Distaste for Some Hymns: A Lack of Faith??

I’ve got a serious confession that I haven’t shared with many people before. There are some hymns in the LDS hymnbook that I’m not completely comfortable with, at least not for settings of worship.

For example, I love the music of “If I Could High to Kolob,” but the lyrics are so deep and metaphysical. I’ve never enjoyed singing it in sacrament meeting, and I don’t think it has helped bring any people into the Church or strengthened any testimonies. [Update: I’m wrong on this, and appreciate one reader’s comment about the impact this hymn had in a funeral. You know, that may be a terrific setting for the song. Yes, I suppose it can be pretty powerful when one’s mind is tuned in to the deep and heavy issues, and the Spirit is right. I have no trouble with it being in the hymnbook, but it needs to be used with some caution, and is not one of the more “investigator friendly” hymns, at least not for new investigators.]

Another one my least favorites list is “Praise to the Man.” I’m not saying it shouldn’t be in the hymnbook, and yes, Joseph was a great prophet – but do we need to sing about him so often? If it were rare, perhaps I wouldn’t mention it here, but it seems to be a favorite with a lot of people. This song is from the days when the memory of Joseph as martyr yet to be vindicated as fresh on the minds of a heavily persecuted Church – is it really what we need today? For sacrament meetings, at least, it bothers me when that song comes up instead of songs about the Savior.

That issue came up once with a less-frequently heard hymn, “To Nephi, Seer of Olden Time.” When that song was the opening song for a Stake missionary fireside a few years ago when I had Protestant friends visiting, it really threw them for a loop: “Why are you Mormons singing songs of praise about men instead of the Savior?” [A commenter is right on this also: in retrospect, these friends might have found fault with anything we sang. The song really isn’t about praising Nephi, but is about relying on the word of God.]

My least favorite hymn is actually fine and has every right to be sung in a sacrament meeting. It’s “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” When I was in the Hmong-speaking branch out here, it was sung at almost every meeting for two years until I nearly went crazy. OK, the Hmong hymnbook has only about 30 songs in it, and some weren’t translated especially well, and perhaps it really was the best one for them to sing. But not all the time. Sacrament meetings, baptisms, priesthood, whatever – it’s time to sing that song again. Help! Maybe it averaged to less than once a week, but it was enough that I could still use a little psychotherapy right now as I recall the experience. Second problem: I find it pretty boring to sing, at least for the base part. But that’s my problem.

I love it when hymns are thoughtfully selected for a meeting to enhance the worship experience – that’s usually what happens in my little ward in Neenah, Wisconsin, fortunately. But sometimes leaders in wards might assume that any hymn will do. Not all of the hymns in the hymnbook are necessarily suitable for sacrament meeting, in my opinion, and some aren’t necessarily all that suitable for many things. (None are suitable for nearly every meeting, every week.) They are there as resources, to be used carefully.

I suggest that Bishops should make sure that the hymns sung in sacrament meeting especially are suitable for worship of the Savior and God the Father.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

58 thoughts on “Distaste for Some Hymns: A Lack of Faith??

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you on this blog! I think there is a time and a place for worshiping the prophets and other saints… Sacrament meeting isn’t one of them… It’s excusively reserved for the Savior and God the Father… Amen…

  2. Well I personally can’t seem to recall those perticular songs. I agree with what your saying. Sacrament should center around Jesus. I don’t see any thing wrong with singing about phrophets in any other meeting especially if the lesson has to do with the phrophet in the song. to me singing about them is the same thing as reading about them in the scriptures.


  3. Not all hymns have the same purpose. Some of them directly praise the Savior, and others remind us to have faith in him or encourage us to follow his teachings. Some hymns support us in making positive choices and developing positive attitudes. Some hymns provide comfort in times of adversity, and some seek to build a sense of community.

    I am sorry to hear that “To Nephi Seer of Olden Times” was misunderstood as praise for Nephi. I imagine that even if it had been understood correctly as a hymn about the importance of giving attention to the word of God, your friends would have asked questions about what the hymn’s concept of the word of God has to do with accepting the free gift of salvation, and you still would have needed to take the time to explain.

    I remember reading, a few decades ago, that a group of astronauts who visited church headquarters were told about “If You Could Hie to Kolob” as an example of LDS interest in learning about the physical universe. I hope that the visiting astronauts thought that it was interesting in addition to being weird. I am glad that it is still in the hymnbook. I think that the point of view that it expresses is positive and hopeful. Although some of the concepts that this hymn expresses may be clarified or superceded in the end by new revelations and new scientific discoveries, they are still an important part of our heritage.

    To worship the Savior is to praise him and express our gratitude to him, but it is also to seek to be like him and to serve him to the best of our ability. Although progress in nearly any field of study can be a part of true worship, some subjects are inappropriate for a sacrament meeting talk, and some poems are inappropriate for a sacrament meeting hymn. In my somewhat rebellious opinion, nearly all the hymns in the hymnbook have already passed the filter, and the next step is to try to choose good hymns for each week, a week at a time.

  4. I can agree with you but I can also agree with the previous commenter. The Hymns we have in are hymnbook all serve a purpose. I believe that there are great things from every song in that book, which is why we sing them. For me it is nice to sing a lesser known hymnbook song, like “If you Could Hie to Kolob” Ultimately I don’t think anyone has ever or will ever be punished for not choosing the right hymn for a meeting. It is about the spirit we sing with and the prayer we have in our hearts

  5. Once you get past not understanding the title and first line, Hie to Kolob is a lovely hymn. All five verses were used to close a recent funeral in our ward attended by a goodly proportion of the deceased’s Gentile friends. By the hymn’s end, there were few dry eyes. It fit the occasion.

  6. I love to sing hymns. They are sometimes my favorite part of a meeting. I confess to feeling gypped when we have a special musical number… especially the ones that are just thrown together to create a better mix.

    When we sing Hie to Kolob, other words, from my childhood as a Methodist, go through my mind. it was one of my favorites –

    1. At work beside His father’s bench,
    At play when work was done;
    In quiet Galilee He lived,
    The Friend of ev’ ry one.

    2. And in the little flat-roofed house
    He served with willing hand;
    His mother’s daily burdens bore,
    Her joys and pleasures planned.

    3. And as He grew to be a man
    He wandered far and wide,
    To be a Friend to ev’ryone
    Throughout the country side.

    4. Through hardships and through dangers too,
    Undaunted, tireless, brave;
    For troubled, sick and weary friends
    His daily life He gave.

    5.And when He left His faithful friends
    To do His work and will,
    He promised them He’d be, unseen,
    Their faithful Comrade still.

  7. Remember, too, that hymn frequency varies wildly by stake and ward. When we lived in the Columbus Ohio North Stake, we sang “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” very often. As in, we’d sing it as the rest hymn in Sacrament, as the opening song in Relief Society, at stake conference, at choir reherasals…

    … and since we moved to the Columbus Ohio East (now we’re in South, created out of bits of the other stakes) we’ve heard it about three times a year.

    I’ve heard “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” maybe six times in the last year, “Praise to the Man” about the same number. And I’ve been fully active and paying attention to the songs for over 6 years and I’d never heard “If You Could Hie to Kolob” sung in a meeting till two months ago. The tune was completely unfamiliar to me.

    But I’m definitely a hymn apologist. I can find a reason to like almost any hymn or children’s songbook entry. For example, I don’t see why any of those songs wouldn’t make “investigator-friendly” songs. I don’t think investigators should only be around for “How Firm a Foundation” and “I Stand All Amazed” till they’re baptized. I mean, come on. We’re Mormons. If they want generic Protestant style, it’s not like there’s a limited selection… and they’re probably going to run into a choir or music director in the Church that will only sing songs written by the pioneers before 1860 at some point anyway.

  8. Our ward has problems with “The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close”. It’s a nice hymn and all, though perhaps not great for Sacrament Meeting. The problem is that someone in Bishopric Meeting made some wisecracks about the high F in the soprano part, and the next time it was sung, the faces of the entire Bishopric turned bright red as they tried — in vain — to stifle their laughter.

    Needless to say, #37 doesn’t show up very often any more…

  9. Have you read “How Firm a Foundation”? The entire first verse is about how we don’t need continuing revelation or prophets or anything because what the Lord wrote in the Good Book is enough.

    On another note, it seems that many, many hymns go in and out of fashion for years at a time, like “Come Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing”.

  10. I agree with Jeff on this one. I think there should be a Sacrament Hymn Book created that only contains hymns appropriate for for the setting.

    Hie to Kolob and Nephi seer of olden times would not be in that book if it were up to me.

  11. I think it’s silly to say that we need seperate hymnals. Do we not have the Spirit?

    Me? I love “Praise to the Man”. I think it’s a wonderful reminder of a great prophet. Sacrament isn’t ONLY for “worship” (and don’t get me started on the misuse of that word by touchy-feely protestants such that it’s creeping into our own vernacular). Yes, praising our Father and his Son are primary purposes. But it is also a gathering of Saints. I don’t think that hymn is appropriate for a sacrament hymn, but a meeting? Absolutely. There are many, many themes that are possible adjuncts to the receiving of the sacrament that do not detract from this sacred ordinance. Remembering the Prophet (be it Smith or Hinckley) is certainly appropriate.

    By definition, Sacrament meeting DOES center around Jesus. It centers around Sacrament. That doesn’t mean that every jot and tittle of the proceedings must also be of the same theme. Reverence is the order of the day.

    These songs were chosen after much prayer and consideration. They were approved by 15 prophets, seers, and revelators and who knows how many other general authorities. It is their judgement I trust and if they find these appropriate enough for Sacrament meeting (and not issuing instructions to the contrary) then I choose to trust their judgement. Fortunately, in this case, their opinion matches my own.

  12. From the instructions at the front of the hymn book: “Not every hymn is suitable for every Church-related occasion. Some hymns may be more appropriate for a youth gathering than for a sacrament meeting.”

    The same page refers to “Praise to the Man” as a “standard, well-known hymn” that is excellent for stake conference.

  13. Christopher —-nice shot at the Protestants. You must be proud of yourself. A worship service is bad.

    I especially hate it when they sing the star spangled banner—-and the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, and innocent 18 year old soldiers being torn to shreds—-but by golly that flag survived the bloodshed. Nice sacrament song.

    Come thou font of every blessing—removed from the hymn book because of a small reference to grace. Oh—-thats right—–grace has nothing to do with being saved.

  14. Come on Anon@12:40 PM, no need to get off on such blatant tangents (though I myself have been guilty of that before 🙂

  15. Christopher,

    I understand your sentiment for the hymns, but there are recommendations in the hymnal that are not being followed. The brethren understand that some songs are not necessarily appropriate for sacrement meeting, so I’m not so sure you are in agreement with them.

  16. I definitely agree with following both the instructions in the hymnbook (which occasionally seem to be ignored — more so in some units, less so in others) and following the Spirit when it comes to hymn selection.

    As one that often accompanies or directs congregational singing, I can say that members need to understand that the hymn selection is sometimes limited to the abilities — and sometimes the likes and dislikes — of the accompanist. But the congretation has its input as well. If we do a hymn that is considered less familiar, not only does the congregation sing it poorly (many refuse to sing at all), but we get numerous gripes and complaints.

    I will never again do Hie to Kolob in a meeting unless by special request. Of this hymn, one leader said that after repeatedly singing “There is no end to …,” it was surprising that the lyrics did not say, “There is no end to this hymn.” The comment was that it was like “The Song That Never Ends.”

    Now, if you want to experience hymns you might consider — uh — unusual, try this experiment. For years, my family has sung through the hymns in the hymnbook in order, singing one each family home evening. We call it our practice hymn. Over the space of about seven years my kids get to sing each hymn in the book.

    We are sometimes quite amazed at what we end up singing. Some of the unfamiliar hymns are wonderful gems that I have never amazingly heard sung in a church meeting. With a few, however, it is a wonder that they appear in the book at all (it would seem that there has been some nepotism involved in some instances), and it is no surprise that I have never heard them sung in a church meeting.

    It also seems that we have one section of the book that is devoted to dreary, depressing humns for those that want to remain depressed. I even wonder if some of these are appropriate for funerals.

    I guess I should be grateful that I wasn’t on the committee that formulated the hymnbook. I’m sure my inputs would invite some valid criticisms.

  17. Come thou font of every blessing—removed from the hymn book because of a small reference to grace. Oh—-thats right—–grace has nothing to do with being saved.

    The story I heard is that it was a simple oversight that kept this hymn out of the hymnbook.

  18. When I was baptized I picked a couple of hymns from the book based on the words since I knew none of the songs anyway. It was funny watching everyone (my Protestant friends and other Church members) attempt to sing the songs they evidentally had never heard before.

    I do agree with Jeff on the song selections at Sacrament. We sang “Praise to the Man” this Sunday and I was wondering what the investigators were thinking….even more so when the main topic of the meeting was pornography.

  19. Mormanity wrote:

    “Another one my least favorites list is “Praise to the Man.” … For sacrament meetings, at least, it bothers me when that song comes up instead of songs about the Savior.”

    I’m reminded of a story told in the David O. McKay study guide about his father, which may or may not apply here:

    President David O. McKay said, “Since childhood it has been very easy for me to believe in the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” He said that his testimony of the Prophet Joseph was strengthened when he heard of an experience his father had as a missionary in Scotland:

    “When [my father] began preaching in his native land and bore testimony of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he noticed that the people turned away from him. They were bitter in their hearts against anything [related to the Church], and the name of Joseph Smith seemed to arouse antagonism in their hearts. One day he concluded that the best way to reach these people would be to preach just the simple principles, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the first principles of the gospel, and not bear testimony of the restoration. In a month or so he became oppressed with a gloomy, downcast feeling, and he could not enter into the spirit of his work. He did not really know what was the matter, but his mind became obstructed; his spirit became depressed; he was oppressed and hampered; and that feeling of depression continued until it weighed him down with such heaviness that he went to the Lord and said, ‘Unless I can get this feeling removed, I shall have to go home. I can’t continue having my work thus hampered.’

    “The discouragement continued for some time after that, when, one morning before daylight, following a sleepless night, he decided to retire to a cave, near the ocean, where he knew he would be shut off from the world entirely, and there pour out his soul to God and ask why he was oppressed with this feeling, what he had done, and what he could do to throw it off and continue his work. He started out in the dark toward the cave. He became so eager to get to it that he started to run. As he was leaving the town, he was hailed by an officer who wanted to know what was the matter. He gave some noncommittal but satisfactory reply and was permitted to go on. Something just seemed to drive him; he had to get relief. He entered the cave or sheltered opening, and said, ‘Oh, Father, what can I do to have this feeling removed? I must have it lifted or I cannot continue in this work’; and he heard a voice, as distinct as the tone I am now uttering, say, ‘Testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.’ Remembering then what he tacitly had decided six weeks or more before, and becoming overwhelmed with the thought, the whole thing came to him in a realization that he was there for a special mission, and he had not given that special mission the attention it deserved. Then he cried in his heart, ‘Lord, it is enough,’ and went out from the cave.”

    (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 10: The Divine Calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith)

  20. A pet peeve of mine is “Our Mountain Home so Dear”. There really isn’t much doctrine in it. Plus, having lived in Florida and the Carolina Lowcountry pulling that one out to sing is just weird.

  21. Jeff,

    Is DOM saying that God spoke to his father concerning matters related to his mission, or did his father imagine the voice to be clear and audible?

    Also, was DOM’s father alone on this mission?

  22. I can’t speak about his mission and companions. I’ll leave details to a historian. But in http://education.byu.edu/mckay/54dec14.html
    it states that David’s mother insisted in him “accepting the call and leaving with the company of missionaries he was expected to join.” So, as was the custom, he probably wasn’t alone.

    It seems clear to me from the available text that President McKay’s father was testifying that the answer to his prayer came in the form of an audible message. Whether spoken by the Holy Ghost, an angel, or Christ himself it is not stated, nor is it particularly relevant. It is consistent with his testimony that he heard an answer to his personal prayer. As to the physics of the reply, whether the response was spoken directly to his soul, so as to be audible only to him, or spoken in a manner that others would have heard had they the opportunity to witness is also unknown and left for speculation.

    The relevant part of the story is that the man prayed and received a response to his prayers that directed his actions to testify of the prophecies of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel regardless of how uncomfortable this particular course of action would be.

    Your question presents a choice. Either God personally answered his prayer, or he imagined a response that was clear and audible. I find the premise that if the message was clear and audible it was imagined to be a little disturbing. Are you saying or implying that the power of God cannot produce a clear and audible message? If so, how does this jive with scriptural accounts to the contrary?

  23. Dion,

    From reading the testimony it seems clear to me as well that DOM’s father heard an audible response.

    I am not saying that audible responses are not possible, but in this case it seems a bit over the top. Actually this case doesn’t seem to merit that type of response at all.

    Now if what he meant that the response he recieved was as IF it were audible, then I would accept it, but I don’t think that is what is being said.

    I just think that an audible or physical response would be reserved for something a bit more spectacular than how a missionary discussion should be presented. Did the thousands of other missionaries that struggled with the same situation get audible responses to their prayers? I seriously doubt it.

    Any time we hear or read a “faith promoting story” we have to break it down and analyze it to see if it makes sense. They need to pass the sniff test.

    This one doesn’t pass my sniff test.
    What was he doing alone?
    It also seems that his response to the officer that stopped him was a bit decieving.

    So he is breaking mission rules and misleading a police officer in preparation for recieving an audible response from God or a relatively insignificant issue.

    We just can’t give people carte blanche with these stories. Most often they just are not true.

  24. Second to last sentence in previous post should read:

    …audible response from God for a relatively insignificant issue.

  25. There have been other cardinal signs of a testimony in the past, such that Jesus Christ, the Son of God had come in the flesh. These days however, the litmus test of the gospel is whether one believes that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, sent from God to inaugurate the restoration of all things and prepare the way for the Second Coming.

    That is why Joseph Smith and his divine mission deserves to be mentioned in every sacrament meeting. Like many others, he is a type and shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ – a forerunner like John the Baptist.

    Of course mentioning Joseph Smith independent of his relationship to the Savior would be equally wrong. The doctrine of Christ should figure prominently in every meeting in the Church.

  26. So, now we’re questioning David O. McKay’s and his father’s veracity, based on … what? Our perceptions of what might be proper? The rules missionaries live by today (24×7 with your companion) rather than what they did back in that day? What we surmise might have been said to a police officer? I guess he perhaps should have said, “Sorry, officer, I’m in a hurry to get a revelation from God.” We don’t even know what he said, just that it was satisfactory. There’s some pretty huge conclusion jumping going on here.

    While prophets and apostles are not error free, we have a lot more reason to give them carte blanche when it comes to relating spiritual experiences they have had or know about than most others on the earth.

  27. Reach Upward,

    You are absolutely right on the speculation regarding what was said to the officer, but the implication was deception. Regarding mission rules at that time, I admit I am comparing to today since I don’t know what the rules were at that time, but you don’t seem to either. Please refute my comparison with references, otherwise my assumption is valid.

    Regarding giving anyone Carte Blanche, I have to disagree with you. Anytime you give anyone that much power, you are essentially surrendering to them. VERY VERY dangerous.

    If you want to give Carte Blanche to deity, that is one thing, but to a man who makes claims that can’t be validated? Not in a million years. That is sheep mentality.

    I made that mistake with LDS leaders in the past and will never do it again. Now everything has to pass the sniff test.

  28. Mission rules differed from mission to mission and from mission president to mission president back in those days. It is only in the last 50 years (or less) that mission rules have become more centrally dictated. For example, Harold B. Lee on his mission in St. Louis frequently went out doing missionary work on his own when his companion felt it was too cold to go out in the winter. Hugh B. Brown didn’t have a companion at all for several months. The rule for missionary companionships to be essentially inseperable was variously applied at times in some missions, but it was not considered a general thing until the middle of the last century.

    Back in the 19th Century missionaries often acted autonomously. It was common for companionships to split up to keep different appointments, or for the junior companion to go to another city to arrange future appointments, even for days at a time. It must be recognized that many of these missionaries were grown men with families and businesses of their own, as was David O. McKay’s father. Even today we do not hold senior missionaries to the same rules as the sub-25 crowd.

    As far as trusting a spiritual story told by a prophet or apostle, I suppose you have to decide what level of skepticism to employ. Each of us is welcome to our own revelation regarding pronouncements by the Brethren. If a person deems it necessary, he/she could seek such revelation on each public pronouncement. Most people establish in their minds a certain level of trust for another person, and then use that as a starting point for believing/disbelieving pronouncements. That is not being simply sheep (although, the Savior often uses this term to describe his true followers); it is operating on a basis of experience. We all do this every day in every aspect of our lives.

    I can understand having a very low trust level if you feel you have been dealt with untrustworthily, but the types of objections raised here come across as almost comical and seem more like blind bitterness rather than “proving every good word.”

  29. Comical indeed.

    I don’t think skepticism is blind bitterness, but rather wisdom.

    My sheep analogy was in reference to sheep following each other off a cliff, not as members of a flock being looked after by a shepherd.

    I did like your Jesus/Sheep comment though. Very clever.

  30. In High School my friend devised a very catchy rock and roll version of “We thank thee oh God for a Prophet” on the piano that he would play at home and at seminary (not as an opening hymn, but as prelude music).

    To this day whenever I hear that song a I hear a boogie woogie beat in the background.

    The song I dislike is “I Believe in Christ” because its always at the end of sacrament when we’re already overtime and its the longest/slowest freaking song in the world! 🙂

  31. Just last sunday i was attending another ward for sacrament meeting. Browsing through the program, i was surprised to see “if i could high to kolob” as the hymn scheduled between talks. Of course THIS would be the selected hymn on one of the very few occasions that my non member wife was attending church with me. I was going to have to do some explaining after church got out, that i am not qualified to do. Fortunately god loves me.
    By inspiring the first speaker to take more time than was alotted, the hymn was cancelled. (IMHO, totally conclusive evidence that the hymn has no place in sacrament meeting. lol) The best part about the whole sacrament meeting however, was when the hymn was announced as, “If i could get high on kolob”. maybe thats not funny to you, but i just about fell out of my seat.

  32. Good post about this at times and seasons….


    In Abraham 3 it mentions Kolob as being the great star nearest to the throne of God; Kolob could also be used as an anology for the saviour, so if you think of it in that respect……. right now that hymn is one of my favourites…something about the way it sounds!!

  33. Obviously it’s in our universe, as our heavenly father dwells within this universe, “rather than transcending it”.

  34. Anon,

    The universe option does seem obvious, but was only meant as a choice if not in the galaxy or solar system.

    For that matter NOT being in the solar system seems obvious as well.

    So that leaves us with galaxy or universe.

  35. Bishop,

    Sorry my astronomy is less than perfect…difference?? If taken literal, I really don’t know, maybe I’m not supposed to know; if we take it as Bro. Nibley has suggested, Kolob is in neither of those choices, and instead perhaps is a little more close and intimate.

  36. “If i could get high on Kolob” – love it! Now I know I’m going to slip and say that by mistake sometime.

  37. Some thoughts:
    Our ward sang both “IYCHT Kolob” and “Oh My Father” on the same day. That night the missionaries told us those were both deal breakers when it comes to investigators. Not only that, the Kolob song is too long. Our chorister insisted on all verses. Oy vey!
    A couple I do not like:
    I believe in Christ. I appreciate the sentiment, but it is like 8 songs in one. Each verse consists of such monotony and repetition that it gets way old after a while. I timed it once, and if you happen to have a slow chorister, it can take 10 minutes.
    Praise to the Man contains false doctrine. We do not beleive in blood atonement right? So why must Earth atone for the blood of that man? I never sing those words.
    One fun trick to perk up your sac meeting doldrums, add the words “in the bathtub” to the end of any hymn title. Try not to laugh.