I am busy these days putting together for our Guayas House Church Network the 3rd Volume of "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs."
Volume 1 came out in 2000 and contains a balance of 66 psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Volume 2 came out a few years ago and added another 86.
These two volumes have served us well over the past seven years. Of the 152 selections, about one-third are regularly sung and appreciated by our people. Singing is one of the most popular things we do in our house churches here. It is important not only that we sing, but what we sing.
Now it's time for Volume 3!
I am a big believer in balance between singing psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs. To sing out of only one of the three genres leads to imbalance in our worship. Many only sing what they like; that which appeals to them personally. However, TWICE Paul admonishes the churches in Colossae and Ephesus about their singing. I believe this is intentional. It is something prescriptive in Scripture, not descriptive, or optional. We are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Not just a diet of what we might like.
Paul admonishes the ekklesia in Colossae, "let the word of Christ/Lord/God (depending upon the different possible readings) richly dwell within you...teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs..." He repeats this to the Ephesian church (5:17-20) making it clear, "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is..." and includes the admonition for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
While books have been written trying to explain or clarify the differences between the three genre, suffice it to say they are three separate but intertwined forms of musical worship. Care should be taken to balance our use of the three in Christian worship.
I like to keep things simple, so here is my simple understanding of the three.
If man consists of "spirit and soul and body" then my oversimplified relationship between the two is that psalms and hymns and spiritual songs somehow match each of the three aspects of our being as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
Psalms are singing God's Word. As we sing God's Word it becomes part of our inner spirit; our theology. John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.
Hymns are the best of man's words to God. In hymns our highest language, and best thoughts are expressed to God and about God. Hymns give intellectual and theological expression to our faith. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith." Indeed, more theology is learned and grasped through what we sing than what is preached.
If hymns express our intellectual faith, spiritual songs express our emotional side. Just like flowers on a hillside are here today and gone tomorrow, spiritual songs are those songs that flow out of our being expressing our spontaneous love, feeling, and joy in the Lord. We love these simpler expressions of faith put to music. The tunes are likewise catchy and grab hold quickly in our hearts. But like flowers on a hillside, spiritual songs are by nature ephemeral. Today's songs are quickly forgotten as newer ones take their place.
With literally thousands of songs to choose from, how does one go about selecting the best of the best? To separate one's own personal preferences for the well being and edification of the saints is a difficult task. While many are particular about the food they consume, not so many are concerned about the songs they offer God. It's not about what appeals to me, or even appeals to those who will be singing these songs, but what is best. What psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will best contribute to a balanced, healthy, worship by edifying the saints and glorifying God?
This past week I was interested to read the Baptist Press release concerning the criteria being used to select the songs for the new Baptist Hymnal due out next year.
Their set of questions is proving helpful in compiling our own Volume 3 of "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs."
--Does it speak biblically of God?
--Is it God-honoring?
--Does the song present a biblical view of man?
--Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?
--Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion?
--Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?
--Does it engage the whole person - allowing a person to express his deepest feelings?
--Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian's Lord, Master and King? (the idea of total submission)
--Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship? (immanence and transcendence)
--Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?