So we sang How Great Thou Art on Sunday. It was terrific. Even in a modern church, if you want to get everyone singing, just pull out one of the classics and it happens.
But the software system we use to project the words onto the screen now lists the songwriter(s)and copyright date of each piece we do.
Imagine my surprise when I saw this at the bottom of the screen: Stuart K. Hine, 1953.
1953?! For How Great Thou Art?! Surely that must be a mistake. I thought it must have been written just after the completion of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
So I double-checked. 1953 is right. After the Great Depression. After World War II. After Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. After even the invention of television.
In other words, How Great Thou Art is a relatively recent piece of hymnody. The church existed for 1900+ years without it.
Which goes to show that all worship is fundamentally contemporary. It’s just that How Great Thou Art is contemporary to the 1950s, while Marvelous Light is contemporary to the 2000s.
There is nothing in How Great Thou Art that makes it inherently more biblical or more reverent than Marvelous Light.
There are things in it that make it more comfortable — chief among them the sense of nostalgia it brings to many who sing it.
In the modern worship wars, we have often confused the traditional with the ancient. Many assume that because a song or a style has been around for as long as they can remember (“I grew up singing that hymn!”) then it has always been around. Not so.
In fact, I believe that if we were exposed to worship settings that were truly ancient — say, first century Christian celebrations taking place in house churches — we would find them incomprehensible.
Almost like taking a high church Episcopalian and putting him in the middle of an emergent Christian mosh pit (they exist).
Our task, then, is to take truths that are ancient and communicate them in ways that are comprehensible. In a song like Marvelous Light, for example.
Or How Great Thou Art.