The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Traditional hymns, modern times

Old favorites connect us to the past, move us toward the future

Christians throughout history have been adept at finding new ways to praise God in song, leaving us with difficult choices when it comes to selecting those 600 to 800 songs to print in bound volumes. Liturgical reform is an inherently controversial subject, and those charged with the task have a difficult and thankless job—trying to please both those who prefer traditional and those who prefer modern.

What is it about a “traditional hymn” that brings us comfort and confidence, as well as relevance and vibrancy in modern and uncertain times?

Sing praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of wonders, pow’r, and love,
The God of our salvation;
With healing balm my soul he fills,
The God who ev’ry sorrow stills—
To God all praise and glory!

(Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above, text by Johann J. Schütz)

The text of this great Lutheran hymn of the post-Reformation period was introduced to the English-speaking world by an Anglican laywoman 200 years after its writing. As such, it’s both traditional and modern, depending on who you are and when you are singing. It shows why traditional hymns continue to speak to Christians around the world.

The opening stanza sets the most important ground rule: our praise of God is grounded firmly in who God is and what God has done. We are in for a whirlwind tour. Like the Scriptures themselves, as well as the eucharistic prayers offered in many of our churches, this hymn starts from God in majesty—creating the world, demonstrating signs and wonders—and finally coming to each of us personally. And all this in less than 100 words.

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