Recently, the Church has announced plans to revise the LDS Hymnal and the Children’s Songbook [https://www.lds.org/music/new-music/frequently-asked-questions?lang=eng] in order to meet the needs of an international and diverse church. This is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the importance of hymns and determine how hymns should be selected for Church services.
The preface to the current Hymnal lists three objectives: that the hymns aid worship in Church services, at home, and in our personal lives. Hymns are ‘an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord’(Preface to the LDS Hymnal). Additionally, we are encouraged to look to the hymns as a teaching vehicle which will aid us to understand sound doctrine; for, ‘Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end’ (Preface to the LDS Hymnal). As one of the signs of the true and universal church is that it will be one, even as God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are one (John 17:21; D&C 38:20), the special charge that hymns will unify us through encouraging us to repent and teaching us sound doctrine is of vital importance.
One hymn I recently heard in an Anglican service, ‘Sweet Sacrament’, is a neat object lesson of what a hymn ought to look like. The words are as follows:
1Sweet Sacrament divine,
hid in thine earthly home,
lo, round thy lowly shrine,
with suppliant hearts we come;
Jesus, to thee our voice we raise
in songs of love and heartfelt praise:
sweet Sacrament divine.
2 Sweet Sacrament of peace,
dear home for every heart,
where restless yearnings cease
and sorrows all depart;
there in thine ear all trustfully
we tell our tale of misery:
sweet Sacrament of peace.
3 Sweet Sacrament of rest,
ark from the ocean’s roar,
within thy shelter blest
soon may we reach the shore;
save us, for still the tempest raves,
save, lest we sink beneath the waves:
sweet Sacrament ofrest.
4 Sweet Sacrament divine,
earth’s light and jubilee,
in thy far depths doth shine
thy Godhead’s majesty;
sweet light, so shine on us, we pray,
that earthly joys may fade away:
sweet Sacrament divine.
Notice in the verses of the hymn that there are direct teachings on the Atonement of Christ–the focus of Sacrament services in the LDS Church–and the words reverently encourage worship and devotion. Good hymns convey sound doctrine, have reverent melodies which match the ethos of Christian worship in Sacrament services and are part of the teaching which occurs at Church. Other music may invite the spirit, may be inspiring, might even teach sound doctrine, but hymn must do all of this in a way which matches the solemnity of sacramental worship, its location in a Chapel dedicated to the Lord, and themes of the broader Church services in which they are used.
As we begin the process of re-evaluating the hymns in our hymnal, let us use this opportunity to remove from our hymnal those songs which, although they may have cultural or historical significance, do not reflect our doctrines, are not reverent and do not best represent the Lord’s charge to His Church.