William Booth allegedly said ‘Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?’ He answered his question by moving music hall melodies into Salvation Army Citadels. A few years after his missionising, marching bands successfully spread the Gospel to darkest London, and the compilers of the English Hymnal foraged four-ale bars for folk song tunes.
However, as well as ‘walking about like a roaring lion’, the Devil goes in for subtle plans. In our generation he’s made popular music so unmemorable that its translation into hymn styles has accelerated church attendance decline. ‘Hit me with your rhythm stick’ worked for the Blockheads, but some worship songs carry vain repetition to lengths undreamed of by the Reformers.
‘You’re being unfair.’ Of course I am, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing for ND. There are community churches whose rock revival gospel trains develop a good head of steam with converts onboard. Yet, in mainstream churches, musical modernisation has meant not just tea-dance tempos but also politically correct bowdlerisation in compilations such as Hymns for Today’s Church. Will ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ soon be replaced by ‘Onward Climate Change Combatters’?
As a result, declining congregations have been musically accompanied by declining vocal vigour. There’s a need for ‘Mary we crown thee with blossoms today’ to be carolled by Catholic congregations, ‘The Son of God goes forth to War’ (to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’) to be martially mouthed by all Anglicans, and ‘Who is on the Lord’s Side?’ to be Evangelically endeavoured.
Those departing for the Ordinariate can merrily march away, birettas bobbing, to ‘Full in the Panting Heart of Rome’. Those lingering in Lambeth reply: ‘Yield Not to Temptation.’ FiF, if denied its demands, could imitate Orange marchers by bawling ‘No Surrender’.
Perhaps then time for ‘Faith of Our Fathers.’