New Century Hymnal
||The UCC's New Century Hymnal, dedicated and
officially released for sale at General Synod XX in 1995 has created
national controversy and parish conflict almost everywhere that it has
been introduced. In an era of increasing ecumenism when the common
language of praise and the selection of traditional hymns in best
selling interdenominational hymnals have brought Christians together
across denominational lines in a unifying language of worship, the NCH
is an anomaly, identifying the UCC and churches which use the hymnal as
"extremely liberal". It has further isolated the churches that use the
NCH and the UCC in general from the Christian mainstream. A February 12,
1996 Newsweek article entitled "Hymns, Hers and Theirs" criticized the
hymnal's violation of artistic integrity in rewriting historic hymn
texts and suggested the NCH represented the introduction of a "new
religion". Literally dozens of churches across the country have reported
in alarm that the NCH has been `forced' upon them in ways that broke
covenant such as having individual families donate the NCH without
church approval, having interim pastors push the NCH without appropriate
leadership consideration, minority or pastoral manipulation of decision
making process, and in a few cases having the NCH actually placed in the
pews even after committees and councils voted not to accept the hymnal.
In almost every situation where the hymnal has been introduced church
division has been one result. To date over 250,000 hymnals have been
sold which means they are in use in between 20% and 25% of UCC parishes.
The articles which follow give a selection of comments and relevant
facts about the NCH which you are free to download and use. BWF has
published a booklet with this and other information which you can
receive for free by emailing
Areformer@AOL.com. The Confessing Christ movement has also issued a
publication addressing the relevant issues of the NCH.
- There are many disaffected Presbyterian and
Methodist clergy women who can hardly wait for this inclusive language."
- NCH marketing director
- The title page of the hymnal includes the Biblical
quotation: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" yet
in its consistent denying of the masculine nature of Christ, the hymnal
succeeds in contradicting the very statement with which it
begins. . . .. So thorough is the work of
revision , that someone totally unfamiliar
with Jesus Christ would need to look very carefully at many texts before
being able to determine his gender." - John Ferguson - writing in Prism.
He is Professor of Organ and Church Music and cantor to the student
congregation of St. Olaf College,
Northfield, Minn. A former UCC person, now Lutheran.
- Perhaps the most glaring historical problem with
the NCH has to do with the disingenuousness represented by in the short
biographical sketches they give of the original authors. After slicing,
dicing, and splicing George Matheson's hymn "O Love that Wilt Not Let Me
Go, the editors include the following biographical information:
"Although nearly blind, GM . . .he wrote his hymn in five minutes on
June 6, 1882 at his parsonage." That is a lie! Matheson did not write
this hymn at all. . .read and compare. --
from a sermon delivered by Leslie D. Callahan
at Judson Memorial Church on October 1995. She is a 25 year old black
woman and a student at Union Theological Seminary who favors the
multi-cultural hymn selection and inclusive language.
- In the past 2 1/2 years .
. it has become increasingly clear that, for our BHM and OCCL staff
personnel, the emphasis on diversity does not extend to language use,
and the multiple tasks set out by Shelby Rooks have been replaced by
one, overriding concern: inclusive language. It dominates and determines
almost every aspect of our work." -Margaret Tucker, hymnal committee,
||Because of the controversy over changed words in the traditional hymns,
The Witness did some lyric comparisons using the Pilgrim Hymnal (1958), The
Hymnal (E & R - 1973), and three top selling nondenominational books: Hymns
for the Family of God (1984), The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (1986),
and The Worshipping Church (1995).
- We found 304 of the
NCH hymns in other hymnals. Often the words were so changed that we
could only find them using the tune indexes, not by first line.*
Of these 304 traditional hymns, 45 were
unchanged or virtually unchanged. 259 had significant word changes.
- Only 22 of 617 hymns
have the word "Lord." "Lord" has been removed from 125 hymns which used
it in their original composition. In another 5, some of the "Lord's were
removed and some kept.
- 3 hymns (out of 617)
use "he/him/his" in reference to Jesus, but none are capitalized as
customarily done. These are: "Good Christian Friends Rejoice" (129)
"Jesus Loves Me" (327) and " I Come to the
Garden Alone . . . and he walks with me . . . and he talks . . ." (237)*
1 reference to "king." This is in verse 3 of "The First
Nowell" (139) - "three sages came from
country far; to seek a king was their intent . . ." The refrain is
changed from "born is the King of Israel" to "born in a manger,
Emmanuel." This editing seems to be limited to the English versions. In
one Spanish song, the "king of kings" in original is gone in the
- All References to God
as "Father" have God in the feminine as "Mother" in the same hymn (11,
274, 518, 583) * Inclusive versions of the Lord's Prayer (entitled
"Prayer of Our Savior"- pages 56, 60), Nicene Creed (883, 884) and
Apostles Creed (881, 882) are printed next to the original wording.
- The original UCC
Statement of Faith does not appear at all, only the inclusive version
(886). * Of the 6 versions each of the Doxology and the Gloria Patri
none are the "memory bank" versions exactly. One Doxology uses "father"
but without "him." The "Glory be to the
Father. . ." version of the Gloria Patri is found only as a footnote.
- Of the remaining 300+
hymns, 68 are ethnic and the rest are either original to the NCH or
taken from obscure sources.
- 129 of the hymns were
written since 1984, but only one of the ecumenically popular and well
known contemporary praise songs is included (#14 -"How Can I Say
Thanks"- My Tribute, by Andrae Crouch ,
- 83 of the hymns have lyrics authored or translated
by the editorial panel (5) and the 10 others who worked with them on the
language revision team. 26 are adaptations, paraphrases, or
re-translations; 6 have new stanzas, and 6 are Spanish and English
pieces. The other 45 include such hymn first lines as "Womb of Life,
Source of Being" "By Whatever Name We Call You" "What Ruler Wades
Through Murky Streams" and "Silence!
Frenzied, Unclean Spirit."
- "A close examination of this monumental but
misguided undertaking (851 hymns and chants) reveals a commitment to
reconceive God in terms of a democratic
egalitarian ideology that rejects hierarchy and patriarchy." "This
hymnal can be deceptive in that it contains many traditional hymns of
the church and also a significant number of the beloved gospel songs; at
the same time slight alterations in wording suffice to bring these hymns
into line with current ideology, alterations that are not readily
discernible to unsuspecting lay people" --Dr. Donald Bloesch, Dubuque
Seminary (Dr. Bloesch's review of The New
Century Hymnal, from which these remarks are excerpted, appeared in the
July 15, 1996 issue of "Christianity Today.")
- The NCH censorship rules conform to the
goddess-worship need. To that extent, the NCH opens the door of the
biblical temple for the re-entrance of the Asherah
poles." The NCH provides ample support materials for the shift from
church to `world as church' and from evangelism to doing
good. Modernism segued into this humanism,
which now, with the addition of the radical feminist redesign of God,
qualifies as a new religion. I call it
feministicism, a cancerous form of feminism, metastasizing even
into deity." I believe the NCH
control-religion, Egality, is a cancer in
the hymnal and thus in the UCC." -- Dr. Willis Elliott is biblical
scholar in residence at Craigville
Conference Center and professor at large, New York Theological Seminary.
- "By whatever name we call you Fashioner of
spheres, you are grander, so much wiser than our minds perceive. Labels
limit understanding, God, you have no peers. So, we question - changing,
growing - wanting to believe." (#560 - By Whatever Name We Call You)
Theological problem: Did or did God not reveal His name, character,
person, purpose and Son very specifically in His Word? If not, is there
a Christian faith at all?
- "Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation, setting each equation, genius at
play . . . ."Old, aching God, grey with endless care, calmly piercing
evil's new disguises, glad of good surprises, wiser than despair . .
."Young, growing God, eager, on the move, saying no to falsehood and
unkindness, crying out for justice, giving all you have . . ." (#11 -
Bring Many Names) Theological problem: Is God changing, in process,
evolving or is He the same, yesterday, today and forever - omniscient,
omnipotent, and omnipresent?
- "Centuries of skill and science span the past from
which we move, yet experience questions
whether with such progress we improve. In our search for sense and
meaning, lest our hopes and humor fray, God surprises earth with heaven
coming here on Christmas Day"(#153 - Who Would Think That What Was
Needed) Theological problem: Are we people questing in semi-despair for
elusive sense and meaning or are we joyful, obedient, faithful children
of our Father who have responded to His love and now know Him personally
through Jesus Christ?
|How it was Done
||How were the decisions about rewriting and choosing hymns for the NCH made?
Here are a sample of the guidelines which the hymnal committee used, taken
from internal committee documents:
*Father is one way to
envision God, but God is also seen Biblically as Creator, Mother, Builder,
Rock, Mystery, Love, Breath and more.
*Subtle injustices in traditional hymn texts which equate darkness with evil
or blindness with sin, use dumb for the inability to speak, or assume that
everyone can stand, walk, or march are inappropriate
*Mission hymns must appropriately teach servant hood
rather than conquest.
*Where a hymn is clearly Trinitarian, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit language may be used, but we will consult poets,
theologians and others to search for new ways of expressing the Triune God
within orthodox parameters. We will use references to the Trinity ONLY when
they are part of the essential text.
*We will avoid gratuitous use of the word Lord.
*When speaking of the authority of God, we will seek to use non-gender
specific language, while maintaining the paradox between authority and
*Language for Jesus Christ: We will use 'son' only to express the
relationship between God and Jesus. We will not use 'Son' gratuitously. We
will search for additional images with which to sing about Jesus Christ.
*We need to find expressive images that deal with the struggle against evil,
while confessing we may be part of that same evil ourselves. The issue is
how to depict the struggle against evil with the weapon being love and avoid
*Memory bank hymns: whenever possible we will use 'invisible mending' when
dealing with difficult language, especially in the first verse. What we mean
by 'invisible mending' is language which is not so startling that it
obliterates the message; language that makes a difference with out being
|Choosing a Hymnbook:
||The Witness talked with hymnbook specialist Dr. Terry
Terry, at Word Publishing about the hymnal
development process, copyright issues, and what churches need to consider
when shopping for a hymnbook.
Here's a list of things to consider and other suggestions we think would
- * Needs to be music that glorifies God and
communicate His attributes effectively so people can worship.
* Are songs musically satisfying? Are they playable (are 5 flats torture
for the keyboard person)? Is vocal range okay? Are there accompaniments?
* Visually, what's the size of type and readability of music and other
* Is there variety enough of themes to coordinate with scripture, church
liturgical year, sermon topics?
* What worship aids and readings are in the book? What Indexes? Colors?
* What style of music does the congregation want? Like to sing? (Gospel,
contemporary praise choruses, traditional? A broad variety?)
* Is denomination important?
* Suggestion: Make a list of hymns from the book you are now using that
people want to have in new hymnal and a list that you want but don't
have. Try to match the lists with each book you are considering.
* Consider the words. Does the congregation want inclusive language? Do
you want King James? NIV?
* It is best to choose with hymnbooks in hand, not from a catalog. The
publishers we contacted were happy to send samples. Your local Christian
book store or music supplier probably has a wide variety to look at.
The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration
The fastest selling nondenominational hymnal ever with over 3 million copies
sold since 1986. (Word Publishing, tel:
Hymns for the Family of God - The second best selling
nondenominational hymnal, with 3 million copies sold since 1971. (Paragon/Bensen
Music Co., tel: 1-800-688-2404, ext. 24)
CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) Supplies 80,000 churches
with access to 95% of all current music or about 150,000 songs copyrighted
by 2000 publishing companies. Tel: 503-257-2230
|How Great Thou Art:
||The #1 hymn UCC congregations wanted added to their new hymnal according
to the survey was "How Great Thou Art" - a hymn that hundreds of churches
have pasted into the inside flap of their hymnal. Note: Don't put away the
glue. While it does not appear in the index, Hymn #35 entitled "O Mighty
God, When I Survey in Wonder" is the corresponding hymn. It serves as a good
illustration of lyric changes in traditional hymns found in the New Century
from Pilgrim Hymnal (and E&R Hymnal):
1. O Lord my God, when I in Awesome wonder
consider all the worlds (works) Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling (mighty)
Thy power thro'out the universe displayed.
Refrain: Then sings my soul, my savior God to Thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art
Then sings my soul, My savior God , to Thee,
How great thou art. How great Thou art.
2. When thro' the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gently breeze,
Then sings my soul . . .
3. And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul . . .
4. When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul . . .
New Century Hymnal Version (#35)
1. O Mighty God, when I survey in wonder
the world that formed when once the word you said,
The strands of life all woven close together,
the whole creation at your table fed.
Refrain: My soul cries out in songs of praise to you.
O mighty God! O mighty God!
My soul cries in songs of praise to you,
O mighty God O mighty God.
2. When your voice speaks in rolls of thunder pealing,
your lightning power bursts in bright surprise;
When cooling rain, your gentle love revealing,
reflects your promise, arcing through the skies,
My soul cries out .. .
3. The Bible tells the story of your blessing
so freely shed upon all human life.
Your constant mercy every care addressing,
relieving burdened souls from sin and strife.
My soul cries out. . .
4. And when at last, the clouds of doubt dispersing,
you will reveal what we but dimly see;
With trumpet call, our great rebirth announcing,
we shall rejoin you for eternity
Refrain: Then we will sing your praise forevermore,
O Mighty God. O mighty God,
Then we will sing your praise for ever more,
O mighty God, O mighty God.
OR FURTHER INFORMATION: BWF Continues to research this topic and
gather reactions. We will update these pages and publish our perspectives in
an upcoming WITNESS. If you have something to offer about your churches
experience, your own response or related information we would be pleased to
hear from you: email
Newsweek article by Kenneth Woodward is in February 12th, 1996 issue.
To read the UCC official view on NCH
To contact theologian Willis Elliott, phone/fax