Top 10 List: Worst Hymns

Before embarking on what is surely going to be a contentious blog, I just want to say that some of these are just my opinion according to sound of music or wording, and some are what I would consider bad theology.  I am sure there will be songs on here that people are fond of and have wonderful memories of singing.  My objective is not to offend, but to have a bit of fun and point out some fallacies of doctrine also.  I would love for you to comment and leave your opinion as to what I got wrong or what I forgot.  (The comment link is the last one you see after the tags for this article)

10. Pass It On – (W & M) Kurt Kaiser

I sang this song as a kid and it was one of my favorites, though I don’t exactly know why.  I think I just like the idea of shouting from the mountain tops.  Today, as I read the words it just seems to wreak with sentimentalism.  You know, that ooshy gooshy, sappy kind of song.  I’m not  fan of those songs.  There are moving songs that are moving because they speak deep into the heart.  To me, “Pass It On” was written on a surface level in order to evoke an emotion.  Not a fan.

9. Surely Goodness and Mercy – (W & M) John W. Peterson & Alfred B. Smith

Let’s just be honest here: this song sounds like something straight out of someone living on the range.  I love the people, but not always their songs.  Try singing the verses to this song and instead of singing its chorus, try adding in “home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.”  You’ll be amazed at how easily that fits in.

8. Onward Christian Soldiers – (W) Sabine Baring-Gould, (M) Arthur S. Sullivan

This was another song I loved as a kid and sang it all the time in Vacation Bible School.  However, while I don’t necessarily have a problem with the lyrics per se, I do find that this leads to a militant understanding of Christianity.  It is easy to interpret this song, if one is not careful, with an us/them mentality.  We’re against them and they need to be defeated.  That is true if we are looking the spiritual warfare, but untrue if we are looking at people made in the image of God, marred by sin.  There are better songs, like “O, Church Arise” by the Gettys.

7. Sweet Hour of Prayer – (W) William Walford, (M) William B. Bradbury

Sweet Hour of Prayer…more like sweet hour just lost singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Again, it’s not so much the lyrics to the song as it is the music.  Maybe I’ve never sung this song correctly, but every time I have sung this song in church, it seems to take forever because it goes soooooo slow.  Sometimes, if I’m tired, I might doze while praying.  Most of the time, even if I’m not tired, I doze during this song.  It just lulls me to sleep.  Not to worry though; when I wake up everyone is still singing it.

6. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder – (W & M) James M. Black

I love the story behind this song.  But the theology is not the best.  The story is that James Black was a Sunday School teacher.  One day as he called roll, he noticed one of his most faithful students, a little girl, didn’t show up.  She didn’t show up the next week either.  He went to her house to check on her and found she was deathly ill.  She died not too much later, and he wrote this song for her funeral.  “When the Roll is Called up Yonder, I’ll be There.”  Beautiful thought, but not great theology.  Heaven is our waiting place.  Our home will not be beyond the skies, but rather on a New Earth.  That being said, I can tolerate this song.  I just have to remind myself of what is true.

5. The Battle Hymn of the Republic – (W) Julia W. Howe, (M) American Folk Melody

This song links the gospel is Americanism.  I can’t stand that.  I love my country.  I’m thankful for my country.  However, I do not believe 1. that we should sing about our country in church, and 2. we should link the gospel with a nation, but rather the people of Christ.

I remember the story of Joshua seeing an angel going to speak to him, asked him if he was on Israel’s side or the enemies side.  The angel responded that he was on neither side, but on the side of the LORD (Cf. Joshua 5:13-15).  The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written with the War Between the States in mind.  It was the song which the Union army touted to remind them that their cause was just and God was on their side.  God is on the side of God.  No nation (or faction within a nation) is perfectly on God’s side, and thus should never make an overarching blanket statement to a claim on God.

On top of this, it was written by Julia Ward Howe.  Her husband was part of the supporting six men of John Brown.  Brown was an abolotionist to the extreme, murdering many and causing riots leading to murder against those who disagreed with him and the cause.  Mr. Howe funded him, and Julia Howe, used the song’s tune that was used to sing about John Brown, as the tune for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

4. I have Decided to Follow Jesus – (W) Garo Christians, John Clark, (M) Folk Song from India

It’s so hard to sing fit the words, “because God has changed my heart and made me want him” in between “I have decided” and “to follow Jesus.”  They just don’t fit in there with any type of ease.  This song is bad theology.  That’s all I have to say.

3. Softly and Tenderly – (W & M) Will L. Thompson

I am not a fan of songs that make Jesus look like a weakling.  Jesus went to the cross and overcame death, defeated Satan, and is sitting on the throne of heaven.  He is not weak.  He is active and moving.  He is working in this world and saving lives.  He isn’t waiting and watching.  What a blasphemy against our Lord!

2. I Gave My Life for Thee – (W) Frances R. Havergal, (M) Philip P. Bliss

Can anyone say grace.  This song is telling us that we need to pay Jesus back.  “I gave, I gave, my life for thee, what hast thou giv’n for me?”  Really?  Nothing.  I could give nothing for Christ.  I am willing to give all I have for him, but not to earn His love and salvation.  This song is not about overwhelming love that is willing to do anything and everything one can for the person who died for them.  It is a song to make a person feel indebted and enslaved and feel like they must pay Jesus back.  We can’t do it; we shouldn’t feel like we must.  We readily accept the grace, and let that grace work in our lives.  He offered it free of charge.

1. The Savior is Waiting – (W & M) Ralph Carmichael

Again.  Here is Jesus just twiddling his thumbs. “The Savior is waiting to enter your heart.  Why don’t you let Him come in?”  He’s so weak and we are so strong.  We can keep the God of the universe out.  He keeps coming and coming and we keep locking Him out.  This is bad theology based on a bad understanding of Revelation 3:20.  This is one song I can say that I hate.  That’s a strong word, but it so wrong and blasphemous in my eyes, that I hate this song.

Runners up:

I Come to the Garden Alone – (W & M) C. Austin Miles

This song was written with Mary Magdalene in mind as she wept in the Garden of Gethsemane  and Jesus came to speak to her.  However, as we sing it, it gives the impression that Jesus still speaks audily to us, and when He bids us go it is against His will.  “But he bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling.”  What does that even mean?  Jesus sends us on a mission.  He is not hesitant about that at all.  It does it all through heart-tugging music.  I don’t dislike this song, but it is more for sentamental reasons than anything else.

Rock of Ages – (W) Augustus Toplady, (M) Thomas Hastings

The words of Rock of Ages are great.  The tune could use a bit of updating.  I’m not a musician so I don’t know how that would happen, but the words are rich in truth and gospel.  If any of you know of an updated tune, let me know.  If any of you are song writers, write a new tune.

That about does it.  Go ahead….let it rip.  I’m sure there is plenty of disagreement.  Let’s just not be disagreeable.  Leave a comment about your likes or dislikes.  You can read my list of favorite hymns here.

Top 10 List: Hymns

How does one even figure out which hymns to include? I can’t guarantee the order is always the same for me, as it tends to depend on my circumstances. Let’s just say these are my most favorite, but in no particular order (even though I’m putting numbers by them).

10. A Mighty Fortress is Our God – (W & M) Martin Luther

Based on Psalm 46, Martin Luther composed this song that quickly became the battle cry of the Reformation.  The power and majesty that is this song always stirs something deep within me.  When I hear or sing this song, the timidity within me vanishes as I remember that  it is not my strength that wins the battle, but “one little word shall fell him.”  And that Word is above all earthly powers.

9. Behold Our God – (W & M) Ryan Baird, Jonathan Baird, Meghan Baird and Stephen Altrogge

I love this song.  It reminds me of the truth that Christ our God is on His throne and there need be no worries.  All we must do is behold Him, adore Him, and let His glory fill the earth.  The power and strength of resting in Christ’s rule is humbling and yet powerful, and I cannot help but sing the verses with heart lowered and sing the chorus with heart boasting in the Lord our God.

8. He Leadeth Me! O Blessed Thought! – (W) Joseph H. Gilmore, (M) William B. Bradbury

I have to admit, the first time I remember hearing this song was on a Gaither’s Homecoming video.  The Martins sang it in such perfect harmony, I listened to it over and over again.  So much of this song speaks truth to various parts of life and reminds that he never leaves nor forsakes, but always leads.  “Sometimes ‘mid scenes of deepest gloom, sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom, content, whatever lot I see, since ’tis Thy hand that leadeth me.”

7. How Sweet and Aweful is the Place – (W) Isaac Watts, (M) Ancient Irish Melody

I sang this for the first time at a T4G conference and was struck by its words.  Most people, it seems, groan at this song. I have introduced it at two churches that I’ve pastored and few people find it as captivating as I.  That’s okay, though.  Watts outdid himself with these words presenting salvation as a feast and Christ as the Host.  All in one song, he presents the doctrines of grace in splendid fashion.  The last line rings upon my heart (not just because my church is not yet at full-capacity), but because it is the longing of every Christian: “We long to see Thy churches full, that all the chosen race may, with one voice, and heart and soul, sing Thy redeeming grace.”

6. Jesus, Lover of My Soul – (W) Charles Wesley, (M), Simeon B. Marsh

What a prayer Wesley has written!  Such a perfect song to Jesus.  This is a cry for help and refuge and comfort.  It’s a petition for grace and joy.  How could anyone not like this song?

5. All I Have is Christ – (W & M) Jordan Kauflin

Another that was introduced to me at T4G.  Describing how the Lord has transferred me out of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, Kauflin magnificently reminds me that in the end, I have no work and no deed that allows me to stand before God.  All I have is Christ.  Hallelujah!

4. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – (W) Isaac Watts, (M) Lowell Mason

This has always, as far back as I can remember, been one of my all time favorites.  It wasn’t until reading a biography of Watts, however that I found that a verse is missing.  I understand why this verse is left out, but I wish it wasn’t.  “His dying crimson, like a robe, spread o’r his body on the tree; then I am dead to all the globe, and all the globe is dead to me.”  By Christ’s death I am alive to God and dead to sin.

3. A Debtor to Mercy – (W) Augustus Toplady,* (M) Bob Kauflin

Again, it is all Christ.  It is by the mercy of God that I am saved, and it is by the blood of Christ that I have a righteousness not my own.  The very thought that Christ does not throw me away like some tattered garment brings such joy to my soul that when I sing the last verse I cannot help but hold my head higher knowing that I am His and He is mine.

*Bob Kauflin updated some of the language within this song.

2. In Christ Alone – (W & M) Keith Getty & Stuart Townend

Instant masterpiece and classic.  There are not many modern hymns (or praise and worship songs) that will stand the test of time, but this is one.  This is one of the all time greats as it once again reminds us that we have nothing to offer.  Here in the love of Christ we stand.  Here in the death of Christ we live.  Here in the power of Christ we stand.  Because we were “bought with the precious blood of Christ!”

1. How Great Thou Art – (W) Stuart K. Hine, (M)  Swedish Folk Melody (adapted by Hine)

I remember as an 18 year old young man, just graduated from high school, on a missions trip in the mountains of North Carolina, sitting on a log by a stream, looking at the moon, and being amazed at God’s creative works.  This song came into my mind and I began to sing it.  “When I look down from lofty mountains grandeur, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze…”  The peace and joy I felt at that moment is indescribable.  Less than 24 hours later, I would hear news that caused my world to fall apart.  My dad had stepped into glory. As I prayed, the words “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee; how great Thou art.  How great Thou art,” burst forth from deep within.  The God who brought me to praise him the night before, was worthy of praise even at that moment, even in the midst of weeping.

So that’s it.  What are your favorite hymns?  Why?  Share with us.  Give us a comment.  We’d love to hear from you.

Tithe Versus Gracious Giving

What deep waters I am about to wade into!  Care to join me?  It’s always deep in the sea of money, wouldn’t you say?  The question that comes up so often among Christians is such: are we still obligated to the tithe, or are we simply to be gracious givers?  Personally, I believe in the tithe.  But I believe that the tithe is given by the very grace of God.  Here is why.

It is often argued that tithe was a part of the Mosaic law as a ceremonial law.  Since Jesus fulfilled the law, then we are no longer under such a law, and are free to simply give graciously.  I don’t deny it was part of the Mosaic.  It’s clear that it was, but what often is overlooked is that apparently the concept of tithing was pre-law.  When Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from captors, along with many others, they brought back the spoils of war.  They were met by Melchizedek, a type of Christ in the Old Testament.  “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything,” (Genesis 14:20b, ESV).  Is it not strange that Abraham knew to give a tithe?  Either he picked 10% out of thin air or it had been established in paganism or he already knew what God required.  I would venture to say that God did not see Abraham’s gift and then decide to make it law.  It is more likely that Abraham, the friend of God, already knew what God required, though there was no law to instruct him.

The writer of Hebrews clearly tells us that Jesus was of the priestly order of Melchizedek, greater than Moses and greater than Aaron.  Under a new priest comes a new law, the writer wrote (Hebrews 8:12) but I do not see this involving the tithe, since the tithe was instituted with Melchizedek hundreds of years before the Mosaic law was established.  If it was established with the type (Melchizedek), then perhaps it should remain when the antitype (Jesus) comes.

Jacob also vowed to give a tithe to God at Bethel.  “And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.  And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you,” (Genesis 28:22, ESV).  Some would argue that Abraham and Jacob are exceptions and not the norm.  Perhaps they are right.  However, if Jacob kept the vow (and there is no reason to believe he didn’t), then this was the norm–at least for Jacob.  Again the question needs to be asked: why 10%?  From what place did that figure come?

I have also heard the argument that if we were to give a “real tithe” then we would be giving 20-30% of our income.  Basically the argument goes like this.  The first tithe was a tithe that we tend to think of (giving to the temple).  The second tithe was to be used to hold a feast for the family in Jerusalem.  To me, though the word tithe or tenth might be used, it is not in the same category as the tithe to the temple.  This is was more like a party that should not be skimped on, as it was a celebration unto God.  The third tithe was only paid every three years, but not to the temple, but within ones own city to help the foreigners and the poor.  This is much closer to our local and state taxes than a tithe.  So I still maintain that the tithe (that is most similar to what we think of as a tithe, not a party requirement or a welfare tax) was 10%.

But what about gracious giving? Aren’t we to simply give graciously?  Yes, we are.  But I once heard a pastor preaching (unfortunately, I cannot remember his name) who brought up that grace goes beyond law.  Law states no murdering, but grace states that we are not to be angry/wrathful toward our brother.  Law states no adultery, but grace states that we are not to lust. His argument was simply that grace goes beyond law.  So even if the tithe was strictly law, then gracious giving would go beyond the tithe.  Gracious giving would not be less than 10%, but greater than 10%.

But I believe that while we give the tithe, we do so out of grace.  Not simply because grace goes beyond the tithe, but because it is by grace that I give.  My life was changed completely by God’s grace over me.  That includes how I spend my money.  I am no longer the selfish-spender I once was.  By grace I see that there is more to church and to God’s kingdom than just myself.  I see the needy, the hungry, the lost, the dying, and the grace that God placed in my heart wells up within me and I cannot help but give.

Is that not what Paul means in 2 Corinthians?  “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,” (8:1-3, ESV).

It would seem that these poor churches, being filled with grace, saw the need and could not help but give.  That’s what grace giving is about.  Before grace, they would not have cared, but after grace they cared enough to abandon self-security and self-comfort and give.  No one does that apart from God’s grace upon their own hearts.  It should be noted however that this giving was for those not in their own church.  This was for the saints elsewhere (pun intended).  So then, what is it that was given to their own church?  Was anything given?  I know it’s speculation, but I would speculate that they did.

Now the question that inevitably comes up when mentioning tithe: should we give gross or net.  I’m a gross guy (pun intended).  Even though we do not take home our full paychecks (taxes, social security, 401K, health insurance), we still benefit from the full paycheck.  We still have government (state police, statesmen, etc.) that we benefit from taxes.  We still have retirement security that grows interest (social security excepted) for our future.  We still have health insurance that helps pay for bills when necessary.  Since we benefit from these, I would say we ought to pay tithe from the gross.

So it is time to come out of the deep waters.  I’m not sure if I helped or if I stirred the mud, but at least we’re on dry land again.  So what do you think?  Are we under a tithe or just gracious giving?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Music: the Great Divider

A few years ago I was taking a seminary class in which I was assigned to read James White’s The King James Only Controversy.  I would highly recommend that book to anyone who is interested in understanding why much of the English speaking church has gone away from the King James, and why the claim is made that more modern translations are more reliable and accurate.  In that course and book it was explained that the last hundred years was not the only time in history where translations were a big deal.  When Jerome translated the Greek into Latin there was an uproar in the church.  Of course, we know the stories about the Reformation and men like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, Luther, etc.

While there is still a small group within the church that makes a big deal about the King James Version being the right and good translation, most Christians have moved on.  Many have set their sights on music.  This controversy over music is not new, I know.  In some ways it has been going on for what seems like forever.  But the controversy over music has taken a dangerous turn since the 60s especially, when the Jesus Movement took off.  The precursors to the modern praise and worship songs took root.  The older generation was leery of them while the younger people loved them.  Nothing has changed much.  It wasn’t long before music which once brought people together (think “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) was now dividing churches and families.  This wasn’t much different than what was going on in the homes of the people with “that rock music” (or if you remember The Flintstones: “Bug Music”).

Back in the day, churches would often split over music, which is no better reason for splitting than division over the color of carpet.  In fact, it has the same root.  If there is a division in the church over the color of the carpet, who is to blame?  Is it not both sides?  This side wants blue and the other wants burgundy.  Neither side will compromise because the color of the carpet is not about God; it’s about color, or to be even more honest: it’s about them.  It’s what they like.  It’s about what they are comfortable.  It’s about what they will have to live with for the next 30 years until the church splits over the next carpet color.

See; it’s not that different from music is it?  The issue behind the music is not so much about God, as it is about the person in the seat.  It’s about what they like.  It’s about the music with which they are comfortable.  It’s about what they will have to sing for the next 30 years.  The older people don’t like the new music, and so they refuse to sing.  The younger people don’t like the older music, so they refuse to sing.  I have visited churches where I look around and see the older generation belting out the hymns, but look like they just sucked on a lemon when the p&w songs are sung.  But the exact opposite will happen with the younger generation.  Eyes are rolled, arms are crossed.

As I said, in the past churches would split. At some point, churches decided to simply go to two services–one traditional and one contemporary.  In my opinion, the church is still divided.  It is still split.  How sad would this solution be if it were about carpet?  The 8:00 service will be the burgundy service.  After that the janitorial crew will remove all the stacking chairs, roll up the burgundy carpet, roll out the blue carpet, and reset the chairs, just in time for the 10:30 service.  That’s not unity.  That’s selfishness on display.

What I believe the problem to be with the younger generation is that they are myopic while the older generation is nostalgic.  There is the sense of newness and a sense of fondness.  But often not a sense of glory.  There is not a biblical sense of what music is to be, and what the church’s mission is to be.

Music is about God’s glory.  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Ephesians 5:18-21, ESV).

There is a lot to unpack there, and I don’t have the time to go into it fully, and you probably are already wondering when this blog is going to end.  So let me give some bullet points:

  • As believers we should be filled with the Spirit.  (more on this below)
  • We are to sing using a variety of music and musical styles
  • Our songs are to and for the Lord, and to and for each other (thus it is not my job to look out for what I like, but my brothers and sisters within the body to do so)
  • When we sing, it should be an expression of the heart
  • We are to submit to each other (again, not my job to look out for me, but for my brothers and sisters, and vice versa)
  • Our submission is not about music, and not about our fellow believer so much as it is about revering Christ.

Music, then, should be the great uniter, not the great divider.  It should cause each fellow believer to think more about the person sitting next to them, than about themselves.  How great would the gap between generations close if the older generation demanded new songs so that the younger generation could sing from their hearts, while the younger generation demanded older hymns so that their brothers and sisters of previous generations could sing from their hearts?

As with Paul, I “urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV).  Notice that Paul wrote that the unity is not unity of music or the unity of a church building or sanctuary.  The unity is that of the Spirit.  So when Paul wrote in Ephesians 5 that we are to be filled with the Spirit, we see this being displayed in unity with one another.  How do we find that unity?  By submitting to one another.  It is no longer about me and my likes, but about you and what will help you sing from the heart.  May we remember, love, “does not insist on its own way,” (1 Corinthians 13:5, ESV).