Pet Peeves · Worship

The Loneliest Literature In All the World?

Anyone who has ever attended or visited a Baptist Church—usually of the Independent or Southern variety—has probably noticed, as I have, something peculiar about their songs. It seems their hymn books were ordered with only the first, second, and last verse in each song. What else could possibly explain singing only three verses of any given song regardless of the number of stanzas?

I do not know when the practice of omitting verses from songs began, but I do know that some of the loneliest pieces of literature in all the world are the third stanzas in Baptist hymnals.

I would like to formally, and loudly, protest this practice, and encourage God’s people to rise up (even if metaphorically), and demand that songs be sung as they were written to be sung—from beginning to end. I base my own plea for singing all the verses of any given hymn on the following considerations.

First, the writer of a song has a message to communicate, not in part but in whole. Had a song writer meant to communicate a more limited message, he, or she, would simply have marked out certain stanzas and handed the edited work in for publication.

Second, it does not take much more time to sing an additional stanza, or more, and complete a song. Baptist can sing all the verses of all the hymnals selected for a gospel service, and still be out before noon to beat the Methodists to the nearest Cracker Barrel or Olive Garden. Indeed, most National Football League games do not usually start until 1:00 pm (or later), so again, there is time to linger a little longer over a song. I am not advocating cutting the sermon short, but I do propose making the song service longer.

Third, the singing of songs, with proper self-awareness, is commanded. Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Tucked away in the third verse of many a song is a message for God’s people that could bring conviction, or spiritual joy, if only the words were considered in the heart and sung.

Fourth, there is a biblical precedent for singing all the verses. The Psalms in Scripture were sung, not in part, but in whole. It was the ancient practice of the Jews to worship in Jerusalem, according to divine instruction. As the pilgrims made their way to the Holy City they would sing verbatim the Hallel Psalms, or Songs of Praise (Psalm 113-118). No one ever said, “Brethren, let us sing only the first, second, and last verse of Psalm 113.” This was true of any of the one hundred and fifty psalms which the people of Israel sang.

Finally, I would suggest that all the verses of all the hymns be sung in honor of the song writer, and in praise to the Lord because the children are listening. The children are watching. The children are learning. Some are learning that worship in song is not very important. Some children are observing that worshippers are lazy. Some children get the message that time is so limited, part of a spiritual service has to be cut short. While these lessons are not intended to be taught, they are still being communicated. The practice of not singing all the verses of all the songs must be stopped. Let the church be the church and let the people rejoice! “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1).

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