Doctrinal Accuracy in Hymns
This site lists hundreds of hymns and songs that have appeared in publications of interest to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, because the songs vary widely in authorship, purpose, and scope, at times they fall short in representing the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Hymns are written by individuals, with different understandings and viewpoints – just like you and me. Some authors never knew about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ during their lifetimes. Others were writing hymns just as the restoration was unfolding. New members receive the restored gospel every day, and bring with them their unique life experiences. We can find inspiration in all sincere expressions of faith, and some of the greatest hymns approach scripture in sacredness – but even they can’t stand on their own as pronouncements of doctrine.
- Church leaders have had varying levels of involvement in the publication of hymnbooks over the years. Many early hymnals were published by individuals. Some hymnbooks were published in the mission field. Translations of hymns were not always carefully reviewed. Recently there have been greater efforts to review all official Church publications before release for doctrinal correctness, but no work of a mortal committee can claim perfection.
- Needs and priorities, and therefore the focus and teaching methods found in music, change over time. Vocabulary and phraseology also changes over time. What we read between the lines when we interpret a hymn today might not reflect the thoughts or circumstances of the author, or how it would have been received at the time it was written.
- Doctrine continues to be revealed. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). Sometimes hymn texts are based on an incomplete understanding of doctrinal truths. We can expect that, even today, there may be doctrines clarified or revealed through our living prophets. The Lord reveals his truths line upon line, precept upon precept. God reveals what we need, when we need it, and sometimes in our imperfection we incorrectly fill in the blanks.
The disclaimers above may sound pessimistic, but despite any flaws, I love our hymnbooks – especially our current hymnbook – not because it is perfect, but because it is right. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ care about music in the Church. From the first divinely-commissioned latter-day hymnbook in 1835, to our current hymnbook from 1985, Church members have been give the hymns they needed, when they needed them most.
I’m excited that the Savior has commissioned a new hymnbook and a new songbook for children, as announced in 2018. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have received direction that now is the time, and have put committees in place to see its completion. Through hard work, dedicated review, and moments of inspiration, we will receive the best hymnbook we’ve ever had – the one divinely set apart for our generation. We will receive it with joy!