The first words of our text is “Glory to God in the highest.” There are two well-known beloved Christmas hymns that do not get this right. The first is Charles Wesley’s song, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” where he writes, “Glory to the new-born King!” The second is “Silent Night,” where Joseph Mohr, a Roman Catholic priest writes, “Heavenly hosts sing, ‘Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born!’” Why are these words wrong? Because our text says that the angelic host praised God, not Christ. It was the announcing angel alone who revealed to the shepherds that Christ the Savior was born that night.
After I preached these words last Sunday, December 25, 2016, there were a couple of discussions about Christmas hymns. So as a follow-up to my previous post, “Ow, C’mon, All Ye Faithful, regarding bad theology in Christmas hymns, here are five takeoffs on the subject.
First, although some of the popular Christmas hymns are spot on in their theology, there may be errors mixed in them. For example, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is Biblically correct for the most part. But changing a word or phrase in two places would correct a couple of errors: “Light and life to all he brings” to “Light and life to us he brings.” And “Glory to the new-born King!” to “Glory to the God Most High!”
Second, unlike the Psalms which were written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, hymns are written by fallible man. All hymns then are subject to error, so we are to be very careful, even nitpicky, about what hymns are teaching us in their words.
Third, since the Psalms are inspired and inerrant, we may get rid of our concerns for error when we sing them. So if we’re not in the Advent and Christmas seasons, singing the Psalms must be the preference. But even during the season, we can sing the Canticles of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon, which are inspired. There are songs that are also paraphrases of the prophecies, such as “Unto Us a Son is Born, Unto Us a Child is Giv’n” by Harry Sanders based on Isaiah 9:6-7.
Fourth, we must be aware of the writers of the songs we sing. In my previous post, I pointed out that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written by a Unitarian pastor; “Silent Night, Holy Night” by a Roman Catholic priest (and it shows); others by Episcopalian priests; and others anonymously. If you’re Reformed, you must carefully look carefully at Charles Wesley’s hymns. “To God Be the Glory” was written by Fanny Crosby, another Arminian who didn’t have any Biblical training, just like most songwriters are today. She wrote that Christ “opened the lifegate that all may go in,” but the OPC-PCA Trinity Hymnal changed the line to “opened the lifegate that we may go in.”
Fifth, just because a song is popular, emotional, “touching,” or “uplifting” does not mean that it’s good for singing. This attitude goes way back to the First Great Awakening in the mid-18th century, and culminated in today’s neo-Pentecostalism. Now, evangelicals are emotion- and experienced-centered, so that very few can see the objectivity and historicity of Biblical doctrine and worship.