This is our second guest post from Markag. He shares his experiences as a convert from the RLDS to the LDS Church.
I have been a singer/player of music, both sacred and secular, all my life; eventually getting a degree in music. I was elected Music Director on a branch/district level in the RLDS Church. After my conversion to the LDS Church in 1998, and I’ve been called as a ward Choir Director since 1999 and Music Director since 2006. I wanted to compare the music programs of the two Churches. Part one will focus on the Hymnbooks and later Part two will look at how music and song are used in worship services. I give some statistics below, but please regard these as “approximate” since I may have missed one here or there.
“Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” [LDS Hymns] was published in 1985. It contains 341 hymns, 14 of these hymns are duplicates: they make a 2nd appearance arranged for women’s or men’s choirs. The previous LDS Hymnbook was published in 1948.
Community of Christ Sings [CoC Sings] was published last year and is the 3rd RLDS hymnbook since 1956; with several supplemental song booklets in between. It contains 664 hymns for general use. Because it’s almost twice the size of LDS Hymns some comparisons would be proportionately unfair, but I will highlight a few.
When I joined the LDS Church, one of the first things I noticed was that hymns addressing Deity in the 1st person (ex. “I Need Thee Every Hour”) had no A-MEN at the conclusion. I’ve no explanation. CoC Hymns use it when appropriate.
The Book of Mormon has an equal amount of representation in both Hymnbooks. LDS Hymns has 129 hymns with at least one scripture verse from it and CoC Sings has 136, although they are located only in the scripture index.
The introduction to CoC Sings speaks of “….the diversity and global nature of Community of Christ.” To exemplify this, the Hymnbook has an impressive feature called the Core Repertoire. 27 alternative languages appear within 125 hymns; either as a complete song, lyrics on a page opposite the hymn, or a single-verse hymn with several languages to choose from. Spanish and French have the most entries
I think this is a neat idea, especially for a metro or university congregation with multi-linguists. They wouldn’t have to fumble with a different hymnbook all the time. Of course the encouragement is for English speakers to get a taste of international singing
Now let’s compare each Church’s contributions to their Hymnbook. LDS Hymns identifies 61 composers and 98 authors as Latter Day Saints. CoC Sings designates 21 composers and 57 authors as Community of Christ but this is misleading for two reasons. First, the listing includes W.W. Phelps, William Fowler, and Parley P. Pratt. Second, 23 of the listed authors merely provided language translations or verse alterations to existing hymns
I found one example of lyric alteration in LDS Hymns but CoC Sings is replete with changes to LDS, RLDS, and mainstream Christian hymns. To provide an example I’ll use “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet”; the only “Utah Mormon” hymn regularly included in RLDS hymnbooks
LDS Hymns #19
We thank thee O God for a prophet to guide us in these latter days
We thank thee for sending the gospel to lighten our minds with its rays
We thank thee for every blessing bestowed by thy bounteous hand
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee and love to obey thy command
When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us and threaten our peace to destroy
There is hope smiling brightly before us and we know that deliv’rance is nigh
We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness We’ve proved him in days that are past
The wicked who fight against Zion will surely be smitten at last
We’ll sing of his goodness and mercy We’ll praise him by day and by night
Rejoice in his glorious gospel and bask in its life-giving light
Thus on to eternal perfection the honest and faithful will go
While they who reject this glad message shall never such happiness know
CoC Sings #180
We thank you O God for our prophets who guide us in witness today
We thank you for sending the gospel enlightening our minds with its rays
We thank you for every blessing bestowed by your generous hand
We lift up our promise to serve you to bring healing and peace to all lands
When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us and threaten your peace by our fear
There is hope smiling brightly before us and we know that your kingdom is near
We doubt not your grace and your goodness, We’ve claimed them in days that are past
And all those who labor for Zion will surely be blessed at last
A people God calls to be prophetic will walk in the way of the Christ
Welcome all who would join in the journey seeking joy in God’s life-giving light
By prayer may we always be open to bear further truth God would give
We dare to act boldly for justice and serve so that others may live.
As a musician, I DO NOT agree with this practice of modifying lyrics. My personal opinion is that if the church disagrees with the message a hymn conveys, don’t select it. That’s easy enough. Certainly the LDS follow this criterion. Imagine altering the words to “Amazing Grace” to make it more acceptable.
I believe most hymns, especially from the restoration, were powerful testimonies of what the gospel meant to the writer. Who are we to say their words are no longer inspiring?