Romans 12:4-5

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

I am not a trained theologian, I am simply a person of faith who has walked through many and diverse corners of the Christian faith. Having recorded from cover to cover 8 complete hymnals and significant portions out a several of others, posting them on YouTube, I have gained a perspective on the width and breadth of the Body of Christ. Hymnody and faith poetry lacks the explicit teaching which may be found in more didactic writings,  which means it can be dangerous to draw too direct of an inference of teaching from any one hymn or poem. By its vary nature, poetry is wrapped within a certain level of ambiguity. However, when you are looking at a body of literature such as the 400 – 700 hymns found within a typical hymnal, certain conclusions can be formed.

While each hymnal is designed to meet the needs of a particular denomination or group of denominations I often found a significant level of overlap between the various books. However, the areas of uniqueness is where we can begin to discern the variety which we find within the Body of Christ.

The impact of this project

This project has impacted my faith in two ways. It has left me even more adrift as to my own personal identity from a faith family perspective. (I grew up the son of a Presbyterian pastor so I was steeped in Reformed theology from childhood which certainly influences how I see others.) But it has been many years since I could identify a particular denomination as “my own.” This lose started when I was a teenager as the old “United Presbyterian” denomination all but abandoned traditional Scriptural teaching in its eager embrace of secularism.

The second and most important impact has been my vastly wider understanding of the totality of the Body of Christ. I think this background, in many respects has well prepared me for this broad ranging project. This is not ecumenicalism where differences are glossed over or reduced so the lowest level of agreement which usually results in abandonment of most essential beliefs in an effort to get everybody in the tent. But rather an ability to see through another’s eyes.

In 1 Corinthians 12:15 Paul asks if the foot says it is not a hand therefore it is not part of the body does this cause it to cease to be part of the body. In the same way, because a Baptist denomination sings of a more personal and emotional experience of faith than say the Episcopalians, it does not mean one is not part of the same body. We need the heart and the mind!

Each of these hymnals had their strengths and embarrassing weaknesses. I can show you exactly where the scourge of “Jesus is my boyfriend,” and praise choruses came from.

I recorded an entire Lutheran hymnal without a single Bach choral in it. And actually all of the settings were stripped of anything which could be considered “ornamental.” Yet, there was great beauty in it austerity.

An early UCC hymnal showed great concern about acting justly in the world, even as it seemed to move Scripture into a less important position. (Ironically, this book also had the largest patriotic song section.)

I am currently about half way through the 1998 Catholic Hymn Book, a hymnal used primarily in the UK from what I can learn. This book shares many hymns with other “Protestant” hymnals, particularly the Episcopal and Presbyterian. And yet, there is a large section of Marian hymns and Saint veneration hymns which would never be found in any Protestant hymnal. Maybe the RC is too vested with Marian theology, but do the Protestants lose something by virtually ignoring this woman except at Christmas?

Final thoughts

We all have sinned and sin permeates all we do, that includes our hymnals and the organizations which give form to our faith. And yet, Christ’s work gets done. The good news of the resurrection and our redemption is spread daily. The hand and the foot, though they may not fully understand each other and at times are even quite antagonistic towards each other manage to move and feed the body. The mind may think and grapple with the deep truths of our faith, but the heart leaps for joy in our salvation and mourns for the lost souls.

We, my brothers and sisters, must never forget we are ONE body, but not all the same, and it is in the un-sameness we should glory in. The Baptist can teach the Episcopalians to express a childlike joy and the Episcopalians can teach the Baptist about the beauty and value of corporate worship. Not that the hand becomes the foot, but the hand can better understand and value the foot.

Here are my completed Hymnals:

Presbyterian 1955 Hymnbook:

Episcopal 1940 Hymnal: 

Broadman 1940 Hymnal:

Lutheran 1941 Hymnal:

Methodist 1939 Hymnal:

Pilgrim 1935 Hymnal:

Here are my new projects:

Choice Hymns of the Faith 1945

Now Sings My Soul, New Songs for the Lord by: Linda Bonney Olin:

J S Bach Riemenschneider 371 Harmonized Chorales


Dictionary of Hymnology: