No Greater Text than Scripture for Worship Songs

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by Joan Huyser-Honig

You intuitively know that words set to music sink in more deeply than plain text does. They become part of your muscle memory.

That’s why the new hymnal Singing the New Testament is important. Its 260 songs directly quote or closely paraphrase Bible passages. The first 115 songs trace Christ’s birth, baptism, teaching, miracles, passion, resurrection, and ascension, as told in the four gospels. The rest follow in canonical order from Acts through Revelation.

Worship and music leaders in local Christian Reformed churches hope the new hymnal will help lodge New Testament verses inside worshipers. Once inside, these sung Scriptures can reinforce sermons and provide food for thought worth far more than most mass media.

Choosing biblical hymns and songs

At West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, music director Rika van den Heever ordered 30 copies of Singing the New Testament for the congregation.

“Our pastors and music staff already have a copy each, and we distributed one copy to a leader of each of our music teams. We’re very excited about the wealth of biblical texts in this collection, paired with very singable melodies.

“I recently used SNT #185, ‘O God, We Kneel Before Your Throne,’ during the distribution of the wine for Lord’s Supper celebration. I used soloists and choir to lead the verses, with the congregation joining on the refrain. Those words of the refrain, ‘How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of Christ’ are very fitting for celebrating Christ’s gift to us,” van den Heever says.

Sonja Kalverda, worship coordinator at Rehoboth Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Etobicoke, Ontario, first heard about the new hymnal at a Calvin Symposium on Worship. The next Sunday she taught her congregation the rollicking gospel-style refrain “Neither Death nor Life” (SNT #136, Romans 8:11-39).

After receiving her new hymnal, Kalverda ordered more for worship committee members, church musicians, and “interested congregation members. I like the easy language and biblical context. We’ve used the songs several times already as supplement and response songs,” she says.

Kalverda has at times sung a song and then asked the congregation to sing with her. She’s also chosen songs with familiar melodies, such as “How Can We Thank Our God” (SNT #205, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-12) set to the tune Terra Beata, which is also used for “This Is My Father’s World.”

Your own grace notes

Singing the New Testament started a process that its compilers hope will continue—putting even more of the New Testament into congregational songs.

In that spirit, Sonya Kalverda wrote another verse for the doxology “Trinity” (SNT #172, 2 Corinthians 13:14). Her verse is:

As we go out in the world,
In our work and in our play,
Help us, Lord, to be your image.
Give us strength and love, we pray.

You can use the SNT indexes to search songs by Scripture reference, meter, tune, title, and first line. If you find a song that fits a Sunday’s text, but the tune is unfamiliar, then experiment.

“We encourage people to test these text-tune marriages and consider alternate tunes from within this book or another hymnal. Simply identify the meter listed on the bottom of the page, locate that meter in a metrical index found here or in another book, and try other tunes listed. Be sure that the tune doesn’t create any awkward textual accents, and that its overall emotion fits the text,” says Joyce Borger.

Borger, who edited the new hymnal, is worship and music editor at Faith Alive Christian Resources and editor of Reformed Worship. John D. Witvliet, director of Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, wrote the hymnal introduction.

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