The hymnody we sing in worship functions in variety of ways in our overall life and mission as a church. Over the next few weeks, we will take a closer look at these ways: Proclamation, worship, education, and ministry. Some of our hymns fall into all of these categories, others, only one. This week we look at how are hymns function as proclamation.
Hymns as Proclamation
Throughout the Bible, music and proclamation of the gospel go hand in hand. In Psalm 96, the psalmist sings "Sing a new song to the Lord!...Proclaim his glory to the nations, his mighty deeds to the all people". In the Gospel of Luke we hear the angel proclaim the birth of Jesus accompanied by song "Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: ' Glory to God in the highest heaven..." Singing the good news continues throughout the New Testament, perhaps most directly as Paul exhorts the churches to make known the Word of Christ through singing.
Throughout our Christian history, from 13th-century Francis of Assisi's audi spirituali to the Protestant Reformation's chorales of Martin Luther and the metrical psalms of John Calvin to the Wesleyan revival of England and frontier camp meetings revivals of early America, the hymn has been an effective vehicle for proclaiming the gospel. Even today with new hymns, such as own St. Georges hymn - All-embracing God - we proclaim the powerful Gospel, the love of Christ as has been done throughout Christendom.
Our hymnody functions as proclamation when it is simply a vehicle for sharing the good news. These hymns must incorporate the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, They are not limited by a specific time period, culture or style. Proclamation hymns help us publicly declare our faith - the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ - and its daily application to our lives. They proclaim both the objective truth, God's mighty acts which have brought our salvation, and the subjective truth, our corporate response to this salvation and our experience of knowing God's love in Jesus Christ.
Proclamation hymns fall into three categories, evangelism, witness, and missions. Evangelism (meaning bring good news) hymns disseminate, or preach, the gospel (i.e. Lift High the Cross; Go tell it on the mountain). Hymns of witness share Christian experiences of faith with others, and give personal testimony to the abounding love of Christ. They share personal and corporate faith experiences with others (My song is love unknown; I heard a voice of Jesus say; O Master let me walk with thee). Hymns of missions (meaning let go, send) are evangelism hymns pursued across national and cultural lines or ones that express concerns of missions. (O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling; God, whose almighty word.)
Over the next month as we explore the ways in which hymnody functions in our life, I encourage you to perhaps interact differently with our hymnody than you might currently do. Maybe its praying the texts of the hymns we sing on Sunday during the following week, or choosing a new hymn or a very familiar hymn and letting it resonate with you and your daily prayers during the week. Maybe its locating other hymns of proclamation in our hymnal or recounting the mighty acts of God in our Sunday hymnody. Maybe its purchasing a hymnal for your home so you can readily access this treasure of poetry. On Sunday morning, encourage your child to draw a picture about a hymn they have sung or if they are too young to read, while we sing it (I'd love to see these!). Maybe its having a time as a family to sing a hymn or singing a stanza or two of a hymn at meal time or at bedtime. I am sure there are others. It is my hope that we may experience a more meaningful and deep congregational singing of these hymns as we explore and increase our understanding about these treasures of our faith.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Ben Keseley, Minister of Music
Psallam spiritu et mente
I will sing with the spirit and with the understanding also
(1 Corinthians 14:15)