In a previous post I expressed my appreciation for the Baptist-produced Celebrating Grace Hymnal (2010) in light of the implications for receptive ecumenism of the Baptist practice of hymn singing that I noted in my 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture (subsequently published as "How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians" in Ecumenical Trends 39, no. 6 [June 2010], pp. 1/81-5/85):
Baptist hymnals are arguably the most significant ecumenical documents produced by Baptists. They implicitly recognize hymn writers from a wide variety of traditions throughout the history of the church as sisters and brothers in Christ by including their hymns alongside hymns by Baptists....[In addition to numerous] patristic hymns, Baptists receive through their hymnals the gifts of Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Jesus, Martin Luther, the post-Reformation Roman Catholic author of 'Fairest Lord Jesus' from the Münster Gesangbuch, the Methodist Charles Wesley, and more recently the Pentecostal pastor Jack Hayford, to name a few hymn writers whose ecclesial gifts Baptists have gladly received with their voices and hearts.
In that previous post, one of several things I praised about the Celebrating Grace Hymnal was this:
I'm delighted that the Celebrating Grace Hymnal has resisted the practice of altering the wording of hymns by non-Baptist hymn writers that were sometimes perceived in their original wording to be at odds with aspects of Baptist theology. While perhaps done with the best of intentions, such Baptist tweaking of hymn texts often results in disasters both theological and aesthetic. Case in point: “The Church’s One Foundation” by nineteenth-century Anglican priest and hymn writer Samuel John Stone (1839-1900). The first stanza of the hymn originally began with this couplet: "The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation, by water and the word." That last phrase seemed to suggest a theology of baptism that was a bit too sacramental for Baptist voices to sing, so many Baptist hymnals--including the two hymnals of most of the period of my own Baptist formation, those published in 1975 and 1991 by the Southern Baptist Convention--altered "water and the word" to "Spirit and the word." Not only did that ruin a nice alliterative pair of words; it communicated a soteriology that is ultimately Gnostic. Thankfully, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal retains Stone's original wording. Many Baptist hymnals also excised the third stanza, which describes a church "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed," and also omitted the original fifth and final stanza that began, "Yet she on earth hath union with God, the Three in one, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won." With the omission of those two stanzas, many Baptists missed the opportunity to be formed by an ecclesiology that values the visible unity of the church, the doctrinal catholicity of the church, and the nature of the church as a Trinitarian fellowship in which all the redeemed of all the ages participate in God and in one another. The Celebrating Grace Hymnal restores these stanzas, too.
Recently I discovered in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal another instance of this salutary practice of receiving the ecclesial gifts of the hymns of other traditions without distorting or ignoring the theology embedded within them. I was searching for an appropriate Christological hymn to sing with my Christian Theology students at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity at the beginning of a class session on patristic Christological developments. To my great delight I noticed that the Celebrating Grace Hymnal includes as stanza 2 of the hymn "O Come, All Ye Faithful" a stanza that other Baptist hymnals have omitted from the hymn text attributed to eighteenth-century English Catholic hymn writer John Francis Wade (1711-1786):
True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
lo, He shuns not the virgin's womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
If the language of this stanza seems familiar, it's because the stanza incorporates the language of the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made....
The restored stanza joins this creedal affirmation of the fullness of divinity present in Jesus Christ with an echo of the earliest polemical appeal to the doctrine of Christ's virginal conception as evidence of the true humanity of Christ (an appeal that may seem counterintuitive to contemporary evangelicals accustomed to hearing the virginal conception mentioned as a proof of Jesus' divine origin).
In a review of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision (2006), Charles Scalise rightly suggested that the liturgical/theological formula lex orandi, lex credendi ("the rule of praying is the rule of believing") might function most appropriately for Baptists if re-envisioned as lex cantandi, lex credendi--"the rule of singing is the rule of believing" (Perspectives in Religious Studies 35, no. 4 [Winter 2008]: 433-35). Even if there are presently few Baptist congregations that include the corporate recitation of the Nicene Creed in Sunday worship (though there are some that do so), the many Baptist churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that are adopting the Celebrating Grace Hymnal now have the opportunity each Christmas season to sing a key portion of the Nicene Creed and to have their faith formed by it. Lex cantandi, lex credendi!