Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: hymns

Missionary hymns

I think the old missionary hymns leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. Those references to carrying the gospel to every dark land  – was there a deliberate inference that lands where white people dwell are more enlightened and the lands where darker skinned people dwell are in spiritual darkness? I fear that idea seemed self-evident to white people 100 to 200 years ago.

It’s not so evident today and I think we should stop singing those hymns. I don’t believe that we should stop missionary activity, but perhaps the greater need in our day is right under our noses. While Christianity has taken root on other continents, it is in danger of being uprooted in Europe and North America.

That leads me to the other concern I have with the old missionary hymns – many of them take it for granted that missionary activity can only happen in lands that are across the ocean waves.

Churches in Nigeria have taken note of the increase of unbelief, paganism and idolatry in Europe and North America and are sending out missionaries to do what we seem to have forgotten how to do. In our nearest city, Saskatoon, three Nigerian denominations have placed missionaries and are establishing congregations.

I wonder what kind of missionary hymns they sing in Nigeria?

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Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

Food for the hungry

Back when we were living in southwestern Ontario we made the trip back to Saskatchewan every two years. The trip was 3,000km and took 3 days each way. The first two days we tried to get an early start and got our meals at fast food restaurants to save time. When we stopped for gas we would load up with pop and snacks to keep us going. By the third day, we were all tired of fast food and junk food and knew we had to stop for one real meal before we got to our destination.

We still enjoy fast food and junk food, more often than we should if truth be told. But we know that we cannot live on a diet like that. Even fast food restaurants are advertising healthier meals, with more fresh, natural ingredients and fewer additives.

But there are still far too many churches out there trying to feed their congregations with fast food spirituality. They offer contemporary music that is initially fresh and attractive but provides very little nourishment. Then they add “seeker-friendly” messages that intrigue but don’t satisfy. And they wonder how they can keep their young people from wandering off in search of the world’s amusements.

People want to be fed, need to be fed. Preachers need to spend less time studying psychology and more time in deep study of the Word of God, less time trying to adapt marketing methods to evangelism and more time in prayer, less time trying to get new people into the church and more time feeding the souls of those who are already in.

That last point may seem counter-intuitive, most of us agree that churches today need to be more evangelistic in their home communities than they have been in past generations. But – the preacher is not the church, the people are. Feed the people, show them how to find solid spiritual nutrition for themselves, then let them invite others to the banquet.

“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Unto the hills around

Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heav’n and earth hath made.

He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, who keepeth thee.
Behold, our God, the Lord, He slumbereth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

From ev’ry evil shall He keep thy soul, from ev’ry sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

John Douglas Sutherland Cambell, 1877

[John D. C. Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, Chief of Clan Campbell and later 9th Duke of Argyll, was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. His wife, Princess Caroline Louise Alberta, was the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. She gave her name to Lake Louise in B.C. and to the province of Alberta. Queen Victoria really would have preferred for her daughter to marry a European prince, to which Mr. Campbell is reported to have quietly responded: “Madam, my forefathers were kings when the Hohenzollerns were parvenus.” Despite his aristocratic heritage, Campbell was a fervent Christian and a supporter of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for homeless children. The above poem is sung to a melody composed by Charles H. Purday.]

Sing Out!

Alf Soper was janitor of the school I attended as a boy. Once he had been a travelling repairman for a farm implement company, then the boss of some large construction projects. New he was old and content to tend the coal fired boiler that heated the two storey brick school, sweep the floors, carry out the garbage and do all the other little chores involved in cleaning and maintaining this building that was daily swarmed by more than a hundred children of all ages.

Alf Soper never married, didn’t appear to have much of a social life, yet never seemed grumpy about the shenanigans of the children. He often attended the same little Anglican Church that our family attended. He would sit on the second bench from the front on the side nearest the organ. Our family sat the second seat from the back on the opposite side, yet when a hymn was sung we could near Alf’s voice as clearly as if he was sitting beside us.

Alf was born in England and was probably of pretty much unadulterated Celtic heritage. The rest of us were not terribly good singers and were content to sing along with the organ, taking care not to be too loud lest someone hear our false notes. Not Alf. He was in his element when we sang the old hymns and not the least self conscious about letting his powerful voice be heard. And I don’t think he ever hit a false note.

Years later, we were members of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Ontario. There was no organ in our church, we sang a cappella in four part harmony, and most people loved to sing. A song leader would go up to the front mike, use a pitch pipe to set the correct pitch and lead the singing.

Except when Frank Adams was in church. Frank was another elderly man of Celtic ancestry, Welsh to be exact, and an amazing singer. He would sit on the fourth bench from the front and give out the number for Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah or one of his other favourites. The song leader would dutifully get up, blow the pitch, start the song – and from there on Frank would lead it. The song leader would be someone with a good voice and he had the advantage of the PA system, but he simply was no match for the power of Frank’s voice.

I’m glad no one ever told Frank that maybe he should turn down the volume a bit. He loved to sing, he was enjoying himself, and to tell the truth, we enjoyed it too.

Perhaps we take singing a bit too seriously, trying to get every note just right. If you listen to one of our church services, you will hear the voices of little children babbling along with the singing. They don’t know the words or the melody, but they joyfully blend their voices with the rest of the congregation and it does not distract at all from the beauty of the singing.

When these children get older they learn to read the words, they learn to read the music and hit the notes, but lose their childlike innocence and become self-conscious about letting their voice be heard. Most grow out of that stage, but not all.

I’m one of the self-conscious ones. I learned next to nothing about music in public school, in the church we attended when I was young, or at home. My mother loved to sing, but we never had any family singalongs because my father didn’t sing. I do my best singing in the shower, probably always will, but I enjoy it when I see others sing out with no thought of “what will people think?,

The song of Mary Magdalene

This well-known hymn was written in March of 1912 by C. Austin Miles after a scene appeared in his mind of Mary Magdalene coming to the garden early on the first day of the week. She had seen the open tomb and now she thought she was seeking His body. Then His familiar voice spoke her name.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

 

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