Music in the Church 3

Music in the Church (part 3)

WE MUST be alert lest we assimilate into the worship service those songs that reflect a weak or false philosophy. At the same time, it is important for us to recognize that theological ideas may be ex pressed in new ways that are orthodox, and that there have been changes in composition techniques for sacred music. . .

-Chairman, music department, Andrews University at the time this article was written

WE MUST be alert lest we assimilate into the worship service those songs that reflect a weak or false philosophy. At the same time, it is important for us to recognize that theological ideas may be ex pressed in new ways that are orthodox, and that there have been changes in composition techniques for sacred music. We do need some new hymns for our church, for in spite of the fine musical values of the traditional hymn tunes, and with all due respect to the doctrinal soundness of the words, a lot of history has been written since the last edition of the Adventist Church Hymnal was published. One writer expresses himself in these words;

Though the twenty-first century looms not far away, the nineteenth century church is still far too dominant over the twentieth century church. Education, science, literature, art, entertainment, transportation have all changed with the times, and unless churches recognize that they must produce a new song for a new period of human experience, they must expect to be overturned or ignored. 1

In the opening verse of Psalm 149 David suggests that we "sing unto the Lord a new song." However, each Sabbath we are singing the same old ones. These are good songs that represent the accumulation of centuries of song writing—a heritage that we do not want to abandon. But people do enjoy new songs with words that have a fresh sound, and with music that reflects contemporary times. Certain topics presented during Sabbath morning sermons concern subjects that are unique to this generation, and there are not many songs currently in use that correlate with them.

At the Fifth International Church Music Conference, held in Milwaukee on August 27, 1966, the famous musicologist Paul Henry Lang addressed himself to the question of hymn tunes. "The obvious solution," said he, "is to create new music that is more in accordance with the temper of our times. However, this is not a task for amateurs, but for the best contemporary composers available." 2 Along with writers of hymn tunes there is a need for hymn writers who know how to present a theme clearly and memorably in a limited space. Those criteria for hymn writers that were stated earlier in this article are valid guides in writing contemporary hymns.

A new hymn of unusual beauty and of real current interest is Barbara Owen's "God of the Green Earth." Although stanza one has an evolutionary concept and would therefore not be acceptable for use in our churches unless modified, the other stanzas are filled with thoughts that are appropriate and timely:

God of green earth,

Singing with growing,

Lord of the ocean,

From which life sprang,

Teach us their wisdom,

Born at creation

When planets danced and

Morning stars sang.


Teach us respect for

Forests and marshlands,

Not to defile them

With ignorant greed;

But to love the tall redwoods,

Crowning the ages;

Love the brown loam and

Small fertile seed.


Make us to love all

Our fellow creatures;

They not too humble,

Nor we too great.

Wildcat and beaver,

Bee and brown sparrow,

Have earned equal right to

This earthly estate.


Stay us from killing

With arrogant science

Men, beasts and plants we

Do not understand.

With love comes wisdom

Compassion and patience;

Justice for all things,

Peace in the land.—Amen3

New hymns have been written on subjects other than ecology and modern science. Brotherly concern and love is the theme of a hymn copyrighted in 1969 by the Hymn Society of America, "O Lord, The Maze of Earthly Ways":

O Lord, the maze of earthly ways

Confuses our intent;

Give us thy light to walk aright

Through our bewilderment.


The burdened sigh and anguished cry

That so disturb and taunt

Are sounds of fear through which we hear

Humanity in want.


Give us the heart to do our part,

To act the ancient creed,

Express our care, respond and share,

To meet another's need.


By helping men to live again

Most fully, we serve thee;

Again today we hear thee say,

"You've done it unto me." 4

The Hymn Society of America is active in publishing new hymns—nearly 190 of them within the past two decades. Copies of these hymns may be obtained from the society.

Another of the new hymns, and one that is time less in its appeal, is "O God, the Church Eternal":

O God, the Church eternal

Has meaning for this hour,

As she goes forth to witness,

Anointed by Thy power,

Help her in days of crisis

To venture unafraid,

Proclaiming Thy great message—

Undaunted, undismayed.


Where hatred causes heartache,

To spread the healing touch

Of love to all the nations,

Who have suffered much;

With darkness all about her,

To shed the piercing light

Of truth that yet will banish

The shadows of the night.


O grant her faith and courage,

That she may never fail;

Restrain the force of evil,

That it may not prevail.

Guide her into thy service,

Make earthly tasks divine:

Since her hands serve as thy hands—

Give them the strength of thine! 5

Music was one of the principal subjects studied in the schools of the prophets. I am sure that this study was not one of theory and performance only, but one largely concerned with musical judgments. The history of the Jewish nation from the time they entered into the Promised Land is filled with accounts of idolatry committed by God's chosen people. Associated with the worship of false gods were immoral practices and music, primarily of an instrumental nature. There is no doubt but that the musical practices of the heathen nations were one of the allurements that enticed the Israelites to become associated in these various kinds of heathen worship rites. It takes an educated discernment to determine music's proper role and the kind of music to be used in sacred services, and this was taught in the schools of the prophets.

It is my great hope that all of our young people, and particularly the pre-Seminary students, become skillful in the art of making value judgments in the fields of both secular and sacred music. Such judgments cannot be made only on the basis of "feeling," but have to be based on an education obtained in the area of music appreciation. Church pastors are looked upon as capable of giving guidance in many areas, including music, but it is a rare pastor who is able to give a judgment founded on anything more solid than intuition.

The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary must offer courses designed to acquaint the theological student with great sacred music literature. Much thought and attention should be given to what makes music acceptable and appropriate for a worship service. Classes should also be taught in which careful study is given to the place and purpose of sacred music.

The writings of Ellen White having to do with music should be basic to such courses. Music, she says, "is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul." 6 But she also says, "It is one of the great temptations of the present age to carry the practice of music to extremes, to make a great deal more of music than of prayer. Many souls have been ruined here." 7 So although she believes in the appropriate use of music, she also warns of the excessive use of music in sacred services and states: "Let your hearers understand that you hold meetings, not to charm their senses with music and other things, but to preach the truth in all its solemnity." 8 On the other hand, she writes that, "Song is one of the most effective means of impressing spiritual truth upon the heart." 9

To maintain a balance in the use of church music that will impress hearts and yet not charm the senses requires a degree of thought, contemplation, and knowledge that is not too much in evidence among us. I am not saying that a formal education in the application of musical value judgments is absolutely essential, but I do believe that such an education if given to all levels of church leadership would go a long way in solving the problems of church music that we are experiencing today.

Finally, whether we sing gospel songs or hymns, whether the songs have been tried by time or are contemporary, "let us all bear in mind that in every assembly of the saints below are angels of God, listening to the testimonies, songs, and prayers. Let us remember that our praises are supplemented by the,choirs of the angelic host above." 10 As a guide in selecting that which is best in all things, including music for sacred purposes, "put all things to the test: keep what is good, and avoid every kind of evil." 11 Paul's counsel to the Colossians is of equal value to the twentieth-century Christian: "Christ's message, in all its richness, must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God, with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father." 12

As we come nearer to the end of time, sacred mu sic will take on new meaning. "Amidst the deepening shadows of earth's last great crisis, God's light will shine brightest, and the song of hope and trust will be heard in clearest and loftiest strains." 13 When the faithful are removed to a better land, "they will behold His matchless charms, and, touching their golden harps, they will fill all heaven with rich music and with songs to the Lamb." 14


1. P. E. Elbin, "Fanny Crosby and William H. Doane Have Had Their Day," The Hymn, January, 1970, p. 12.

2. P. H. Lang, "Hymn Tunes," address at the 1966 Fifth International Church Music Conference, Milwaukee.

3. "God of the Green Earth," by Barbara Owen, From The Hymn, copyright 1970 by the Hymn Society of America; used by permission.

4. "O Lord, the maze of earthly ways," Carlton C. Buck, From Nine Mission ef the Church Hymns, copyright 1969 by the Hymn Society of America; used by permission.

5. "O God, the church eternal," Carrie H. Hardcastle, From Nine Mission of the Church Hymns, copyright 1969 by the Hymn .Society of America; used by permission.

6. Ellen G. White, Education, p. 167.

7. ————, Review and Herald, July 24, 1883.

8. ————, Gospel Workers, p. 356.

9. ————, Evangelism, p. 500.

10. _______, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 66, p. 367,

11. 1 Thess. 5:21, 22. From the Today's English Version of the New Testament. Copyright e American Bible Society 1966.

12. Col. 3:16, 17, T.E.V.

13. ————, Education, p. 166.

14. ————, Evangelism, p. 503.

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-Chairman, music department, Andrews University at the time this article was written

August 1973

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