Your sin prompts your mouth;
you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine;
your own lips testify against you.
- Job 15:5-6
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
- James 3:1-6
Have you ever been in a worship service and the words of a hymn are not the words that you grew up singing? Before I could read, our church had used the Broadman Hymnal. The pages were falling out of the hymnals; the covers were worn and faded. They got a new hymnal, fresh off the presses, and the old folks hated it. It was not what they were used to singing. A word here or there was changed. They demanded to have it thrown out and when they were told that the old hymnal was out of print, they quit coming to worship, except for a few Sundays each year – and Wednesday nights when they brought the Broadman hymnals out for prayer meeting.
When we joined a church over twenty years ago, they had an even newer hymnal, more changes, some changes radical. If you change every other word, and the title of the hymn is no longer corresponding to any of the words in the hymn, the least you can do is give the hymn a new title and own up to the fact that Fannie Crosby or Isaac Watts is turning over in their graves due to the butchering that you did to a perfectly good old song. Claiming that the original composer wrote “those words” is falsehood, and the Bible talks about that.
But then, when you voice your opinion about how far wrong we have gone – with yet another new hymnal published and used when printing the words of the hymn in the bulletin – the pastor might take offense. After all, he or she can do nothing about it. He or she might agree with you, but they have to hear you say that you are offended.
And sometimes, you might not have thought it through. Maybe the least offensive change was the straw that broke the camel’s back and you are barking up the wrong tree. Just to use old idioms that maybe old folks are the only ones to know the meaning.
Not that the following letter was ever sent to the pastor (although it once was), it illustrates that apologies are welcomed, whether they really were needed or not. And we must know that a pastor who sincerely follows the Scriptures and truly takes his calling seriously is doing the best he can with what he has. It is not an easy task. So, while voicing your opinion may or may not be necessary (usually not), voicing your regrets in the way you said it and the way it was heard might be necessary as well.
I complemented you about your sermon today, but I followed that with a complaint about the final hymn, God of the Ages, Whose Almighty Hand. It is indeed listed as the National Hymn. Daniel C. Roberts wrote it in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the United States, but the hymn that he wrote is God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand.
In going home and researching this change, I can find no record of when the change occurred. It is bizarre that several websites like a Methodist online hymnal and hymnary.org both give the title of God of Our Fathers, but the words in the hymn never has the title, and they all state that the original composer wrote the hymn as it was in the church bulletin.
I finally found a website that gave both titles and both sets of lyrics with a comment that it is unknown when the change occurred or who made the change, but modern hymnals have God of the Ages, and in some cases about half the lyrics are changed also.
I apologize for my raising the notion of my offense to you. You did not rewrite the hymn. It was probably copied, by permission, from the latest online hymnal for the denomination. As you stated, I cannot go back in time to worship as I did in my youth. (I can go forward to be with Jesus and find out that the church since near the beginning of the church did not get that worship thing down right, but by then in heaven, everyone in heaven will be on the same page.)
I have read many Christian authors that state that Christians should not be offended. This world is full of division because one side is offended by the opinion of the other side. But if we constantly acquiesce, we can be in deep trouble.
When changing some male-centric phraseology or ridding a hymn of “thee” and “thou,” you may have to change the entire lyrics to get things in the right meter and getting words to rhyme. But sometimes that takes the very personal story written a hundred years ago and makes it impersonal. The hymn loses its soul. But sometimes the changes filter in some principles that are not biblical. Those need to be avoided.
At what point do we create a god that we call Jesus, but he is no longer Jesus, just someone named Jesus? This example is a poor one to make regarding that idea. You were correct in that God is, in other contexts, called the God of the Ages. “Oh God, our help in ages past” points in that direction.
But some time ago, I wrote a post about “One Word Too Many” when the words “a wretch” were replaced with “someone” in Amazing Grace. That caused me to research that hymn, and I did not sing the original words in my youth, having already been changed countless times. The thrilling verse about “when we’ve been there 10,000 years” was never written by John Newton. I think I found a total of 7 verses, maybe eight, but hymnals today usually have four verses with the added verse, that may or may not have come from Harriet Beecher Stowe adding it in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and even copied then from an old Negro Spiritual hymnbook. (No offense meant since that musical genre is referred to as Negro Spirituals.)
But in changing “a wretch” to “someone,” it makes the verse impersonal. I like being called a wretch on occasion. I disliked our conversation today, but I learned from it. It did me good. Maybe I was being a bit wretched, but I was not an impersonal “someone” that could be anyone – maybe a “someone” going to a different church entirely.
I understand to include men and women, “Father” in this case could be changed to “the ages” without losing meaning. We are not talking about our God, the Father. If we were, that would be too far for me. Yet, I feel the same impersonal attitude in making this change. God of the Ages could be read as a certain Someone long ago, while God of our Fathers is only a generation removed (although the composer was referring to the founding fathers or forefathers of the country), and using “Our Fathers” parallels Scripture like the Israelites saying, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Then again, God of the Ages, for an engineer like me, could be God the Father, as He is outside time and space, thus right now in all time, at the beginning of all time and at the end of all time, as I am writing this, the one and only God of all Ages, simultaneously, if He so chose. Frankly, I do not know how that works, since I am trapped in time and space, yet I can imagine how God could be outside time and space and what that might be like.
As I write this, I am starting to be less offended as I was this morning about that first line, but what really offended me the most is that the rest of our National Hymn had not been changed. Can we really claim that as a Nation, not considering each individual or a church or a denomination … As a Nation do we go to God as our Ruler, Guardian, Guide, and Stay? They will not let anyone say “God”, unless while cursing, in Washington, DC these days. A bold exaggeration, but not by much. If we had not gotten hung up on one line, I might have made my point clearer. Our problem in our country today is that we have rejected the God of our Fathers, and we do not recognize Him as the God of the Ages.
And in speaking of those Fathers, our forefathers indeed had wives that had to approve of them going off to the Continental Congress. With that in mind, alone and not considering the women behind the scenes, who really wrote the Constitution? Our forefathers or the wives that let them get out of the house? And because everyone other than Christians can readily be offended, we have to be inclusive, but not to the point of changing the Bible.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
- Hebrews 13:8
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- Romans 12:2
God does not change, but as I have learned in my research and reading what others have written from around the world, our language has indeed changed. And the language changes rapidly, not waiting for Webster to discard so many unused words each year and accepting so many new words at the same time. It makes writing about the love of God difficult when people, some government officials, consider bringing up the subject of the Biblical God as being hate speech.
I again apologize, but I stand behind my overall offense, just not directed at you at all. I love you as a brother in Christ, and I have grown stronger since you have been our pastor.
But while I would not wish to serve as an elder, you might not want me to do so. I can drive at night, but I try to avoid it – thus meeting attendance would be poor. And my attitude toward change, unless that change meant radical repentance, is clearly stated in the argument above. To be honest, my love for my Sunday school class is the major reason for not shopping around for another church, again not due to you but how the denomination is going. That and just being too old to try to make friends with a totally different set of people.
And yes, my church when I was growing up was different. We had two plus hours every Sunday morning to a packed house unless the once each month potluck was that week, making it about four hours plus, and about three hours every Sunday night (two hours of youth group and one hour of worship, totally different sermon, usually more like a Bible study), and a one-hour Wednesday night prayer meeting, to a packed house. We attended them all since my mother was the choir director and church organist.
Now, I will go from the couple of hours of church worship and most waking hours the rest of the week worshipping God through what I write to one day being with God in Glory where the worship never ends. Those that only worship an hour once each week might have a culture shock, but if they are true believers, it will be a welcome one.
We need to know when our poisoned tongue said something earnestly but messed it up by the time it came out of our mouth.
God forgives us, and pastors do also, but maybe next time, I should not put him through it in the first place.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.