4 Hymns I Just Can’t Sing Anymore! – Song #3

I am a part of a Christian community in which it has been far too common for evangelistic messages and methods to be limited to a focus on bringing in new members from other churches (Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, etc.).  In Mac vs. PC jargon, you might describe these folks as “switchers.”  In fact, these seemed to be the bulk of the conversions I saw for a large part of my early years as a Christian.  No wonder.  In the overwhelming majority of our gospel meetings, evangelistic literature, and evangelism training workshops, the lessons were rarely about an introduction to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and were most often introductions to how to “do church” more biblically.  It is also no wonder that we have floundered so badly with these methods in a nation that is increasingly “unchurched.”  It is hard to win the hearts and minds of the unchurched with a pamphlet about the multiplicity of elders in the first century church.  It’s like trying to woo your potential bride by showing her the benefits of term life insurance.  Important, but woefully out of order!  Our hymnody was not untouched by this prevailing wind in our evangelistic focus.

When I was nine, I attended my first week at the Haskell Singing School.  It is a week-long camp founded by the late brother Holland L. Boring, Sr., a prolific hymn writer and poet, and gospel preacher (great story-teller!).  The purpose is to learn new songs, how to read music, lead singing, and to learn how to write music and four-part harmony, a valued tradition among churches of Christ.  I know that description might sound dull, but let me tell you, it was anything but.  It was a week filled with singing, friendship, spiritual highs, lots of jokes, and just chuck full of great memories.  I loved it, and learned a lot in the nine years I was blessed to attend.

One day at the Haskell Singing School we had a special guest drop in.  His name was Robert S. Arnold, and you may recognize that name as the writer of a very popular older hymn: “No Tears in Heaven.”

No tears in heaven, no sorrows given,
All will be glory in that land;
There’ll be no sadness, all will be gladness,
When we shall join that happy band.

No tears in heaven fair, no tears, no tears up there,
Sorrow and pain will all have flown;
No tears in heaven fair, no tears, no tears up there,
No tears in heaven will be known.

2. Glory is waiting, waiting up yonder,
Where we shall spend an endless day;
There with our Savior, we’ll be forever,
Where no more sorrow can dismay.

3. No tears in heaven fair, no tears, no tears up there,
Sorrow and pain will all have flown;
No tears in heaven fair, no tears, no tears up there,
No tears in heaven will be known.

We certainly felt privileged to meet the man who had written a great song we’d heard and sung so often.  He also introduced us to a song that had an alto lead of which he was particularly proud.  That song is #3 three on my list:  “Did You Repent, Fully Repent?”

I have to say here, this was not one of the most mature moments of my life.  When Mr. Arnold and a trio of our teachers got up to sing (I loved it when they sang for us…great harmonies, those guys), we were caught off guard.  You see, he sang the alto in a very high falsetto.  That really wasn’t uncommon in the days when male quartets were more common, but something about it that day just fully hit our funny bone, and hard.  Our ~12 year old minds were simply unprepared!  We spent the next few days honing our best impressions of that falsetto.  I still can’t hear that song and not be overwhelmed by the memory of it all.  That, however, is not why the song made the list, though our poor imitations were probably likely responsible for the decline of the falsetto alto’s popularity.

Like some of the other songs on this list, my placing them here is bittersweet.  There are lines in this song I think are really good.  I’ve met and respect its writer, and appreciate the love he displayed for the Lord and His kingdom.  The reason this song makes the list may or may not be anything he intended, but is something that this song represents in our fellowship: the constant and sometimes heavy-handed questioning of others’ security in Christ, and the questioning of their sincerity as disciples, and the authenticity of their repentance.  Note these lines:

Did you repent, fully repent of your past sins, friend?
When you confessed His name on high?
Did you believe, fully believe on His great name then,
Or was there a doubt, treacherous doubt, lingering nigh?

Did you repent, did you believe, all the way through?

There is something about a song that takes me from examining myself and into the realm of turning to my neighbor and saying, “So, brother, if in fact you really are my brother, did you repent?  Did you fully repent?  Are you sure you covered all the bases? Hmm?  Any doubts?  Any treacherous, lingering doubts?” that just strikes me wrong.  We are, in fact, to be asking ourselves some serious questions to make sure we’re still on the right track.  The scriptures do say, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13, NIV).  However, we’re to be inspecting our own planks, not the specks in our pew-mates’ eyes.

Take another song, which will not be on this list, “Just As I Am.”  I love that song, but I don’t love the way it is often sung.  It is usually sung as an invitation to “come forward” and either be baptized or seek prayers of the church.  But that song, used in that way, is often sung with such an attitude that it becomes contradictory to its own lyrics, so that it could be more honestly worded, “Just as YOU are.”  We sing it to others so they can repent, not so we will.  And that misses the whole message of the song (and the spirit of repentance).  Unfortunately, “Did You Repent” fits that sort of mold.  Question others’ sincerity and whether or not they are really saved.  It’s a first class ticket for a guilt trip.  The atmosphere created by this kind of constant questioning of one another’s salvation is not a Kingdom atmosphere.  The need for self-examination is real, but never letting people know for certain that they are secure in Christ is counter-gospel.  We can, and should, know that we are secure in our salvation.*

We can do better.  In our songs and in our efforts to reach our world for Christ, we don’t have to resort to guilt trips, questioning our brothers & sisters’ salvation, security, or sincerity.  We can instead do as the early church did, and point them to a risen Jesus who died to take away the sins of the world.  We can call them to repent, and should.  But when they have, instead of constantly questioning the veracity of their repentance, we can “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:25, NIV), and help each other understand that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)  Not even a musical guilt trip.

* If you want to know how, please, by all means, email me.

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2 Responses to 4 Hymns I Just Can’t Sing Anymore! – Song #3

  1. Wes Horn says:

    Hmmmm…I was one of those 12 year olds at Haskell? I think NOT!

  2. James says:

    You’ve got a repressed memory back in there somewhere way deep! Ha, ha.

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