peace” (#619), which called on God to “make wars cease in all the world” and “O Day of God, come near” (#623), with its pleas to "bring justice to our land" and that "war no longer haunts the land".
Hymns that could hint at what was called “generous orthodoxy” were removed, including “There Is Abundance In God's Mercy” (#25). Such was the friendly emerging church "Shake Your Church, O God Our Father" (#392) with its "interpretation for our culture of how your truth can set us free."
Songs that minimized gender roles, such as "O Praise the Gracious Power" (#226) and "A Servant of the Least" (#619), disappeared. Eight of the 10 songs dedicated to the family in the old hymnbook were dropped, likely a reflection of the 1998 Baptist Faith and Message that defined marriage in terms of authority and submission.
Some of the songs released celebrated ecumenism and the "universal" church. They include "We Gather in This Holy Place," which "calls for the separation to cease"; “Christian hearts united in love” (No. 378) and “Our God made us one” (No. 388).
Songs that might encourage a church to take a "welcoming and affirming" stance toward homosexuality are definitely out of the question, such as "Jesus Calls You Now" (#319) "just as you are."
Forty-two of the songs from the old hymnbook dedicated to "God's Love: Deus Filho" were abandoned, among them "I found a friend, oh such a friend" (nº 183).
“Come, Let's Reason” (No. 313) was released. So is "The Word of God is Alive" (#265), which states that the Bible is "inspired" but not necessarily "inerrant."
Joining "God and Country" songs like "America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the new hymnbook is "O Canada."
Replacing "Holy is the Lord" in n. #666, a questionable number due to its association with the "mark of the beast" in Revelation, is "We have come to his house."
The Southern Baptist Convention publisher has convened a group of theologians to examine the songs and make sure they are doctrinal and theologically sound. A press release described their criteria: “Does the hymn speak biblically of God? Is it honoring God? Does the hymn present a biblical view of man? Does music help us 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 involve the whole person, allowing him to express his deepest feelings? Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian's Lord, Teacher 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 of the church, the body of Christ?”
Bob Allen is editor-in-chief of EthicsDaily.com.
Correction: This story originally listed “Low In the Grave He Yay” as one of the hymns omitted from the new hymnbook. The song does appear, but with a different title, "Cristo Arose." EthicsDaily.com regrets the error.
Managing editor of EthicsDaily.com from 2003 to 2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 stories during his tenure.