Monthly Archives: September 2013

Singing with Understanding – Part 5 The Hymn and THEOLOGY

The Hymn and THEOLOGY

“I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also.”    I Corinthians 14:15

It has been said that hymns are the ordinary person’s theology.  Hymns express what ordinary people have believed through the ages and what can be affirmed today as true and reliable.  The hymnal is truly a book of “grass-roots theology.”  When talking about their faith, average churchgoers can quote more stanzas of hymns than verses of Scripture. 

Because hymns were born out of the need of their authors to express their faith and devotion, they also minister to the spiritual needs of those who know and sing them.  Thus, the hymnal is a theological guidebook for meeting the challenges of daily living and the spiritual problems encountered in ordinary human relationships.

Most Christian churches express their theology in the Apostles’ Creed.  The Presbyterian Hymnal is organized by the various tenets of our faith set out in that outline of our beliefs:

I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth  Hymns 259-298 include expressions of our belief in the God of creation, mercy, wisdom, compassion, faithfulness, steadfastness, grace, goodness, and love.  Two of the more familiar hymns in this section are “Amazing Grace” and “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary  Hymns 299-312 describe our belief in Jesus as our savior, redeemer, refuge, companion, and guide. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Hymn 309) expresses the mystery of the incarnation, and the Christmas hymns (21-61) tell the story of Jesus’ birth and the adoration of the angels and shepherds. 

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell;

The third day he rose again from the dead; Lent and Holy Week hymns such as “Wondrous Love” (Hymn 85) and “Were You There” (Hymn 102) remind us of our belief that Jesus died for our salvation, and the Easter section (Hymns 104-123 of our belief in the resurrection 

I believe in the Holy Ghost  We sing about our belief in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as our guide and sustainer in hymns 313-326.  Perhaps “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” (Hymn 316) best describes what we believe the Holy Spirit does for us.

The holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins; 
The Resurrection of the body, 
And the Life everlasting.

Hymns relating to these beliefs can be found in various sections of the hymnal.  Check out the Table of Contents and the Topical Index to do your own research.

Here is the crux of the matter of the hymn as theology: regardless of the richness and correctness of a hymn’s theology, the hymn itself becomes a genuine expression of Christian belief only when the singer utters it from the heart.

In what ways have specific hymns influenced your own beliefs?  I would be interested in sharing your story if you wish.

…..Adapted from Sing with Understanding, by Harry Eskew and Hugh T. McGrath)


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