There are several Creeds, statements of belief, that stand out in church tradition and define the collective beliefs common to most branches of Christianity. Most denominations, like the United Methodist Church, also have statements of doctrinal beliefs and articles of religion that clearly spell out the theological beliefs of the church. However, I suspect that all of those doctrinal statements do not do a lot to inform the beliefs of the average person who attends a church and sits in a pew. For a lot of Christians, our most deeply held convictions about the faith are often not expressed in articles of religion but in beloved hymns. As Christians we tend to sing our theology. The songs that express the beliefs we hold dear, or the songs that influence our beliefs will likely be the ones we gravitate towards the most.
With that in mind, my theory is that a congregation’s favorite songs will reveal the beliefs the congregation collectively holds as most important. We recently surveyed all of you about your favorite songs which generated a list of favorite songs. Applying my theory to this list I think we can learn a bit about the beliefs most important to North Judson UMC.
Amazing Grace was far and away the most popular song, having twice as many votes as any other song. This shows how important grace is to our collective beliefs, and as United Methodists this makes sense. The United Methodist tradition has long put an emphasis on grace. Our understanding of grace begins before with God’s love for us when we are lost and blind, and continues through our lives as God’s grace moves us to Christian perfection.
The three next most popular songs were all tied: How Great Thou Art, In the Garden, and Pass It On. I think each of these hymns reflect their own theological value this congregational holds in high esteem. First, How Great Thou Art speaks to the power of God. We rightly recognize the greatness of God and how God is so much more than we as people are. However, the inclusion of In the Garden speaks to the belief that Christianity is an intimate faith. We believe in God’s greatness but our favorite songs also speak to God’s closeness. God is not distant but God walks with us and tells us we are his own. The greatness of God to be marveled at while maintaining a person relationship with the divine is a paradox central to Christian belief and it is a set of beliefs this congregation seems to find important.
Pass it On is another hymn that should not be much of a surprise. In the great commission Jesus instructed his disciples to make disciples of all the nations, and perhaps this song speaks to how this congregation feels most compelled to do that. Perhaps the way we are most drawn to making disciples is to pass on the joy we have found from knowing God.
I think the final piece of information in the survey of favorite worship songs is how many different songs were included on the list. By demographic metrics the congregation is very similar, but when it comes to the songs that speak the most to us there was a lot of diversity and a lot of different theological themes emphasized. The one commonality all of these songs have is that they glorify and worship our God which is a belief we should all be willing to sing along with.