As I’ve said before, engaged traditional worship [primarily] because we like it or because it creates this sensory experience for us, but because we need it. Because we need the grounding, the shaping, and the “rootedness” that it brings us, while looking for new and creative ways to express our Christian story. Because it reminds us of what has already been done in Christ, and what one day will be. These are things that all worshipers need, regardless of our own preferences.
But one byproduct of historic Christian worship is that, through active participation and repetition, it helps our faith become a part of us. In that way, hymn singing has always been a didactic process. Most of us who grew up with hymns undoubtedly have some that are our favorites, usually those in which we have found meaning, instruction, solace, and encouragement. I learned many of these hymns as a kid, and it’s nothing but a benefit to me to have them hymns in my heart and head as I go through the seasons of life.
One of the main problems with the current commercial repertoire is that it’s not created to last. By its own definition, contemporary worship has little use for anything that isn’t current and that doesn’t produce a limbic response. Even the few hymn texts that remain are usually restrung into a pop performance piece. It becomes a bit like striking a match. It’s exciting for an instant, but then it’s gone, and we’re left to try and recreate it. When we choose songs to sing in worship, we ought to be doing so with an eye toward lighting a candle, a lasting flame that will stay with us.
Last week, Chuck McKnight, author of the Hippie Heretic blog on the Patheos Progressive Christian Channel, published the results of an informal survey he took on the 25 favorite hymns of progressive Christians. I thought a similar poll of my own readers would be interesting, because I’m aware they come out of backgrounds all across the theological/political spectrum. I wonder how much they will differ from those on the progressive list.
When I ask for your favorite hymns, I’m really asking for a deeper answer. I’m not looking as much for those you harbor a strong sentimental connection. I want to know which hymns are the ones that stick with you throughout the seasons of your life, nurturing the flame of Christ’s gospel inside your heart. For me, choosing ten is almost impossible. Tomorrow, half of them might change. But this is my best shot, in no particular order.
I want to know yours, as well. Give me your own top ten, even if in no particular order. If you can’t come up with ten, make it five, or even three. I’ll be checking the comments on this post, along with any I can view on Facebook, as well.
God Is Here!
Fred Pratt Green, 1979; rev. 1988 (ABBOT’S LEIGH)
Lord of all, of church and kingdom,
In an age of change and doubt
Keep us faithful to the gospel;
Help us work your purpose out.
Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know
Johann C. Schwedler, 1741; trans. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, 1863 (HENDON)
This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in Him who died to save,
Him who triumphed o’er the grave,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
Attr. Ignaz Franz, c. 1774; trans. Clarence Alphonsus Walworth, 1858 (GROSSER GOTT)Lo! the apostolic train,
Join thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from morn till set of sun,
Through the church the song goes on.
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Charles Wesley, 1747 (BLAENWERN, also BEECHER, HYFRYDOL)
Finish then thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Martin Luther, 1529; trans. Frederick Henry Hedge, 1852 (EIN’ FESTE BURG)
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.
Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above
Johann Jacob Schuetz, 1675; trans. Frances Elizabeth Cox, 1864 (MIT FREUDEN ZART)
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.
There Is a Fountain
William Cowper, 1772
When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.
Thine Is the Glory
Edmond Louis Budry, 1884; trans. R. Birch Hoyle, 1923
No more we doubt thee,
Glorious Prince of life!
Life is naught without thee;
Aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors
Through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
To thy home above.
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 5th c. (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM)
O, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Reginald Heber, 1827 (NICAEA)
Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see.