A conduit for Spirit, hymns amply show Christianity of LDS

At a Church Educational System fireside address at BYU on Feb. 1, President Boyd K. Packer spoke fervently to "the peaceable followers of Christ."

President Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, refuted the recurring accusation posed by "those who teach and write and produce films which claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church and that we, the members, are not Christians."As eloquent as was his defense of the truth, the apostle gave it added power by doing something unusual. Early on in his remarks, he yielded a few minutes to vocalists Mark and Kimberly Hall, who sang three well-known hymns of Zion that express Latter-day Saint belief about the Savior: "Jesus Once of Humble Birth," "Behold the Great Redeemer Die" and "How Great the Wisdom and the Love."

The performances had the effect of establishing a conduit for the Spirit to convey President Packer's message deep into the hearts of his listeners. The music, combined with his spoken words, left no room for doubt in the honest mind that Latter-day Saints do indeed worship the one true Christ, the Messiah and Savior of mankind.

Suppose, said President Packer, someone who had never heard of the Church came upon the LDS hymnbook. "He would find it filled with hymns and anthems which testify of Christ, many which are revered by Christians throughout the world. . . . These hymns certainly are not the voice of non-Christians. Instead they reveal a people of devotion and faith who love, indeed worship, our Savior and Redeemer."

By such effective use of sacred music and verse, President Packer set an example for all who would teach the doctrines of the gospel, be it in a Church, home or other setting.

In fact, General Authorities made overwhelmingly frequent use of texts from Church hymns and children's songs in their sermons at general conference during the years from 1974 to 1997. This is according to a survey conducted by W. Herbert Klopfer of the General Church Music Committee.

Brother Klopfer, a former president of the Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake, worked with President Packer at his invitation in selecting the music to augment the apostle's Feb. 1 address. Brother Klopfer accompanied Brother and Sister Hall in their performances that evening.

His survey of hymn texts used in conference addresses was presented at a lecture he gave Aug. 4 at the annual Workshop on Church Music at BYU. Among his findings:

There were 349 musical references in sermons at those 48 general conferences, with an average of seven at each conference.

As contained in the current publications of Hymns (1985) and Children's Songbook (1989), 104 hymns, nine children's songs and six other sacred selections were quoted.

The 12 most frequently quoted hymns were "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" (21 times); "Praise to the Man" (17 times); "I Am a Child of God" (15 times); "How Firm a Foundation" (10 times); "I Stand All Amazed" (10 times); "O My Father" (nine times); "The Morning Breaks" (eight times); "Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire" (eight times); "True to the Faith" (eight times); "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (seven times); "How Great Thou Art" (seven times); and "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" (seven times).

Several General Authorities have built entire general conference messages around hymn texts. These include President Gordon B. Hinckley ("We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," October 1973), President Howard W. Hunter ("Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" in April 1993 and "Master, the Tempest Is Raging" in October 1984), President Thomas S. Monson ("Called to Serve," October 1991), President Boyd K. Packer ("Called to Serve," October 1997), Elder M. Russell Ballard ("How Great Thou Art," April 1988) and Elder Bruce R. McConkie ("The Morning Breaks," April 1978).

Brother Klopfer said President Hinckley has quoted hymn texts in 25 of the last 50 general conferences. "Two of his powerful sermons were supported very strongly by hymn texts teaching gospel doctrine: We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet' (No. 19) in October 1973, andTrue to the Faith' (No. 254) in April 1996."

In fact, President Hinckley is, himself, a writer of hymn texts, Brother Klopfer pointed out. "In the April 1975 general conference, President Hinckley bore his testimony by reciting an original poem, which was later set to original music and now appears as `My Redeemer Lives,' in the hymnbook (No. 135).

More recently, President Hinckley expressed his testimony in poetry in the April 1988 general conference. That poem is now an unpublished hymn, "The Gift of Life," Brother Klopfer noted.

In teaching gospel doctrines through the hymns, all Church members have some resources at their disposal. When the current LDS hymnbook was published in 1985, one or two scriptural references were included with each selection, appropriate to the message of that hymn's text. The scriptural references and their corresponding hymn numbers are listed in an index at the end of the book in the order they occur in the scriptures, making it convenient to match a hymn with a scriptural passage and the doctrine that it teaches.

And a topical index in the hymnbook lists hymns according to topic, making it useful in locating hymns suitable for a particular meeting, talk or lesson.

Similar aids are included in the Children's Songbook.

Even with the aids however, "teaching the gospel with hymns is an important skill that must be learned and acquired," Brother Klopfer emphasized.

Foresight and organization can go a long way. If a gospel theme is chosen for sacrament meeting, for example, leaders can select hymns that reinforce the teachings given in talks.

Of course, such correlation is made more difficult when the music for a meeting is treated almost as an afterthought, with a hymn and sometimes the director and pianist or organist chosen hastily just before a meeting begins, as sometimes happens in such gatherings as priesthood-meeting opening exercises.

At his lecture, Brother Klopfer demonstrated how a hymn, "Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth" (Hymns, No. 298), can be used in concert with the First Presidency's 1995 statement, "The Family - a Proclamation to the World" to teach eternal principles.

In the sample lesson, he correlated each verse from the hymn (his own composition, with text written by his wife, Carolyn) with a passage from the proclamation. In that way, three principles were taught: "Fill your homes with love and kindness"; "serve one another with cheerful hearts"; and "stimulate growth through praying, singing and scripture reading."

Underscoring his lecture topic, Brother Klopfer invoked a quotation from President Packer, given at the October 1991 general conference: "If we will listen, [hymns] are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"

KBYU-FM (89.1) will broadcast three lectures that were given at the workshop. The presentation by Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy and president of BYU, will be broadcast Sept. 10, 9 p.m.; Brother Klopfer's presentation will air Sept. 17, at 9 p.m.; and the presentation by Janice Kapp Perry will be on Sept. 24, at 9 p.m.


Hymns teach important points

W. Herbert Klopfer of the General Church Music Committee has identified many one-line statements from Church hymns that teach important gospel principles. Here are some of the statements with their corresponding hymn numbers:

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.

Blessings await you in doing what is right. (237)

If we do what is right we have no need to fear. (243)

Pray always without ceasing. (321)

Prayer will change the night to day. (140)

By searching scriptures faithfully, one nourishes heart and mind. (298)

Every soul is free to choose his life and what he'll be. (240)

Govern by kindness and never by force. (244)

Kind words are sweet tones of the heart. (232)

A kindly word can never leave a sting behind. (233)

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. (115)

Fear departs when faith endures. (128)

Teach with inspiration. (281)

Do what is right; let the consequence follow. (237)

Keep the commandments! In this there is safety; in this there is peace. (303)

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed