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, January 16, 2017


SING PRAISE TO GOD WHO REIGNS ABOVE is a hymn that was written during a time of several converging events in church history.  

The Protestant Reformation started in Germany when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  That was in 1517, and just a few years later, by the time he died, the new Lutheran Church was strong and fervent and it was the dominant Christian force in Germany and throughout Europe.

Another contributing factor to the rise of Christianity in Northern Europe was the influence of the Bohemian-Moravian Brethren.  They were very zealous followers of John Huss, who, in 1415, had been burned at the stake because of his evangelical views.  The Brethren had migrated into Germany in search of religious freedom.

Then there was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  It was a miserable time of persecution for Christians in Germany.  The Roman Catholic Church was at war against Protestants throughout Europe.  The German population had been reduced from 16 million to 6 million people.

By the middle of the century (just about one hundred years after the death of Martin Luther) the Lutheran Church was still doctrinally sound but they had lost much of their zeal.  In those days, Philipp Jacob Spener became the pastor of a congregation in Frankfurt.  One of his earliest members and his most trusted friend and helper in the ministry, was a young attorney, Johann Jakob Schutz.

At Johann's suggestion, Philipp Spener began to hold small group gatherings in homes for prayer meetings and Bible studies.  His preaching heavily emphasized the need for repentance and personal piety.  His discipleship moved his people from dead orthodox rituals to active personal faith and holy living.  That became the basis for the Pietistic revival movement in the Lutheran Churches in Germany.

One notable difference between traditional Lutheranism and the new Pietism was the active involvement of the laity in the church.  The regular gathering together of believers became a participatory time of worship rather than a spectator event conducted by the clergy.

(So, what was this thing called Pietism?  The root of the word is “pious” and if you are like me, you might be suspect of it.  That’s because the meanings of words change over time.  Our modern usage has negative connotations; it means to be characterized by a sanctimonious or hypocritical pretense of virtue or religious devotion.

But the classic definition means to have or show a genuine spirit of respect or reverence for God.)

As the father of the new Pietist movement, Philipp Spener outlined his Five Guiding Principles in a document titled “Pious Desires”.  Those included:

• The increased use of scripture.

• Lay participation in small groups, emphasizing prayer and Bible study.

• A balance of faith and actions.

• An emphasis on a pious clergy.

• Sermons that encourage an active faith.

Because of the movement’s new emphasis on hymns and congregational singing, rather than just Psalms only,  many new German hymns were written during those years.   It was pastor Spener’s friend, Johann Schutz, who authored five hymns including “SING PRAISE TO GOD WHO REIGNS ABOVE.” His inspiration for the hymn was Deut. 32:3, “For I proclaim the Name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God.”

And that verse is exactly the model he used for each stanza of this hymn. 

Verse 1 proclaims the All-Powerful God of creation and Salvation.

Verse 2 proclaims the Ever-Present God who is our help and our peace.

Verse 3 proclaims the joy of knowing God.

Verse 4 proclaims that our God is Christ, the Lord.

There are two other verses that are not printed in most of our hymnbooks.  One of them proclaims the God Who never sleeps; He is always in control.  

The other proclaims the God of Mercy. 

Each proclamation, then, is followed by the same refrain: "To God, all praise and glory."    

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