Music in Our Country Churches
Rev. Thomas Browne, 1902
We all like to hear good music in our churches, but liking is one thing and having another. The musical tendency in the majority of our country churches is seldom thought of. The preacher is silent, and the religious press also "pass by on the other side."
Why this silence? Is the musical side of our church life and denominational growth so unimportant? Does music serve merely as a "filling in," or is it true that spiritual songs are the delight of the church to-day as they were in the days of her youth? In many of our country churches, and some city churches as well, there is a marked tendency on the part of the young people to abandon the Baptist Hymnal and use all manner of songs and song books, and in many cases they do it without a word of disapproval from the pastor. I recently visited a church which has had the Baptist Hymnal for years, and are still unfamiliar with its hymns, yet they have purchased two other song books, from each of which they can sing about a dozen selections. Only a few weeks ago I asked a member of a country church, with about three hundred members, what hymn book they used, and in reply was informed that they used four or five. Is it not time that our preachers give some attention to this part of church work? Can they not at least emphasize the importance of getting a good hymn book, and then continue to use it, and not run after the cheaper sort? Do you not find the best hymns in the Baptist Hymnal, and is it not well arranged? Surely you see the deep and profound truths which its hymns teach, as compared with these others.
I venture the assertion that were many of our best preachers to be asked to select hymns suitable for two Sunday services, out of many of the hymn books now in use throughout the country, they would utterly fail in the attempt, other than to select from the few closing pages where about twenty of the good old hymns are to be found crowded in with small type and no music.
As to the song books used, they are legion, with high-sounding names, such as Sermons of Song (Sunshine Edition); All Hail; The Master's Call; The Revival; Songs of Zion; Songs of the Kingdom; Excellent Songs, etc. Inspection is invited. But open one and sing:
"O what ship is this that will take us home? O glory! Hallelujah! Tis the old ship Zion, Hallelujah."
"I know what I'll do for Jesus, I know what I'll do,
I know what I'll do, I know what I'll do for [for - omit] Jesus;
I’ll praise him, yes, this will I do."
Very good, indeed, you say. Alas for such judgment. The music in your church for a time may be less than you would have it be, but it never can be more than you would have it be, if you are the leader. Would that young preachers might see the necessity of taking hold of this part of church work and arrange to give the necessary time to its study before they engage in actual pastoral work.
A word to evangelists may not be out of place. As you go from church to church will you not aid in raising the standard of music? Don't be so eager to introduce your song book. I am aware that each of you has a song book which you prefer to have the people use during your stay with them. Will you not consider each individual field, and where you see poor talent, without means of development, recommend some such high-class book as the Baptist Hymnal? Many of you have a personal interest in the sale of your preferred books. If you yourself are not one of the compilers, maybe the publishers have made you special rates in order to extend the sale. Many an evangelist recommends a book which is unfit for regular church work, and he knows when recommending it that if accepted it is likely the church will not purchase any other for years to come. Not many months ago an evangelist highly mended a certain book as "the best he knew." True it might have been "the best he knew," but I know that his recommendation was utterly worthless. The man had no knowledge of music whatever, and could not sing the simplest hymn correctly. Alas, he is not the only one, who, to be in the "fashion," carries a song book as a part of his outfit. It is a shame that poor churches, who know no better, are victimized in this way, and that the evangelist and pastor in nine cases out of ten know so little about music, and are content seemingly to remain so.
Let us have good hymn books in our churches, for among the common people the hymn book is the system of theology most in vogue. Having secured the best, let us master its contents - bring out the expression and leave an impression. When this is done you will find that God will bless this part of the worship of his sanctuary, a new religious life will manifest itself, for the people will no longer be listeners merely, but worshipers as well.
New York Hall, S. B. T. S., Louisville.
[From The Baptist Argus, October 9, 1902, p. 4; via Baylor U. digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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