Saturday, October 13

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

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?


Frank (or Chip) said...

...and the Grammy for best bootleg recording of Spanish Gospel goes to...Guido Muse!

antonio said...

you would not be able to share some would you?


GuyMuse said...

Frank and Antonio,

We are still a long way from "finished product". Right now I am just compiling which songs to include in the 3rd collection. Then it will have to be printed, and finally the songs will have to be recorded so people can learn the tunes to sing them. Stay tuned...

Wes and Ellen said...


I just wanted to drop a note and a question. Firstly, I have really appreciated the past two posts and especially the conversation that followed on your "binding and loosing" post.

You say, "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."

I was curious, of the hymns in the upcoming volume (which I have assumed will be the song book used internationally also in some cases), how many are composed by the minds and hearts of Ecuadorians or other nations?

Is the America valued song always expressive of the Ecuadorian Christian’s understanding of who God is?

I saw this connection in the two posts and it is something that I have been asking myself recently while dreaming of a future work in missions.

In a life of missions, what might I do to avoid imposing my American theology upon a unique culture?

GuyMuse said...

Wes and Ellen,

Thanks for some good questions. I'll be happy to respond.

Our cancionero is primarily intended more for local use, not international. While there are a few translated Stateside songs and hymns, MOST are original Latin songs and hymns composed in the heart language of the people here. Even the Psalms that have been selected use Latin tunes composed by mainly unknown Latin writers.

I have especially been keen to include Ecuadorian songs/hymns as I am aware of them. In Vol. 1 and 2 we have several Ecuadorian selections that are greatly loved and appreciated by our local folks.

About the only translated USA and European hymns are a few of the "classic hymns" that belong in every hymnbook and are universally appreciated for their content. It has less to do with their being composed by, say, Fanny Crosby, and more upon their universal appeal.

There are many songs/hymns that will be included that would not necessarily appeal to the taste of most Stateside folks. For example, many of the tunes are in minor keys and have a "sad" feel that doesn't always appeal to Stateside folks, yet here are very meaningful and loved.

As I do the compiling I am trying very hard to not allow my own preferences to stand in the way of what I believe would be meaningfully received locally.

Hope this helps answer your excellent questions.

Wes and Ellen said...


Thanks. It really does help. It is good news to me to hear how the volumes are being composed.

I recently learned of a missions team who live and work in Africa that has not translated a single song from English (that I know of). Instead, there would be discussion and teaching on a biblical topic, and the nationals(especially those who enjoy and are gifted in music and song)would be asked to compose a song on the topic and return to teach the other believers.

Sounded like a beautiful method to me. I do recognize that Latin America and Africa have their differences. It's the thinking outside the box that I appreciate.


GuyMuse said...


The difference here is that already there is a huge amount of what I call "popular" Christian music being sung in the churches. People are exposed early on to these songs and want to sing them. To try and get them to sing composed songs by themselves vs what everyone else is singing would be difficult. Again, for me, balance is the key in all things. I can't stop the wave of popular music and everyone wanting to sing JUST these songs. What I try to do is introduce to this diet the Psalms and Hymns that will balance things out. It is a lot like candy with kids. A bit won't hurt--it's what they want and like, but you don't want them living on a pure diet of the stuff!

Burkhalter Ministry said...


I was wondering what your opinion was of the the Ephesians and Colossians passages in regards to speaking or singing to "one another"? I have witnessed a few times where a song was sung "over" a person or "to" a person, whereas I guess I perceive most singing as singing "to" God, not necessarily to one another. The Colossians passage seems to indicate teaching and or admonishing happens in the context of singing...I was just curious if you had studied this at all?


GuyMuse said...


Quite so. Singing is another of the "one anothers". I think that is why Paul says so emphatically that we should do so. Singing is not only for worshiping God, but for edifying one another, encouraging one another, teaching one another, testifying to one another, proclaiming to one another the truths of the songs that are said. THAT IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO CHOOSE CAREFULLY WHAT IS BEING SUNG. Congregational worship isn't a show, or a performance, it is a chance to, yet again, a chance to 'one another' those present.

jamesmitges said...

I love the way you talk about music here, It is so true that music can facilitate and enhance a connection with Spirit, in so many ways spiritual music