tthough it’s the first time we touch on the subject, all of us are quite aware of the slow and deliberate change being made on the hymns of our worship service not only here in the Philippines but overseas as well. Before we go any further please listen to the most influential song of the Church of Christ or Iglesia Ni Cristo. The hymn is entitled Ako’y Iglesia Ni Cristo.” by Pilar Manalo Danao. Two versions have been posted – the new and old. Which do you prefer?

Relative to the topic, we received a mail from one 10 minute email. He/she has a thing or two to say about the constant changes injected on our worship service hymns.

  • William

“As a choir member, I’d like to mention something else about the hymns prepared for special occasions including but not limited to Thanksgiving and Holy Supper worship services.

In 2010, there was a mass revision of English INC hymns wherein many underwent retranslations and lyrical changes. Some of these were grammatically awkward if not incorrect (see 63, stanza 3: a line makes it seem as if God is the source of strife and suffering). Some choir members brought these concerns to the district choir director responsible for teaching the hymns, and the director addressed these concerns in a district choir practice. According to the Central Office, because God has chosen to start His last work of salvation in the Philippines, He has also chosen Tagalog as a special and holy language. Therefore, the Central Office was working its hardest to make all translations match the Tagalog lyrics as closely and literally as possible. As such, choir members were not allowed to question or correct the lyrical translations provided by the Central Office. I wondered about this explanation–after all, why would God choose to raise any one earthly language over the others? Do people who hear these lyrics get distracted by the translations, and does that prevent them from singing the hymns whole-heartedly? Why not correct the lyrics so that those singing in different languages could properly offer praises to Our Almighty God? Why wouldn’t the Central Office accept corrections from fluent or native speakers who use the languages of translation on a daily basis?

Lately, there are many special hymns with very quick tempos, high-pitched melodies, and unpredictable progressions. Only a couple years or so ago, special hymns used to be included in the organist’s intermission line up. That way, members of the congregation who came in early enough to meditate and do their personal prayers would hear the hymns and subconsciously remember the tunes when the time came to actually sing with lyrics. But the combination of tempo, high-pitch, and unpredictable progressions make the hymns difficult to follow along with, especially when it’s the first time hearing them in any worship service. Yet we are encouraged to sing along together with the choir–how is the congregation supposed to do that when the hymns are such a high level of difficulty and complexity? How can those who aren’t in the choir do that when it’s their first time ever hearing the tune and seeing the lyrics? Even choir members have no hope of singing it properly the first time they see the scores, let alone our fellow brethren who are not in the choir.

In times past, the hymns for special worship services were often distributed and practiced by choir members well in advance. However, the newer hymns of recent times are often distributed barely a month in advance, with (English) translations ‘in progress’ to be distributed as soon as a district receives them from the Choir Leadership in Central Office. Sometimes, the choir barely has a week or two to memorize the processional hymn! (As a note, the same could be said of the hymns performed at the Centennial Anniversary in Philippine Arena–choir members barely had a month to practice those hymns, in addition to those they sang at the Thanksgiving WS the week before!) I’m bringing this up because these hymns are supposedly intended to praise and worship Our Almighty God and Our Lord Jesus Christ, yet are distributed with unbelievably short notice. Why doesn’t the Central Office send the hymns and translations earlier so that the choir doesn’t have to practice on the fly? Especially since those in Central Office, of all places, already know when we hold our Thanksgiving and Holy Supper worship services! It’s as if they lack care and respect for the hymns as well as those performing them.

Last but not least, it’s worth noting some recurring themes in our most recent hymns, especially those for special worship services and other special events.

– Thanking God for giving us our current Church Administration who we should all unite with, submit to, follow, and completely obey without question or complaint.
– The fate of those who (supposedly) rebelled against the Church Administration and are no longer INC members.
– Enemies of our faith who (supposedly) have concocted evil plans against the INC, threaten INC members, and/or spread lies and slander about our beloved church.
– Prioritizing our membership and offices in the INC over everything and anything, including our very lives, no matter what may happen while we’re still sojourning this earth.
– Cheerfully giving abundant offerings without any grudge, complaint, or reservation, lest it become unacceptable or displeasing before our Lord God.

There are also plenty of hymns emphasizing that we should be strong instead of weak, that we should be active to the point of dropping everything for the sake of the Administration, any church offices we might hold, and our INC membership. We hardly sing any songs of praise that don’t mention submission and obedience, but we do sing quite a few self-flagellating hymns of prayer. I agree that the sheer hypocrisy in our more recent hymns is shameful, disturbing, and absolutely disgusting. Don’t we still have hymns for God’s people who are encountering such heavy burdens, difficulties, trouble, strife, and anxiety; those who are weakening in the faith and feel like they have nowhere to run, who need to hear that God still listens to them, and loves and cares for them? If so, where are they? Why don’t we sing them anymore?

We’re only human, and sometimes our hearts are broken. Sometimes, our feelings and emotions override logic and reasoning, but music is a way of communicating with and reaching those feelings and emotions. Sometimes we need more than nagging reminders of our responsibilities and priorities, or guilt trips about abandoning or otherwise being unable to fulfill them. There are times that we really need to remember that we are loved, that we are God’s people, and that he is ready to comfort us whenever we are in need, that God is inviting us to approach Him for help. Other times, we are sick with troubles and worries, our trials seem too difficult to overcome, everyone in the world seems to have turned against or abandoned us, and we cannot cope with the multitude of things happening in our lives. How will any of the aforementioned themes help with these problems? They won’t. But what does help from time to time is a great big musical hug, a hymn that touches the heart and soul, calling the Holy Spirit and Lord Jesus Christ to aid in lifting our burdens and bring them to Our Almighty God who is always waiting for us to seek Him out and depend on Him.

  • 10 minute email”

Before we close, let’s reflect on this hymn, “Purihin ka AMA“. The importance and the need for a brilliant leader to govern and care for the Church cannot be overemphasized. Inherent fear and love of God that guides the Shepherd to keep his flock safe from harm and to deliver all His children before the Creator’s throne without blemish, without fault. As he had solemnly sworn to before Man, Christ, and God.