A while back I shared a couple sample lesson plans I wrote for a new “Systematic Hymnology” children’s choir curriculum we’re implementing at Stevens Street. So far, things have gone really well this fall! I love seeing the kids begin to make connections between the lyrics they are singing and the biblical truths they represent, all the while learning valuable musical concepts and an appreciation for the history and traditions of the Church.
One of the most exciting things (for me, anyway) about this curriculum is the way we are going to introduce it to the church-at-large. On the evening of October 3, the choir and orchestra — with help from the children’s choirs and the Orff ensemble — will be presenting a night of congregational singing. This won’t be any ordinary hymn-sing, though! It will be a true Colossians 3:16 evening, where our congregation will teach and admonish one another through music as we let the word of Christ dwell in our hearts!
I’ve been given a lot of leeway in planning this service, which has been pretty awesome. Basically, I had three “streams” of progression as far as song choice and order are concerned. The first is that the hymns we’re singing will be roughly chronological, with older songs at the beginning of the concert and newer songs and arrangements at the end. The second has to do with how the Church has embraced musical developments throughout history, as our arrangements and instrumentation will progress from simple to complex.
The third and most important stream is where the “Systematic Hymnology” comes in. I’ve arranged the hymns to “teach” doctrines in a similar fashion to how a systematic theology textbook is organized. I’m printing out a customized hymnal for the concert, which, in addition to having the music and lyrics (no screens this night!), will feature the history of the hymn and a shortened version of the “hymnology” lesson. The full lessons will be on the Worship Ministry blog.
Here are the songs we’re doing, and a general idea of how their doctrinal themes progress throughout the night. These are not necessarily the arrangements we’re doing… I’m writing several, with help from a few of our many multi-talented band members.
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow (1674)
Taken a bit out of chronological order because I wanted to open the service with a doxology, this hymn introduces the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the foundational doctrine that sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. We’ll sing it a capella.
Be Thou My Vision (6th Century)
One of the most ancient surviving hymns from the early church, this is the theme song for the concert. It speaks of the preeminence that Christ must have in our lives.
All Creatures of Our God and King (1225)
This hymn by Francis of Assisi praises God as Creator, and exhorts all of creation to give Him glory! This and the next hymn will feature our wonderful organist, Elizabeth Brown.
If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee (1641)
I wanted to introduce at least one relatively obscure old hymn (though it was in the “Baptist Hymnal” until the most recent revision), and this is the one I picked. It introduces much of what we call “theology proper”, displaying many of God’s attributes. I’d heard it before, but sang it back in December when visiting Immanuel Church in Nashville, and realized how wonderful it really is! One of J.S. Bach’s most beautiful melodies. This video is a great organ performance . For lyrics and a little of the hymn’s background, click here.
How Firm a Foundation (1787)
Next we’ll sing about the importance of Scripture. At this point in the program, we’ll begin to incorporate some newer arrangements, celebrating the revival of many timeless lyrics and melodies with contemporary musical settings. For instance, here’s the arrangement we’ll play of this hymn:
The Church’s One Foundation (1866)
Our next doctrine is ecclesiology — the doctrine of the Church. This hymn is one of my personal favorites (though there’s a lyric change I’m not fond of in this particular video), and one of the best I know of for singing about the significance and holiness of Christ’s bride.
At this point in the program there will be a couple medleys of hymns; one led by the children and one by the adults. I’ll leave these hymns a surprise, but lest you feel we’ve omitted the best-known hymn of the past three decades, I’ll tell you that “Amazing Grace” will be one of them! After these medleys, we’ll turn our attention toward the accomplishment and application of redemption; the saving work of Jesus Christ.
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (Modern)
Stuart Townend is one of the greatest hymn-writers of our time, and this may be his most popular… for good reason! It’s a touching reminder of how much the Father loves His children, and what our salvation cost Him.
Jesus Paid It All (1865 with a modern chorus added)
Though the cost of our redemption was beyond measure, Jesus paid the full cost, making the free gift of salvation available to God’s chosen.
It Is Not Death to Die (1832 lyrics, new modern melody)
This is a hymn of personal eschatology. For those covered by the blood of the Lamb of God, to die is to gain the promise of Heaven! I’m a huge fan of Sovereign Grace Music. They have resurrected so many great old lyrics with beautiful new melodies (Before the Throne of God Above, for example).
There Is a Higher Throne (Modern)
We end with a hymn of general eschatology. Though Christians differ on the manner and timing of the Lord’s return, there is no doubt about the most important aspects of the doctrine of the End Times. This is a beautiful contemporary hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty that sings of those glorious truths in which all orthodox Christians may rejoice together!
I hope that all in our community (and perhaps many who are not!) will join us at 6:00 p.m. on October 3 at Stevens Street Baptist Church. It’s going to be an amazing time of worship and instruction!