I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, August 29, 2016


Probably one of the biggest issues that divides Christians, churches, and denominations today is commonly called the “Worship Wars.”   It has to do with how and what music is used in congregational worship.

This is a touchy subject.  There is so much contemporary Christian music available today and much of it is doctrinally weak or unsound.  

But that’s not new; it just seems more prevalent because of the instant access we have to information through the internet.  Throughout the history of the Christian church, most of the songs that were written did not stand musical or doctrinal scrutiny.  We know that to be true because, in spite of the fact that many of history’s most prolific hymn writers wrote thousands of songs, only a few are preserved in our hymnbooks today.
There are lots of battles in the worship wars.  Should we sing only Psalms?  Should we not use any instrumental or digital accompaniment?  Should we avoid all special music?

Those are all questions of methodology.  But that is not what I want to address here.   There are other disagreements about whether or not we should use songs that are written or performed by people who have no authentic Christian faith or who hold to errant or heretical beliefs.
Today there is a very popular praise and worship publishing and performance arm of a major, worldwide evangelical church that is considered, by most fundamental Christians, to be errant. Furthermore, many of the leaders and performers are involved in unrepentant sin. So I understand when some church leaders avoid their music.  Immature or undiscerning Christians might be misled into doctrinal error by looking to the personal lives or beliefs of the artists or the false doctrines of the church.

About thirty years ago, one of my favorite Christian singers was B. J. Thomas.  I listened to his music and I sang some of his songs.  But then, one day, I read an interview in a Christian magazine.  When asked about his Christian faith, he remarked, “Well, if you are asking me if I am a ‘born again’ Christian, the answer is no.”

Another recent example is that of a popular trio who perform excellent and God-honoring, Christian music but they are members of a Christian cult that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity.

So how does that affect worship music here at our church?  The simple answer is, I try to avoid using any music that is currently associated with any controversial musicians who are tainted by openly sinful lifestyles or are overtly errant in fundamental biblical doctrines.

But celebrities fade and people quickly forget, and in a few generations, there remains no more negative context for the music. 

That's because God’s Truth is unchanging; it's always true no matter who utters it.

And that has been the case on numerous occasions here in our own worship services.  We have sung some great hymns of faith and truth that have been written by authors whose faith or practices have been questionable or shameful, yet their songs have survived far beyond their reputations and have been used by God’s people for His glory.
Which brings me to today’s opening hymn.   This was one of those songs.

It was originally written in 1851 by Matthew Bridges who once wrote a book condemning the errors of Roman Catholic theology.  But then later he converted to and embraced Roman Catholicism.  Bridges wrote six stanzas, based upon Revelation 19:12, “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns.”  

But Bridges' testimony was conflicted and his doctrine was compromised.

Godfrey Thring was a devout clergyman who was concerned that this popular new hymn was being sung by Protestant congregations.  That was a problem because it contained some subtle, aberrant Catholic doctrines (specifically about the virgin, Mary).   So he wrote six new verses.

Apparently, some of his lyrics weren’t all that great either because, through the years, the twelve stanzas have been combined, culled, and edited. 

What remains is one of the great classic hymns of the faith (usually containing six stanzas).  CROWN HIM WITH MANY CROWNS has become an important praise and worship staple of the Christian church.  

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