I grew up in a small town in East Texas attending a church of a mainline denomination. Although I was there almost every Sunday and tried my best to listen, I never heard the Gospel and never heard expository preaching. I did not learn very many Bible stories despite regular Sunday School attendance. But God was teaching me on Sundays anyway…
My mother sang in the choir (and was a world class alto) and I sat alone on the end of the second row where my mother could keep an eye on me from her perch in the choir loft. That was my usual seat until I was old enough to sing in the choir myself which was about 8th grade.
Every Sunday we would sing multiple hymns, to the point where I had most all of them memorized. It became a point of personal pride, even as a kid, to see if I could sing all the verses without looking. I loved these hymns, I loved to sing, and I loved choral and congregational singing. This musical form became imprinted on my soul and is still how I worship best to this day.
Early in high school I finally heard the gospel (at a Baptist revival!) and accepted Christ as my Savior.
Fast forward many years later to my adulthood to the end of my time at Dallas Seminary, about 2010. I was sitting in my favorite professor’s class who was teaching some of the Psalms that day (a man who is a Hebrew and Psalms scholar). He was discussing the correlation between psalms and hymns. At that point, a bolt hit me: ALTHOUGH I DIDN’T HEAR THE GOSPEL IN MY CHURCH, I KNEW MUCH OF THE THEOLOGY OF GOD THROUGH THE TEACHING OF HYMNS!!! God had used my love of music to teach me through those means when it wasn’t coming from the pulpit.
I understood the basics of The Trinity through Holy, Holy, Holy. We sang this on the first Sunday of every month and on page 1 of the hymnal. For years, I thought it was on page 1 because we sang it on the first Sunday!
I knew God was the Creator through This is My Father’s World.
I knew God was my protector through A Mighty Fortress.
I knew the Church was built on Christ from singing “The Church’s One Foundation.
I knew that God requires our obedience through Trust and Obey, which to this day I probably still sing too loudly.
I knew that Jesus was Lord of all the earth through In Christ There is no East or West.
I knew why Christ was born and that He was the Messiah through the many Christmas carols we sang. I especially enjoyed memorizing those. My family knows I want O Come All Ye Faithful at my funeral even if it’s in July!
I knew that Jesus conquered the grave from Christ the Lord is Risen Today.
I learned about Christian unity as we would hold hands across the aisle on Sunday evenings and sing Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.
I learned God desires our praise through Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.
I tear up almost every time I sing the Doxology due to singing it every Sunday. It is one of the simplest yet most beautiful, meaningful choral pieces ever written.
And then there were just the songs that had beautiful melodies or were just fun to sing or that had pretty alto lines, such as Be Thou My Vision, I Love to Tell the Story, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Near the Cross and probably 100 more.
I shared this with my fellow church choir members to say that, although they may not realize it, when we lead the congregation in the great hymns of the faith, we are teaching theology. We are singing timeless, eternal truth that those who hear and participate can turn to again and again.
God honors that. God blesses that. And God will forever use these words of truth put to music for His glory and His purposes.