Oh, The Things We May Do

I like to sing.  This is a good thing, I suppose, since I have been serving as the song leader for a small congregation for several years.  I am not a great singer by any means, but I have at least a modicum of ability, passed down from my father, who appears to have received that gift from his mother.

Singing is both a joy and a point of contention among members of my faith heritage, the branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as the churches of Christ.  Of course, that would be the a cappella branch, of the churches of Christ, to distinguish us from the instrumental group, and more specifically, the non-institutional a cappella churches of Christ, to distinguish us from the majority who accept the concept of congregational cooperation and supporting various institutions from church funds.  My particular segment can be further delineated by its acceptance of multiple cups in the Lord’s Supper, the use of non-fermented juice, the acceptance of Sunday school/Bible classes, the rejection of kitchens, the rejection of required head coverings for women, the acceptance of located and paid preachers…if the truth be known, a dichotomous key of the churches of Christ could probably be written that identifies members down to the very pew on which they sit in the assembly.  I am not here to debate these issues, but merely to reflect on the irony of being a part of a church that had its recent historical roots in a movement to “…unite the Christians in all the sects” now being required to define itself with multiple descriptors detailing its pedigree and specific marks of distinction.  There are numerous other denominations with similar fracture patterns, but none to my knowledge so finely focused as the churches of Christ.

There are two things that a person says when he or she discovers my religious affiliation: “You people don’t have music in church,” and “You think you’re the only people going to Heaven.”  I consider both of those to be erroneous impressions.  We do have music, and depending on the size of the congregation and the skills of the singers, a cappella worship can be some of the most beautiful and moving experiences one can have this side of Heaven.  As for the latter assertion, well, some do earnestly believe that.  But not all members in all of the various wings of the churches of Christ hold such a narrow view, and prefer to reserve such decisions for the Almighty.

Another irony that I have reflected on is how the non-institutional acappella churches of Christ have essentially been isolationist in practice, even down to having nothing to do with other wings of the same heritage, and yet perhaps out of necessity, we have adopted and embraced “denominational” writings in the form of the hymns we sing.  For example, we sing Catholic/Lutheran Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress,” and Anglican/Methodist Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Love Divine All Loves Excelling.”  The old standard, “In the Garden” was composed by Methodist Charles Austin Miles.  The very fact that we accept these songs makes a powerful statement that some among my faith heritage may likely heartily dispute: the churches of Christ do not have a corner on all truth.  I say this because I have heard some of our people paint preachers and members of various denominations as maliciously conspiring to contort truth to their own nefarious ends.  I do not believe this to be the case.

Even more interesting is that while we reject the direct, vocal involvement of women leading any segment of public worship, we accept and embrace the same “voices” in our selection of some of the most favorite and often used hymns.  Fanny Crosby, who probably wrote more of the traditional hymns in church of Christ song books than anyone else, described herself as a “Primitive Presbyterian,” with Puritan/Congregationalist roots, and was influenced by the Wesleyan holiness movement.  She is most closely associated with the American Methodist Episcopal Church.

Another beautiful hymn written by a woman and sung frequently in our services is (Presbyterian) Lizzie Dearmond’s, “Oh The Things We May Do.”  Carefully read the words of the hymn.

Oh, The Things We May Do

(Lyrics by Lizzie Dearmond, Music by J.M. Hagan)

Have you lifted a stone

from your brother’s way,

As he struggled along life’s road?

Have you lovingly touched

some frail, toil worn hand.

Shared with someone his heavy load?

(Chorus)

Oh, the things we may do,

you and I, you and I;

Oh the love we can give if we try;

Just a word or a song as we’re passing along,

They will count in the great by and by.

Have you spoken a word

full of hope and cheer?

Have you walked with a slower pace?

‘Till the weary of heart

who were stumbling on,

Took new courage to run the race?

(Chorus)

Have you held up your light

through the shadows dark,

So that somebody else might see?

Have you lived with the

Christ thru the long, long day,

Gaining many a victory?

(Chorus)

The theme of loving your neighbor, caring for the needy, helping the weak—these are all repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The Prophets repeated their calls to the erring people of Israel over and over “…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).  This song encapsulates that theme, which is not narrowly a “church of Christ theme,” but a “Christ theme.”  In Matthew 25, as Jesus is discussing the final Judgment with his disciples, the criteria he focuses on for being counted among the sheep are not doctrinal, but practical.  The irony of that situation was that those who have selflessly served their fellow man have served Christ as he expects all to do, yet these are the people who least recognize it.  Why?  Perhaps it is because they are focused on just doing good because it’s the right thing to do.

I love to sing “Oh, The Things We May Do,” even though it sometimes brings something of a guilty pang to my stomach.  It gently reminds me that there are more things that I could do to help more people, more love I could give if I try.  Despite those guilty twinges, I realize that it is a good thing.  Music should stir us to action, not just please our sense of aesthetics.  Paul tells us that we should teach and admonish one another in wisdom, and speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness to God (Colossians 3.16).  The carefully crafted lyrics of a song embedded in a pleasing rhythm and melody do indeed have a greater ability to remain in our minds.  I sometimes reflect on the idea that God knew what he was doing when he made music a part of our religious curriculum if not our lives.  That may just be something to sing about.

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2 Responses to Oh, The Things We May Do

  1. Pingback: Have You Heard God Singing? | To Proclaim Wondrous Deeds

  2. gregioro says:

    June 9, 2017 praise God for Jesus Christ !
    Who introduced me to this hymn as a
    Member of the Church of Christ

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