Hymns & Hers?
by Larry Roff
“What have they done to my favorite hymn?” You may be asking yourself that question after reading the new versions of your old favorites in recent hymnals. “New” is “in” with the multitude of hymnal revisions that have appeared in the last few years.
One form of change deals with “archaic language.” Use of the King James Version is giving way to modern translations. As we move away from reading thee and thou, we shouldn’t be surprised that we also move away from praying thee and thou and from singing thee and thou. These simple changes can be quite subtle and can make the phrase much more personal. We see this in “I need you, precious Jesus,” or when “Hast thou not known” becomes “Have you not known.”
A second form of change is a bit more radical. It deals with “Inclusive Language.” Here the desire for being contemporary is stronger yet, wanting to conform to changes in secular speech and thought. Man is less acceptable as a generic word for humanity, and we now have chairpersons instead of chairmen. It is certainly awkward in hymnody. “God of our fathers” becomes “God of the ages.” “Rise Up, O Men of God” becomes “Rise Up, O Church of God.” And we have entirely new hymns composed to dignify both sexes, as in “Christian women, Christian men, have we ears to hear.…”
But we say “Too far” when the editors and authors tell us that God is both male and female, both father and mother. Here we deal with the challenge of “sexist language” in reference to God. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” (a double fault!) becomes “Dear Lord, Creator good and kind.” We are invited to sing “Our Parent (formerly “Father”), by whose name all parenthood (formerly “fatherhood”) is known.” What do you suppose Wesley would say about modern tampering that changed his “Father, in whom we live” to “Maker, in whom we live?” Wouldn’t you rather receive a loving hug from a Father than from a Maker?
In these instances, we don’t object to the words themselves as much as we object to the attempt to redefine God. Is it not a violation of the second commandment to make images of God? Such verbal images as these do not correspond to the reality of His self-description in the Bible.
When our new hymns encourage us to reach out to modern man—whoops, I mean humanity—and speak his—whoops again, I mean their—language, well and good. But not when this involves a rejection of biblical accuracy. God calls Himself “Father.” To alter this revelation involves a rejection of divine authority. As a father, He is in control to teach and discipline us, His children. It also involves a rejection of eternal accountability. To add to or take from His Word is a lot more serious than messing with Mother Nature!
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