Song Book Surveys

Brian Casey

Many of us are convinced that worship is to be a priority, if not the priority, in daily life as well as in Christian assemblies. It is with this truth in mind that we publish PP.

Worshipful singing has not always taken precedence in the practice of the Churches of Christ, and this fact is reflected in the content of some of the widely used song books in our brotherhood. (We do applaud the trend, evidenced in recently published books, toward including more songs of praise and worship.)

Though church song books are often generically called "hymnals," they do not always contain many hymns, at least in the truest sense of that word. You may be surprised at the relatively small number of true hymns in any book!

In order to help churches that might be selecting a new song book soon, and simply to give us all a better feel for the content of our hymnals, we thought it would be helpful for us to do mini-surveys of several song books. These surveys will consist of tallies of the number of songs in certain categories. It won't be possible to be scientifically exact, since many songs could fit into two or more categories, but the results of our review of song books should help by providing a general idea of the content of the books.


GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH, REVISED

ACU PRESS, 1986

558 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 42 7.5
Praise and Worship to the Son 36 6.5
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 71 12.7
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 125 22.4
Holy Spirit 7 1.3
Lord's Supper 15 2.7
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 86 15.4
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 64 11.5
Christian Living 64 11.5
Heaven/Looking Beyond 41 7.3
Unclassified 7 1.3

Note: numbering system in this book includes scripture readings.

There are more items numbered than actual songs.


SONGS OF FAITH AND PRAISE

HOWARD PUBLISHING, 1994

882 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 83 9.4
Praise and Worship to the Son 52 5.9
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 100 11.3
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 203 23.0
Holy Spirit 9 1.0
Lord's Supper 5 0.6
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 92 10.4
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 111 12.6
Christian Living 101 11.5
Heaven/Looking Beyond 94 10.7
Unclassified 32 3.6

Note: numbering system in this book includes scripture readings and medley headings.

There are more items numbered than actual songs.


SONGS OF THE CHURCH

HOWARD PUBLISHING, 1977

739 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 19 2.6
Praise and Worship to the Son 11 1.5
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 31 4.2
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 97 13.1
Holy Spirit 0 0
Lord's Supper 8 1.1
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 81 11.0
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 169 22.9
Christian Living 147 19.9
Heaven/Looking Beyond 126 17.1
Unclassified 50 6.8


PRAISE FOR THE LORD

PRAISE PRESS, 1992

900 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 45 5.0
Praise and Worship to the Son 37 4.1
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 92 9.1
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 171 19.0
Holy Spirit 9 1.0
Lord's Supper 13 1.5
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 111 12.3
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 132 14.7
Christian Living 156 17.3
Heaven/Looking Beyond 111 12.3
Unclassified 33 3.7


SONGS FOR PRAISE AND WORSHIP

WORD, 1977

253 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 62 24.5
Praise and Worship to the Son 22 8.7
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 74 29.3
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 49 19.4
Holy Spirit 4 1.6
Lord's Supper 1 0.4
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 10 4.0
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 17 6.7
Christian Living 7 2.7
Heaven/Looking Beyond 0 0
Unclassified 7 2.7


GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH NO. 2 WITH SUPPLEMENT

GREAT SONGS PRESS, 1974

670 Songs


Category: Songs %
Praise and Worship to the Father 39 5.8
Praise and Worship to the Son 29 4.3
Indirect Praise and Worship (Father) 55 8.2
Indirect Praise and Worship (Son) 115 17.2
Holy Spirit 5 0.8
Lord's Supper 10 1.5
Prayer (other than Praise and Worship) 89 13.3
Exhortation/Invitation (other than praise-related) 104 15.5
Christian Living 119 17.8
Heaven/Looking Beyond 80 11.9
Unclassified 25 3.7


Wrap-Up of Song Book Surveys

Our most recent issues of PP contained "song book surveys" which categorically tallied the number of songs in various hymnals. The reasons for undertaking the excursions into these books were several:

1) To compare song books widely used in the Church of Christ

2) To introduce our readership to other books not in common use

3) To speak to the overall paucity of praise and worship songs in "hymnals"

4) To analyze the subject matter of our church music

We strove for consistency in tallying songs in the ten categories. Though there is a large degree of subjectivity and a good-sized margin of error in a study of this nature, the results say something about individual books, at least as they relate to each other, and to a lesser degree, about church music in general. Here are some things we noticed in reviewing all the books:

There is more indirect than direct praise & worship. Direct praise and worship refers to songs which are characterized primarily by direct, worshipping address of deity. The Indirect category, by contrast, includes songs which speak about deity but do not address God directly throughout. The implication would seem to be that there has been a discomfort with the idea of approaching God face to face in direct relationship.

There are very few "Lord's Supper" songs--even in the Church of Christ books. This was somewhat a surprise, in view of the emphasis the Supper often receives from our pulpits. Though a common notion is that our primary purpose for gathering on Sundays is to eat the Supper together, we wonder if brothers and sisters might have a weak overall theology of Communion, not knowing its true meanings, and resultantly, we are not apt to sing and to talk about it appropriately.

There are very few Holy Spirit-focused songs. Even the more Spirit-aware churches seem not to sing to or about the Spirit--the essence of God--as much as might be expected.

Surprisingly, in one book, there are more songs of direct address to the Father than songs that directly address the Son. But the overall predominance of Son-focus among the true hymns may be indicative of a distance from the Father from Whom all blessings flow. Or more positively, it might indicate a closer relationship with Jesus, our Friend, Elder Brother, and Savior. What do you think?

The "unclassified" category may indicate a group of nondescript songs . . . those which because of indeterminate messages may lack a bona fide meaning. If we found a song not categorizable under our chosen headings, it might have had less meaning, or it might simply have been unique. For example, we did not tally the few patriotic songs which are included in some books since patriotism does not directly relate to the church's worship or edification (though some may choose to sing these songs on occasion). Others might have great value in assemblies, conveying uniquely impactful messages that were not comparable to those of any other group of songs.

To give you some idea of our survey process, below are two examples which show instances of "judgment calls"--where would you have categorized these songs?

"O Worship the King"--stanza one indirectly praises deity while stanzas two and three provide for direct worship. Does the overall flavor of the song lean toward direct worship, or does the first stanza dominate the perception by the discerning worshipper?

"What a Fellowship"--perhaps the most common spiritual association with this song is one of brotherly koinonia, or horizontal fellowship. Actually, the fellowship described is primarily vertical--the underlying fellowship of I John 1--a result of His blood's continual cleansing. Does the idea of "leaning on the everlasting arms" place this song in the "Christian Living" category, or is it more a song of indirect worship of the Son?

We hope there has been valuable food for thought in our surveys of the contents of song books. We encourage and strive always for awareness of what we are singing about. Worship is not the only valid, underlying concept for church music, but it helps to be more intentional about whatever we're doing. If we're singing to God, let's know it, and let's do it with the entire being! If we're singing about God or singing encouragement or instruction to brothers and sisters regarding the Christian life, let's know that, too, and do it with full hearts. As we consider the quality of our sung thoughts more and more, God will be blessed, and as a result, we will also benefit. -bc


Ritchie Family record label, 1960s