I was at a funeral of a longtime member of the Church of Christ the other day. The family requested several traditional hymns be sung by the entire congregation. The person who prepared the slides apparently retrieved the lyrics to those songs from the Internet, rather than “approved” brotherhood sources. Therefore, when we sang the traditional Mansion Over The Hilltop, I was surprised to see these lyrics in one of the verses:
Don’t think me poor Lord, deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged, ’cause I’m heaven bound
I’m just a pilgrim in search of a city
I want a mansion, a harp, and a crown.
If you didn’t grow up in the Church of Christ, you’re probably not surprised by those lyrics. That’s how the song was originally written. But most of us in the CofC grew up singing: “I want a mansion, a robe, and a crown.”
There are hundreds of examples of lyrics that were changed to protect our brotherhood from false doctrine. But this one surprised me. And pained me. For it was changing away from a biblical concept* in order to protect a treasured doctrine: a cappella singing. This song appropriates a lot of images of heaven and the afterlife that the Bible uses; a harp is one of those images. It fits the song’s use of biblical imagery, but it doesn’t fit our doctrines.
I’ve run into this before. At one church, during a singing night, I dared to read Psalm 150. I naively thought no one would question someone reading a portion of Scripture. I was wrong. How dare I read about instrumental music during a singing night!
I’m not here to discuss the rightness or wrongness of our stance on instruments; I may address that one day. But when you start avoiding Scripture and scriptural terms just because they make you uncomfortable… that’s a pretty bad precedent to set.
*Please note that there is a lot to question in general about the “doctrine” in this song, from the mistranslated “mansion” to the literal approach to symbolic language… not to mention the materialism expressed.