Archive for the ‘James F. White’ Tag

Greater Dignity and Depth in Worship   9 comments

Hymnal 1941 Title Page

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Hymnal (1941), of the Evangelical and Reformed Church

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I like old hymnals.  In fact, I find them infinitely more interesting than contemporary ones.  Please do not misunderstand me, O reader; I am not a reactionary with regard to hymnody.  I do not assume that there has not been a good hymn or hymnal to come down the pike since an arbitrary year.  I am unlike a certain man who told me years ago that nobody had written good church music after 1900.  Rather, I am like the archaeologist of a joke I heard once; the older his wife became, the more interesting he found her.  In this case, the principle applies to hymnals.

Hymnals are like toys to me; they fascinate me, so I “play” with them.  Yesterday I received my copy of The Hymnal (1941), of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a forerunner of the United Church of Christ.  The Hymnal (1941), like many other books of its sort from that era, is like a stately vessel, for it hails from a time before theologically shallow and extremely annoying praise choruses.  Nobody had thought of praise bands yet, mercifully.  The opening paragraph of the Preface is wonderful:

Christianity is constantly finding better forms of religious expression.  Symbolism, architecture, and ritual are leading the way to finer sanctuaries and more impressive worship services.  A positive theology is asserting itself anew and is greatly influencing religious thinking, thus paving the way for a revival of spiritual living.  Religious realism claims a place in the program of the Church and in the life of believers as a means of interpreting satisfactorily for modern man the social phenomena of an awakened world conscience.  Out of all this grows a demand for greater unity and strength, and greater dignity and depth in worship, the influence of which becomes apparent in the hymns we sing.  THE HYMNAL takes cognizance of this demand.

–page iii

New Forms of Worship (1971)

Above:  The Cover of New Forms of Worship (1971), by James F. White

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Unfortunately, the period from the middle 1960s through the middle 1970s took a negative toll on hymnody and the language of worship.  The proper transition to addressing God as “you” instead of “Thee” was often an awkward one, with a few years required to sort out the proper tone of new liturgies.  The intersecting roads which led to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) found the proper balance before they arrived at their destinations, fortunately.  Yet, as volumes from my large collection of hymnals, service books, and books about worship attest, some such books from the middle 1960s to the middle 1970s, both mainline and Evangelical, represent what I call, in mock 1950s B-movies style,

THE ATTACK OF THE 1970S.

Examples include The Worshipbook (Presbyterian, 1970/1972), The Hymnbook of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada (1971), Hymns for the Family of God (non-denominational, Gaither-influenced, 1976), Hymns for the Living Church (non-denominational, 1974), The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), and a number of immediately post-Vatican II Roman Catholic resources.  This was the time of The Living Bible (1971), in which Jesus says,

I am the A and the Z….

–Revelation 22:13a

The infiltration of shallow church music continues, unfortunately.  Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the new hymnal of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church, is more about the heart than the head and leans toward contemporary music.  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013), of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), contains some praise music, but at least the book leans toward a traditional hymnody.  The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) is of a decidedly Low Church mold, unlike its immediate predecessor, The Methodist Hymnal/The Book of Hymns (1966), which tried to raise the bar, only to become unpopular in many corners of the denomination.  The 1989 book does, unfortunately, contain “seven-eleven” songs, with about seven words one sings eleven times, as the saying goes.  And, ironically, the official Baptist Hymnal (2008), of the Southern Baptist Convention, contains a less traditional hymnody, including more praise music, than the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (2010), of the Cooperative Baptists.  And I have yet to analyze certain contemporary non-denominational hymnals, which I have seen yet not studied for hours on end.  What I have seen, however, has troubled me, given the emphasis upon the informal, the repetitive, and the contemporary.

I have been reading so much about so many hymnals recently that I have forgotten where I read certain comments.  In one of these online places I read a cogent analysis of many contemporary hymnals:  they are more about the worshipers than the one whom the people worship.  I appreciate worship done well.  It elevates the human spirit.  It ought never to become entertainment.  Worship done well creates an atmosphere all about God and differs stylistically from the rest of one’s life, unless one lives in a cloister or a similar setting.  Churches should look like churches.  Hymn texts should be profound and wordy.  Worship should be dignified.  And Eucharist should be the frequent and central act of Christian worship.

Here I stand; I will do no other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS MERTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

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http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/why-i-like-old-hymnals-and-hymns/

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