But Which Tune?
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” Of Asaph. A psalm.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
– Psalm 80:1 (NIV)
In the mood for an argument? Just loudly declare in coffee hour, “The Doxology should only be sung to Old Hundredth.” The Lasst Uns Erfreuen die-hards will be on you faster than you can say, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.”
People are picky about what words should be sung with what music—and for good reason! Music helps words soar above the everyday. Words help music sink deeply into our spirits. This stuff matters.
It matters who hears their culture reflected. It matters who hears their experiences lifted up. The people who find themselves in the music are the people who will come back. To paraphrase a business wardrobe cliché: pick music for the church you want, not the church you have.
But what about tradition?
Here’s the thing, there is no one way to define traditional music. There’s no pairing of word and music that’s sacrosanct. We’re all politely ignoring the Bible’s instruction to sing Psalm 80 to the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant” because we have no idea what that sounds like. Sorry to break it to you, but we don’t have a leg to stand on for insisting on singing the traditional way.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise God all creatures here below! Praise God above, you heavenly host! Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost! We hope, O God, that you enjoyed how many different ways we just sang that.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.