I was the visiting preacher conducting worship in a church where I was not much known. At the end of the service, as the congregation left for home, I was surprised to hear so many of them say, “I did enjoy the hymns.” No mention of the sermon!
In the vestibule of the church a small group of worshippers were busily engaged in conversation. I joined them – they were discussing the service. One of the ladies turned to me and said, “We get so many hymns we don’t know and don’t greatly like, it’s good to have someone who gives us a good old-fashioned sing.” I was quite chuffed; whether or not I should regard those comments as a compliment, I’m not sure – probably not! Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy standing in the way of progress by, in the current context, sticking with those old-fashioned hymns, to the neglect of new songs and choruses. “Ah!” I exclaimed to the group, “it would be different if I was here every week; you would probably get some really difficult and unfamiliar ones!” As a visiting preacher, not knowing the congregation’s tastes, I would play safe and choose hymns (songs too!) that are certain to be known, even at the expense of some I considered more suitable. “You just go on playing safe”, one lady said, “especially when you come here. Come again soon.”
Hymns are dicey anyway. From the pulpit you can see those who don’t like the “modern stuff”. They stand tight-lipped and silent. On the other hand, I’ve seen enthusiasm unbounded accompanying modern religious songs, swaying, clapping hands stretching to the ceiling, but when asked to sing a good Charles Wesley, or an Isaac Watts hymn it’s their turn to stand silent, hymn book superfluous. Hymns or whatever – the most we can hope for is to please some of the people, some of the time. If anyone could have succeeded in pleasing everybody, surely it was Jesus. But not even He achieved such fame. He displeased the religious Pharisees and Sadducees so much that they formed an unusual coalition to get rid of him. The man or woman able to please everybody hasn’t been born yet. It is unlikely there ever will be such a superhuman; questionable if it is even desirable. What kind of world would it be if everyone shared the same likes and dislikes? The variety and the character would vanish from life.
In almost every church (and community) I’ve known, at some time or other there has been a difference of opinion in the fellowship. Sadly, the cause may be trivial but, on the other hand, serious enough to threaten the harmony and joy of discipleship with folk taking sides, people getting hurt, taking offence and becoming disillusioned. You cannot please or even agree with everyone; no one should expect it; life would lose some of its interest and colour. A favourite hymn of mine has the line, Didst thou not make us one, that we might one remain.
We cannot please everybody all of the time but we should always try to please God. When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church at Rome about the ethical requirements of Christian faith that ought to be the hall-mark of the Christian life, he was anxious that the Christian should be distinctive. “Being a Christian”, he said, “means being able to discern what God wills for us that our life may be lived to please Him”. (Romans 12:2). Well, what should our mantra be? An Old Testament one comes to mind, from the Book of the prophet Micah (6:8):
He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.