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Hymns, A Secondhand Emotion?

Hymns, A Secondhand Emotion?

When you speak, I know when you are happy, or sad, or surprised, or angry, or any other host of emotions. It comes out in your facial expressions, your tone and your body language. You would be exceedingly boring without emotion. Singing is no different. In fact, singing with emotion is almost always better than singing without emotion. Good singers know how to convey the emotional power of a song. You will hear this comment time and time again on the various TV singing competition shows. The only precaution I will add is that emotions can go too far, like crying, that actually inhibits your singing. Adding emotions like joy, exuberance, passion, sadness, love and anger can turn good singers into great singers and great worshipers; because emotions come from the heart – where worship matters. More importantly, singing with emotion is the result of inwardly digesting the lyrics that are being sung. It is in fact making the song – your own. Which is what we all should be doing as lip service does not impress God.

One of the first things a singer needs to do when looking at a new piece of music is to identify the prevailing mood of the song.

Let’s look at some examples:

1. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – What a brilliant work by Mr. Isaac Watts! This song only uses five notes and if you were to accompany it on the guitar, the song requires only one chord. There is beauty in simplicity here. The lyrics are so well crafted they’ll take your breath away. This song requires introspective thought as you sing your way through it. It will take you on an intellectual journey from sorrow to love to deep appreciation. When I sing this hymn it feels like Jesus has poured liquid love onto me from head to foot.

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”. – Isaac Watts

“Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.” – John Wesley

2. “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard. Written for his father as he was dying. This song brings you into the mind of a person who is contemplating what it will be like in heaven. Uplifting, joy, hope and elation come to mind. A refreshing song to stretch your imagination heavenward. For some reason I can reach a high G note in this song, yet I sing base in the choir! It’s the emotion.

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” – C. S. Lewis

3. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther. A bellwether of strength and confidence. Sing this one when you are tempted to sin, when you need reassurance of God’s word and his sovereign power or just as a faith builder. Courage, confidence, reassurance, and boldness all are involved in singing this masterpiece.

“Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy. Emotion without truth produces empty frenzy. What’s needed is a balance of the two crucial elements.” – John Piper

4. “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone” by John Newton, John P. Rees, Edwin Otthelo Excell, Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio. A little bit of the best from both old and new writers. This hymn is over 200 years old and has been recorded by just about every popular singer you can imagine. It’s as popular now as it was 200 years ago; and it’s all because of Jesus and the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.

When I sing this song I cannot help but think about the slave trade history that was part of the background of the original hymn writer. John Newton was “the worst of sinners.” He personally ruined over 20,000 lives selling 20,000 young Africans; that’s 20,000 people created by God, in His image, and Newton sold them like cattle into a life of unending slavery. He never knew their names, never cared to know their names, in fact history tells us that Newton simply referred to them all as “grunts.” Newton was guilty for grievous crimes against humanity. But God used this huckster to change the course of History. John Newton was lost; but now He’s found, He was blind; but now He sees. Newton was writing about himself. Newton was the wretch. He came full circle. This is a story of one man coming to faith, renouncing the life that he once served. Newton actually died a blind man. Perhaps he sees now while in heaven.

Sing it with righteous outrage. Sing it with relief. Sing it knowing that you are no better than the slave trader himself. Sing it to feel the freedom that grace provides. Sing it to feel the freedom that your sins have been forgiven, regardless of their severity.

On Good Friday, some 2000 years ago, a Roman soldier plunged a sword into the side of a dying innocent man. In fact, this innocent man was God himself. Quite a sin you must be thinking, right? But guess what covered that sharp tipped sword when it was removed from Jesus’ side? It was literally covered by the blood of Jesus. I don’t know if that Roman soldier ever came to faith in Jesus; but if He did, that sin was covered and paid in full. That’s amazing grace!

“My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.” – Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio

5. ”How Deep the Fathers Love for Us” – by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. Deep sorrow, anguish, toil, shame, undeserved love, release and relief all rolled into one bouncing rhythmic ball of emotion. “Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders. I hear my mocking voice call out among the suffers. It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.” ( Verse 2) Simply incredible! It pains me just to know that most traditional hymn-based churches have never even heard of this.

This is what God thinks of emotionally constipated, stone faced and comatose singing:

“Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” – Amos 5:23

6. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – by Monks of the Middle Ages??? Perhaps one of the oldest songs in our hymnal, yet fresh sounding enough to be on modern radio. Every time I sing this I am brought back to the 400 years of silence; the anticipation of the promised Messiah. It is with unabandoned joy that I sing the refrain “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, Shall come to Thee O Israel!” And yet, it is set in a haunting minor key. Expectation and anticipation! I am grateful to our ancestors for this piece.

7. “Now Thank We All Our God” – by Martin Rinkart. Oh, the strife this man went through! Martin Rinkart served as Pastor during the 30 years war and during a great plague. It is reported that he was presiding over fifty funerals a day, including that of his wife. Yet in the midst of this, Rinkart was a prolific hymn writer, writing 66 hymns. The exact date of “Now Thank We All Our God” is in question, but it is known that it was widely sung by the time the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. It was commonly sung as a grace following meals. Since then it has become a “Te Deum” for Germany, sung on occasions of national thanksgiving.

If you need to feel blessed and thankful, this is the song for you. You can even use this song on Mother’s Day as Rinkart voices thanks for mothers in the song.

“It is doubtful that God can use a man greatly until he has been broken deeply.” – CS Lewis

8. “How Can I Keep From Singing?” – by Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Ed Cash. This is my anthem. This song always puts me in the mood to praise God. Doesn’t matter how blue I am, what’s going on in my world, nothing seems to matter when I sing this piece. It’s joy, happiness, praise, worship, in good times, in bad times, in sickness and in health. This song just picks me up.

“To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable.” – Beethoven

9. “Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded” – by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hans Leo Hassler. Oh my! What weight. What grief. What pain. What sorrow. Singing this hymn is like walking the road with a bloodied, beaten, Jesus carrying the cross. Honestly it is difficult to make it through this song if you are plugged into the lyrics and what is going on. Good Friday just does not seem like Good Friday without this piece.

10. “The First Song of Isaiah” – Jack Noble White. Sing this song once, and you will be singing it for the rest of the day. Joy and praise Old Testament style. Foot tapping; you might even find yourself swaying to the music even if you are a Lutheran. It reminds me of a driving contemporary praise song.


A Few Words on Hymns vs Contemporary Songs

We should sing these above mentioned songs as if it were our last day on earth! We should live them out.

In my experience, the deepest emotions come out with hymns, not as much with the newer music, although the Spirit certainly can make us feel these in our heart as well. And the strange thing is that the traditional hymn churches tend to shun emotions, even though their music is drenched in it.

I believe that hymns stirred our emotions and continue to do so. When I sing a hymn like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, I just want to say “I love you lord with all my heart for doing this”, but the hymn doesn’t give me that opportunity. I am left with the emotion, which is fine. The newer songs build on this, and use the feelings in the lyrics and melodies to unlock something fresh within us. In fact, most redone hymns have been updated with the addition of a chorus that expresses our reaction to those incredible verses. Newer songs do use lyrics like “I love you Lord”, “I long for you”, “I need you Lord”. This is the reason that many in the traditional churches claim the newer songs to just be love songs. The contemporary artists are building on the one thing that the hymns were lacking. Hymns were written in a time when it was considered to be a sign of weakness to show one’s emotions. This is no longer true.

A few Biblical precedence for doing this:

Psalm 18:1 I love you, Lord, my strength.

Psalm 116:1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

Isaiah 5:1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyardon a fertile hillside. (From “the song of the vineyard”)

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Psalm 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight.

A secondhand emotion is an emotion that has gotten worn out over the years and is no longer felt. Hymns, should not be a secondhand emotion. We should be saving our most profound emotions for our Lord and these hymns of faith are one of the best ways to express it!!! And, the newer songs are the best way to put it into words!!! You should sing both!!! Your Lord deserves it!!!

We Are Not Robots

We are not robots, so don’t worship like one.

Caution! Reading this article may stir your emotions.

Should we strip all emotions from our worship? Some denominations might still answer “yes”.

It is Biblical
King David’s worship was dripping with emotions – emotional displays that would be uncomfortable to me and to you, but apparently not to God. And Jesus had emotions as well. For crying out loud God wept! He rejoiced. He raged in righteous fury and He felt compassion for the crowds. And the Gospel writers thought it important enough that we should know about it. Given such evidence, it would be difficult to argue from Scripture that emotional expression is out of place in the worship of God.

Lot’s of Questions; No Answers
So why are we supposed to shun our emotions in worship? Why can’t we have emotions while singing hymns? While praying? While receiving the Lord’s Supper? While just contemplating? Why shouldn’t worship be emotional? Why shouldn’t singing be emotional? Why can we be emotional towards each other but not towards God? Why did God give us emotions? Will our worship in heaven be joyous? Joy is an emotion!

Now I’m Really Getting Angry!
So let’s talk about emotions. I am talking about joy at Easter. I am talking about sorrow on Good Friday. I am talking about remorse during the confession of sins and joy and relief during the absolution. I am talking about tears. Anger. Confidence. Frustration. Elation. Delight. Peace. Awe. Love. Fear. Sadness. Anticipation. Shame. Grief. Surprise. Sorrow. Wonder. Excitement. Hope. These are all natural responses that flow from a genuine relationship with the living God.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21)

Look at Me! Look at Me!
I am not talking about making a spectacle of oneself, being a hindrance or a distraction. I am talking about being real. I am talking about being yourself. I am talking about being a person and not a stone. I am talking about emotions motivated by truth.

We should all worship God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. This includes all our emotions. Half-hearted worship is no worship at all. Worship is the highlight of my week so my emotions will naturally be higher than during the week because God is to be desired above all things. I am not the type of person that compartmentalizes my secular life from my church life. I listen to the same music in both places and if I have emotions at home I will also have emotions in church.

Music Defined
The difference between music, and the written word, at a fundamental level – is emotion. Music evokes emotion. Music moves me. Music should move you. It should stir your heart and pull on your heart strings. Music without emotion stinks because God designed it to be emotional from the get go. God invented major keys to be happy and minor keys to be sad. That’s just the way it is. Don’t fight it.

So don’t hide your emotions in worship. Don’t leave them at the door. Every hymn or song has an unwritten direction that should be written under the writer’s name. It should say “Sing with emotion.” Some of our songs do have little instructional notes like “sing joyfully” or “with great feeling”. Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace it. Your music will sound better. You won’t miss that penultimate note that the artist intended for you to sing. Your worship will improve. There’s nothing worse in worship than to hear a deadpan, lifeless, expressionless group of believers droning out a dirge-like tune as if the words mean nothing to them. God detests this kind of worship. He got an earful of it in Amos 5.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep! – Romans 12:15

The Dreaded Frenzy!
I have heard some in the traditional church claim that the contemporary churches use the newer music to “whip our emotions into a frenzy.” This is preposterous. This has not been my experience and we’ve been using contemporary music for almost a decade. The motive is not to deceive people or to manipulate, it is to honor Christ, to show our love towards Him and worship and glorify Him in the best ways we can. These claims are hypocritical and judgmental and are hurting the church at large. These accusers have gone off-course. They have turned grace into condemnation and truth into judgment. The church has enough enemies and mockers without us believers throwing bombs at one another trying to guess what each other’s motives are.

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. – Wormwood, the Devil (C.S.Lewis)

Lutheran Forefathers
Us old timers, self included, have been taught to hide our emotions. This is not the case with the younger generation. In fact the opposite is true and they can see right through our facade. We need to understand this if we are to grow the church.

So some of us will sit in worship like an ancient Reformation era tombstone because God made us that way. Cool! But let’s not judge the heart of those different than us because that’s God’s job, not ours.

God deserves our highest, purest, strongest emotions.

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

I don’t think there are many Christians, even those who use nothing but Contemporary music, that doubt or question the depth and the beauty of the lyrics contained in our wealth of hymns. But sometimes, they are difficult to comprehend or are just too musically foreign to those that we are Called to reach.

There is a process to modernize these hymns and to put chords to them but it’s not easy to do and there are a lot of subtleties that only come with experience and knowledge. In this two-part series, I will try to address one basic approach to do this.

In this first installment, we will consider a step-by-step approach written for a beginner’s level and the second installment will show an example where these types of techniques have been used successfully.

So let’s start…

Step One – Put Chords to it

Here is the process you will need to add your own chords:

  1. Identify the key signature by looking at the number of sharps and flats.

No sharps or flats – key of C or Am
1 Sharp – key of G or Em
2 Sharps – key of D or Bm
3 Sharps – key of A or F#m
4 Sharps – key of E or C#m
5 Sharps – key of B or G#m (rarely used)
6 Sharps – key of F# or D#m (rarely used)
1 flat – key of F or Dm
2 flats – key of Bb or Gm
3 flats – key of Eb or Cm
4 flats – key of Ab or Fm
5 flats – key of Db or Bbm
6 flats – key of Gb or Ebm (rarely used)

  1. Know the typical chords used in each key signature (these are referred to as the harmonized scales):
MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -    3    4   -   5   -   6   -   7 
   C  maj.:   C   -   Dm   -   Em   F   -   G   -   Am  -  rarely
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bbm -  used
   D  maj.:   D   -   Em   -   F#m  G   -   A   -   Bm
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm   Ab  -   Bb  -   Cm
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#m  -   G#m  A   -   B   -   C#m
   F  maj.:   F   -   Gm   -   Am   Bb  -   C   -   Dm
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#m  -   A#m  B   -   C#  -   D#m
   G  maj.:   G   -   Am   -   Bm   C   -   D   -   Em
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm   Db  -   Eb  -   Fm
   A  maj.:   A   -   Bm   -   C#m  D   -   E   -   F#m
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm   Eb  -   F   -   Gm 
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#m  -   D#m  E   -   F#  -   G#m 

MINOR SCALE   R   -    2      b3  -   4    -       5      b6  -   b7
   A  min.:   Am   -   Bdim   C   -   Dm   -   Em or E    F
   Bb min.:   Bbm  -   Cbdim  Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm or F    Gb
   B  min.:   Bm   -   C#dim  D   -   Em   -   F#m or F#  G 
   C  min.:   Cm   -   Ddim   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm or G    Ab
   C# min.:   C#m  -   D#dim  E   -   F#m  -   G#m or G#  A
   D  min.:   Dm   -   Edim   F   -   Gm   -   Am or A    Bb
   Eb min.:   Ebm  -   Fdim   Gb  -   Abm  -   Bbm or Bb (B)
   E  min.:   Em   -   F#dim  G   -   Am   -   Bm or B    C 
   F  min.:   Fm   -   Gdim   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm or C    Db 
   F# min.:   F#m  -   G#dim  A   -   Bm   -   C#m or C#  D
   G  min.:   Gm   -   Adim   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm or D    Eb 
   G# min.:   G#m  -   A#dim  B   -   C#m  -   D#m or D#  E
  1. Know what each line and space represent on the treble and bass clefs. (See below)

Image source:

4. Now the hard part. If you know the key signature by the number of sharps and flats (item 1 above), then you know the basic chords to look for (item 2), and now you should be able to identify all the notes in each grouping of chords on your sheet music by using the chart in item 3. You will also need to know the notes that comprise each chord. Here’s a little help:

C# (or Db)….. C#-F-G# or (Db-F-Ab)
C#m (or Dbm).C#-E-G# or (Db-E-Ab)
Ebm …………Eb-Gb-Bb
Em………….. E-G-B
Fm………….. F-Ab-C
F# (or Gb)……F#-A#-C#
F#m (or Gbm).F#-A-C#
G…………… G-B-D

5. Many hymns that don’t have guitar chords do so for a reason, and typically it is because every note in the melody line theoretically requires a different guitar chord. If this is the case, your song will sound too choppy with a chord change on every beat. Songs that lend themselves well to guitar accompaniment typically have a chord change at the start of the measures or sometimes at the mid-point of the measures. For example, a song in 4/4 time might have a chord change before the first and maybe the third beats. Even if you’re hymn requires a unique chord for each note in the melody line – don’t do it! If 4/4 time, stick to the chord changes on the first and third beats. Also, listen for the “strong beats” and put the chord changes on those particular notes.

6. When you have finished putting chords to a musical piece, sit back and look at the song in its entirety, as opposed to the note-by-note study that you have just finished. Look for overriding chord patterns or progressions. Sometimes, you can delete certain chords that you have identified and use fewer chords that fit into an overall theme for the song. It also sometimes helps to replace the chord names with Roman numerals and then to look for repeating patterns.

This technique should get you started. There are other more advanced issues such as numbered chords (C2, C5, Csus, C7, etc.) and slash chords (D/A, D/F#, D/G, etc.) but these can come later.

Step Two – Consider adding a Chorus and maybe a Bridge

The Chorus:
Most hymns only have verses. Lots of verses. These verses tell a story. Sometimes it’s nice to respond to these verses with either a chorus or refrain and sometimes it’s nice to alter the musical accompaniment with a bridge.

When writing a chorus, think of it as an answer to the story being told in the verse. Also, the chorus is usually sung a bit higher than the verse and with more energy. Choruses are usually the “hook” of the song; they are the part that people will remember and sing throughout the upcoming week. The chorus will have a stronger chord progression than the more fragile verses and the chorus will typically use more of the tonic key notes than in the verses. Choruses can also talk about feelings, or how you should feel about the story being told in the verses. A good example of a hymn with a great chorus that you undoubtedly know is “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Another good example would be Chris Tomlin’s recent adaptation of “Amazing Grace” with his iconic chorus “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing Grace.” Wow!

The Bridge:
The bridge offers melodic, lyrical and even harmonic variation. Bridges can be a welcome addition to hymns because the verses and even the chorus can be very repetitive. Oftentimes, bridges in songs written in major keys start with a minor chord and vice versa, and they almost never start with the tonic chord.

Next you will need a formula for the structure of your new hymn. Consider something like:
Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 4, Chorus, End

But there are unlimited combinations.

Step Three – Consider updating the lyrics

Read through the hymn lyrics. If they are in our CW hymnbook, they will be pretty awesome. However, some hymns use too many churchy words, too many archaic words, phrases no longer in use, old English, phrases that just didn’t translate well into English from the original language the hymn was written in and what I’ll call reverse poetry. Keep all these things if the hymn sings well and makes sense to you. Only make changes if the lyrics require you to research and study them immensly before you get the picture. Our hymnal has actually already come a long way. There were massive revisions between our current hymnal and it’s predecessor so you might be OK in this regard.

If you change lyrics, make sure that you do not change the message, the rhythm, or the meter (the number of syllables per measure). You may find a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus to be helpful in this regard.

Step Four – Consider adding a Musical Turn Around

Most hymns just seem to run into a musical brick wall at the end of a verse and then awkwardly go back to the beginning. Update this! Add a short musical turn-around, perhaps just a measure or two, but find a way to musically tie the ending back to the beginning.

I know that many of you reading this post are in my denomination and have probably heard the band known as “Branches.” They have a great example of a musical turn around in their arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” Just listen to Andy Braun and the band use a few simple chords to turn the end of each verse into a transition to get back to the beginning and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Braun’s turn-around makes an incredible hymn even more incredible and that’s the point of this effort.

Step Five – Consider Jazzing it Up

There are many ways to do this. Consider modulating the last verse up or down a whole step, or even a minor third, depending on the mood of the song. Or, take an instrumental break in between verses or simply add an intro. Another idea would be to use some chord extensions like ninths, elevenths, thirteenths or even major sevenths. Another thing you can do is add a few slash chords with inherent bass runs to connect the chords together.

Step Six – Say a Prayer of Thanks; you’ve made it.

Whew! That was a lot of work; but that hymn you’re considering redoing is worth it.

Tomorrow we will consider an example. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that was redone by musician Michael Schroeder in 2010.

A Commentary on Hymns

A Commentary on Hymns

Hymns are great.  However…

I believe that one of the issues with hymns is the fact that the style of musical accompaniment has become foreign to our modern ears; especially to those who might not have grown up in the church.  We are accustomed to hearing music that is accompanied by chords – either played by a piano, or the guitar, or some other polyphonic instrument and whose beat is carried by a percussion or rhythmic instrument.  Yes, we can separate our church music from the other music that we listen to; but perhaps there is a different way (not necessarily a better way) while still keeping the lyrics and the melody (singability) as high priority.

It’s my understanding that hymns are not usually accompanied by chords but are accompanied by a grouping of notes (usually four notes) for each note in the melody line.  These four notes correspond with the SATB notes typically used in a four-part harmony.  This is a pleasing sound if used in a four-part harmony but most congregations that use hymns do not sing in this style so the accompanying music tends to sound “stilted” and rhythmically rigid because every note in the melody line will have a different “chord” associated with it, that really isn’t even a chord in the traditional sense.  This is also the reason why most hymns do not lend themselves to a chorded accompaniment and if a guitarist (for example) tries to change chords at each note change in the melody, then again the music sounds choppy, stilted and anything but fluidic; which is the goal of most music.   Hymns do sound great when played on the organ and sung by a well seasoned group of Lutherans.

The bottom line is that most hymns in use today are abundantly sound lyrically but musically foreign – at least to some and especially the unchurched.  I am not trying to trash hymns, in fact my goal is the opposite.  I love hymns – especially their lyrics and the stories behind their creation, but I want worshipers to sing them with the same zeal, vigor and passion as young people sing contemporary music.  I know, I know, there are many who do sing hymns with zeal and incredible confidence but please understand that I am talking about the unchurched, or those young in faith who might not be as enthusiastic over hymns as us long-time pew dwellers (self included).  Like most, I have a heart for reaching out to the unchurched.  Are we not to break down any potentially unnecessary barriers for them?  With hymns, there exists this issue which I’ve tried my best to describe but it is difficult to verbalize.  Actually, many traditional churches that are intent on using hymns have tried to rewrite them into modern arrangements or to use complex MIDI accompaniment with a myriad of instruments to jazz up the accompaniment and sometimes these are done with great success and other times its simply best to leave well enough alone.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be served by musicians of the caliber of either Koine’ or the Branches Band; I do not know the answer to this dilemma or how we in the traditional denominations are to respond.  I know that in our Synod, the new Hymnal Supplement has made a huge step toward finding hymns that aren’t written in this older format.  These new hymns however, frustrate the choirs that try to sing them in an SATB format because they weren’t written that way, but they do sound more modern if played as intended.

I once invited an unchurched young man to worship during one of our blended worship services.  He enjoyed it very much and returned for more.  The following weeks were traditional services.  He returned two or three times then stopped coming.  I asked why and the response I got was “What happened? – this music is for old people!”  I cringed, I responded (and I do know the proper responses – I’ve been in my denomination for over 30 years), I reasoned, I instructed, I prayed – all to no apparent avail.  At least not as far as I could see.  Several years later I ran into this young man.  He is now attending a contemporary church in a different denomination as a result of this experience.  Should I be happy?  Did the Holy Spirit do His work with the seed that I planted?  I may never know but this experience continues to haunt me.

Perhaps someone else reading these words might have some other ideas to help us to retain these musical gems that our ancestors have been singing for centuries and that have brought them such great comfort.  I do fear that our traditional churches will be facing some hard times when the current older generation of hymn-lovers move on to their heavenly homes, not to mention the fact that talented organists are getting hard to find.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

Maybe it’s just me.  Anyone?  Ideas?  Comments?

In the meantime, there are a lot of heroic efforts ongoing to save and revive hymns.  These resources have all been mentioned in the past at this website and are recommended to help keep hymns alive:

Sources of Chorded Hymns:         (Note: Requires registration on CONNECT)

Sources of Modernized Hymns:  (Arrangments for purchase)  (Arrangements for purchase)

Sources of Sound Contemporary Song Recommendations:

Ideas to Revive Hymns:

Hymnal Supplement Review:

CW Hymnal Scripture References:

Two bands mentioned in this post that do a fine job of modernizing hymns:

CW Hymns and CCM Cousins

CW Hymns and CCM Cousins

Several months ago, one of our fine Pastors from the state of Florida asked me if I had a cross-reference table that compares hymns to contemporary equivalents.  I did not have such a resource at the time, so I directed him to where the blogger has commented on a few hymn vs CCM “cousins”.   Where a cousin is defined as two pieces of music expressing the same message but using differing styles.

Since this time, I have set out to create a larger and more comprehensive list, but as I read through our hymns and pondered equivalent contemporary pieces, I was struck by the massive differences between these two forms of worship music.  My conclusion is that in general and with very few exceptions, there are no equivalents to hymns.

Hymns generally have a lot of detailed lyrics, are poetic, use some old English, and cover almost every detail found in scripture.  They are also usually written as pieces that we use to teach each other, to admonish, and to profess our faith, our beliefs and our doctrine; some are even as deep as sermons set to music.  Contemporary music on the other hand has fewer words, is less poetic, uses today’s phrases and vernacular and concentrates on praise, worship and prayer.   Both types of music in my opinion are worthy and necessary parts of our worship and our Pastors would do well to keep both in mind when planning worship.

So my resulting cross-reference table has mostly become a resource that defines locations and sources of modern hymn arrangements.  In a few instances I have included some contemporary equivalents but these are the exception rather than the rule.  This table is most useful to those congregations that currently use only hymns, and are ready (for whatever reason; and having willing and capable musicians is a great place to start) to move towards some different instrumentation but want to maintain the lyrical content of hymns.

This is an excerpt of the resulting table:

103 Glory Be to Jesus “Glory Be to Jesus “ by
104 Go to Dark Gethsemane “Go to Dark Gethsemane” by
105 O Sacred Head, Now Wounded “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” by
106 Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain
107 Deep Were His Wounds
108 Jesus, Refuge of the Weary
109 When O’er My Sins I  Sorrow
110 My Song Is Love Unknown “My Song Is Love Unknown” by
111 Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing
112 There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
113 Upon the Cross Extended
114 Christ, the Life of All the Living “Endless Praises” by Stephen Altrogge (SovereignGraceMusic) – see note 2
115 He Stood Before the Court “He Stood Before the Court” by

Copies of the file are available as a free download from my file sharing area.  The file name is “CW Index – CCM Cousins.doc.”  Or, I would be happy to email a copy to you.  My email address is sjbrown58 “at”

CW Hymnal Scripture References

CW Hymnal Scripture References

I have put together an EXCEL spreadsheet that lists the scripture references for the hymns in our “Christian Worship” hymnal.  Perhaps this data exists elsewhere but my collection has the data sorted in three ways:

1.         Sorted by hymn title
2.         Sorted by scripture reference
3.         Sorted by hymn number

You can download the file for free in my file download area, or email me at sjbrown58 at and I’ll send a copy directly to you.  The file name is CW Scripture Refs.XLS.

May this resource be a valuable tool in your worship planning needs.

– Steve

Unction and Chrism

Unction and Chrism

That’s one of the great things about hymns – unction & chrism.

I say this because our choir practiced a new hymn from the hymnal supplement the other night titled: “Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven” (CWS 732).  After singing our way through the song, we all kind of had a quizzical look on our faces then someone finally asked the question that was on all our minds: “what does unction & chrism mean?”  They are actually words used in the song lyrics.  Not one of us knew the answer so our choir director hopped over to the church library and grabbed a dictionary.  Here’s what they mean:


1 : the act of anointing as a rite of consecration or healing

2 : something used for anointing : ointment, unguent

3 a : religious or spiritual fervor or the expression of such fervor

b : exaggerated, assumed, or superficial earnestness of language or manner : unctuousness


consecrated oil used in Greek and Latin churches especially in baptism, chrismation, confirmation, and ordination

Now here’s my point – hymns teach.   They do contain many words and phrases that we do not know the meaning of.  Some think of this as a detriment to hymns.  I do not.  I see it as a way of getting smarter and that’s one thing that our music is supposed to do.  It says in Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

May your Pentecost services be unctuous.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of International Bible Society

New Website – Lutheran Hymns

New Website – Lutheran Hymns

I stumbled upon a good web resource recently and wanted to pass it along.   This site is especially helpful if you are a guitarist interested in Lutheran hymns: