Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christian Hymns "No. 1" (Gospel Advocate, 1935) - Part 1 of 2

Many of us of middle aged and older folks remember the Gospel Advocate hymnals. The last of them, Christian Hymns III, debuted in 1966, just a year before my own arrival. I do not know the sales figures on Christian Hymns no. 2 (1948), but I am fairly certain that nearly every Church of Christ across the southern United States still has a stack of the little tan books (sometimes blue) tucked away in a closet. During the 1970s and 1980s the hymnals from Howard Publishing caught much of this market, with their larger selection and greater inclusion of new Southern gospel. But I believe the impact of the Christian Hymns series was profound in shaping a core repertoire of hymns familiar to the Churches of Christ in the southern U.S., second only to the widely popular Great Songs of the Church edited by Elmer Jorgenson. The hymnal I would like to focus on is the one that started it all--Christian Hymns "no. 1" as we sometimes call it, from 1935. It was this hymnal that launched the editorial career of Lloyd O. Sanderson and introduced many of his most popular hymns, and there are some surprising circumstances behind its origins.

The Early Gospel Advocate Hymnals

The Gospel Advocate Company got into the hymnal line with another book called Christian Hymns, published in 1889. It was edited by Elisha G. Sewell with the assistance of Leonard Daugherty, and with Rigdon McIntosh serving as music editor. This began the practice of using music editors from outside the Churches of Christ, including McIntosh (Methodist) and William J. Kirkpatrick (Baptist), with text decisions made by an editor of the Gospel Advocate. In the 1910s and '20s GA editor Charles M. Pullias (1872-1962) edited some volumes by himself, but as far as I can determine there was no official music editor on staff.(Bowman, 69) The lack of an in-house music editor comes as no surprise when one considers the situation of the U.S. Churches of Christ in the early decades of the 20th century.

The division between the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ on the one hand, and the Churches of Christ on the other, has been characterized by some as "sectional," a term that obscures the case by oversimplifying. Richard T. Hughes, by no means an apologist for the division, notes that it was as much a division of urban from rural as of North from South. Not surprisingly, the financial resources, institutions of higher learning, and the most educated part of the population went toward the Christian Churches and Disciples.(Hughes, 4) In a time when there were precious few institutions among the Churches of Christ for the training of preachers, there were certainly no facilities for training musicians.

Today, of course, there are strong music departments among the colleges associated with the Churches of Christ, but there is yet another factor to consider, one not that much changed since the early part of the last century--relatively few congregations of the Churches of Christ hire a "music minister" as others would understand it. Most of the paid positions are modest part-time work, and full-time positions often include song leading among several other areas of service. Many of these positions might be filled by a person with only a little formal education in music, perhaps a college minor. And in many, many congregations there is no pay at all for a song leader, or perhaps just enough to cover gas money if someone is driving in from another community. Though I know many song leaders who have a college education in music, they are teachers in schools or colleges, or sometimes professional performers in secular music; if they make their living in music it is outside of the church.

Entering a New Era: Great Songs of the Church

The early lack of formally trained music editors within the Churches of Christ came to an end with the arrival of a man who was to have a huge impact on the hymnody of the Churches of Christ: Elmer Leon Jorgenson (1886-1968). Jorgenson, editor of Great Songs of the Church, took a complete "four-year course in musical theory, history, harmony and composition" at the University of Louisville in his decade-long preparation for his life's labor.(McCann, 220) Though the university's music department did not grant a degree in those days, it presented a curriculum similar to the classroom portions of a bachelor's degree in music without the applied studies in performance.(Catalogue, College of Liberal Arts, 28-30)

Jorgenson's dream of a highly inclusive hymnal, combining the best of the heritage of English hymnody from earlier centuries with the best of the contemporary gospel songs of his day, bore fruit in 1921 when Great Songs almost immediately sold out its first printing. It was obvious that Jorgenson had produced a classic, and the hymnal was widely praised by well-known song leaders. In 1925 Jorgenson accomodated the growing demand from the South for a shape-note edition; earlier editions had been in traditional round notation, and both round- and shape-note versions were produced for many years.(McCann, 222-223)

But Jorgenson's hymnal was not without its detractors. Jorgenson was firmly in the premillennial camp, and was an associate editor of Word and Work, the Louisville, Kentucky journal that came to be the primary voice of this viewpoint within the Churches of Christ. (A search of the archived issues at Hans Rollman's Restoration Movement Pages shows that Jorgenson wrote the "Work and Worship" department of the journal from at least 1913, even before R. H. Boll's editorship brought it to the forefront among the premillennial congregations. With the redesign of the masthead in 1916 he is listed as a co-editor under Boll, along with Stanford Chambers and H. L. Olmstead.) As the premillennial issue swept across the churches during the early decades of the 20th century, Jorgenson's hymnal was inevitably associated with the controversy.

Whether the hymnal itself was premillennial is an interesting question, because most hymnals contain works written by people of widely varying doctrinal beliefs, yet without necessarily reflecting all of those beliefs. There were certainly songs that could support a premillennial interpretation, such as "I know that my Redeemer liveth" by Jessie Hunter Brown Pounds, which originally included this stanza:

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
And on the earth again shall stand,
I know eternal life He giveth,
That grace and power are in His hand.

This is of course based directly on Job 19:25, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." But opponents of premillennialism were quick to point out that the word "again" in the second line is an interpretation of Mrs. Pounds not inherent in the Scripture in question, especially considered from Job's perspective!(Wallace) The argument here turned on this common debate point against premillennialism: at the return of Christ, since we will "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17), and "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up,"(2 Peter 3:10) therefore the Bible teaches that Jesus will not set foot on this earth again, much less establish an earthly kingdom.

Interestingly, Great Songs of the Church No. 2 (1937) simply omitted the hymn; other hymnals among the Churches of Christ use it with the second line of this stanza altered to, "And that His throne shall ever stand."(Mankin) Most of the rest of the examples cited in Mankin's study are open to "either/or" interpretation, and at any rate those songs were easily enough avoided. But for some brethren it was sufficient that the editor of Great Songs was a premillennialist, and Foy Wallace Jr. (1896-1979), the Texas firebrand who devoted much of his life to refuting that doctrine, believed that Great Songs should be rejected.(Hooper, 149) In the 1930s, with the popular new hymnal available in shape notes, one supposes there was even more urgency to provide an alternative.

Answering the Call: A New Music Editor

Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992), from Jonesboro, Arkansas, was a precocious boy who quickly soaked up the education opportunities available to him in his rural setting. Trained in music at home and in local singing schools, he was reading music by age five--"before that," he claimed modestly, "I sang much by rote." He was teaching singing schools himself by age fifteen, and by eighteen had attained "graduate" status at the summer music normal schools, which he later equated roughly with a bachelor's degree. He began writing songs at age fourteen, though he later discounted their quality. Some of these works from his teens, however, were at least good enough to publish. His songs appeared in books published by the Hartford Music Company (Hartford, Arkansas), where Albert E. Brumley was a staff songwriter, and by the Hildebrand-Burnett Company (Roanoke, Virginia).(Sanderson, "Autobiography")

Like that of Jorgenson, Sanderson's education was to be an ongoing process. Though he was teaching music and directing the chorus for the newly founded Harding College during the 1920s (having served in the same role at the short-lived Harper College in Kansas), he took voice from a private instructor and did two further years of music studies at the Little Rock Conservatory. Following his desire to serve the Lord in full-time church work, he took a position with a congregation in Springfield, Missouri in 1928; while in the area he took two more years of college work at Southwest Missouri. Most of his studies were in the area of public speaking, but he also took correspondence courses in music history through the University of Arkansas.(Sanderson, "Autobiography")

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. became editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1930, and was soon looking for just such a man. Theodore Thomas, writing on the history of hymnody in the American Restoration Movement, notes merely that the Gospel Advocate Company was "responding to the reluctance of some churches to adopt a premillennial hymnal,"(411) but when we consider who the editor was, it is easy to understand the speed with which the project went forward. Sanderson was contacted by Wallace, and began work on the hymnal in 1933.(Sanderson, "100 years") It should not be assumed, however, that Sanderson shared Wallace's views of Great Songs of the Church; in fact, he was on record to the contrary. The February 1926 issue of Word and Work contained among others this testimonial to Jorgenson's hymnal:
A hymnal of great songs for spiritual worship. In price, none to compare; in make-up, very neat; in binding, lasting quality; in arrangement of songs, superior; in fact--the book the church has been needing. -- L. O. Sanderson, Director Vocal Music, Harding College.(Boll)
In his autobiographical statement, published posthumously in the Gospel Advocate, Sanderson places Elmer L. Jorgenson alongside Will W. Slater, Albert E. Brumley, and Tillit S. Teddlie as acquaintances who were of particular significance in the Churches of Christ for their work as songwriters and editors.

The Title Page: Between the Lines

The title of the the new hymnal, Christian Hymns, was not just a generic descriptor arrived at by accident. It was the title of the very first Gospel Advocate hymnal in 1889, brought out by the efforts of David Lipscomb as an alternative to the Christian Hymn-Book, formerly Alexander Campbell's hymnal but by that time owned by the American Christian Missionary Society. It was the latter association, and the fact that sales of the Christian Hymn-Book helped support the ACMS, that drove Lipscomb to offer a new hymnal.(Bowman, 58) The 1889 Christian Hymns was a small, affordable book, but was obviously designed to serve as the main hymnal of a congregation, rather than as a supplement (as was the case with the many ephemeral paperback publications of the gospel music industry). It was still being sold in 1922, much longer than any other GA hymnals before Sanderson's time.(Bowman, 67) The re-use of this title, therefore, helped emphasize the importance of the 1935 Christian Hymns as a re-invention of its well-known predecessor.

The title page of Christian Hymns is interesting in its presentation of the editorial team. L. O. Sanderson appeared first--though he was very much the junior of the others--and then C. M. Pullias, the editor of the last several Gospel Advocate hymnals. It is impressive that Pullias, one of the best known preachers and writers among Churches of Christ in that era, and the song leader for N. B. Hardeman's famous "Tabernacle Meetings" at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, gave top billing to a newcomer forty years his junior.(Collins) Listed as "associate editors" were Nicholas B. Hardeman (1874-1965), Elvin H. Ijams (1886-1982), and James F. Cox (1878-1968). Though I cannot tell the extent to which these last three men influenced the hymnal, the reason for their inclusion was simple: at the time, Hardeman was president of Freed-Hardeman College, Ijams was president of Lipscomb College, and Cox was president of Abilene Christian College.(Harp, "Hardeman"; Overton; Childers) Nothing more could have been done to proclaim this hymnal a serious endeavor, worthy of brotherhood-wide attention, than securing the endorsement of these three major institutions.

One man's name is missing from this title page--Foy E. Wallace, Jr., who brought Sanderson on board in the first place. Wallace was in dire straits at the time. When he had first arrived in Nashville in 1930 (at the beginning of the Great Depression!), he found that his salary had been significantly reduced even before he began. Additionally, his usually reliable income from preaching gospel meetings was hampered by the perception that the churches were already supporting him through their subscriptions to Gospel Advocate, and thus were not obligated to pay him as much for his preaching.(Harp, "Wallace") (Dr. Carroll Ellis, whom I was blessed to know as a next-door neighbor, said the same situation existed for Lipscomb College faculty when he came to Nashville in the late 1940s. The college assumed you would supplement your income from preaching work, and the churches assumed the college was paying your living, so neither felt obligated to pay you much!) In 1934 Wallace resigned from the editorship of the Gospel Advocate, presumably in order to pursue full-time the gospel meeting work that was his forte. Though he eventually paid off his debts, he was forced to declare bankruptcy later that year and left Nashville.(Wikipedia) Despite these struggles, the new hymnal appeared in 1935, published by Gospel Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee, and in a cooperative effort between the usually rival hymnal publishers, by Firm Foundation in Austin, Texas.

The Importance of Christian Hymns (1935)

In the long run, Christian Hymns did not overtake Great Songs of the Church as the most widely used hymnal among Churches of Christ. Thomas notes that eventually the quality of the hymnal overcame concerns about the editor's premillennial views,(Thomas, 410ff.) and it has already been noted that Great Songs No. 2 omitted some of the hymns that had raised objections. Additionally, as the years passed and premillennialism was clearly not becoming the majority view in the Churches of Christ, the furor died down on its own. I suspect that few in my generation in the Churches of Christ know there ever was an issue with using Jorgenson's hymnal.

Ironically, the hymnal that Sanderson had been recruited to beat was probably also an influence on his work as well. Though at least half of its contents were gospel songs, Great Songs was noted as a hymnal that included many of the best traditional hymns from the entire heritage of English hymnody. When Sanderson brought out Christian Hymns No. 2 in 1948, so did his. I can see no more likely influence than Jorgenson's hymnal, that Sanderson himself had given such high praise.

But the fact that there was a "No. 2" and "No. 3" is evidence enough that Christian Hymns was a major success on its own. To that extent, it succeeded in meeting its purpose--it launched an alternative franchise. When Sanderson brought out the second edition in 1948, it was poised to take advantage of the post-war boom in church growth. Its economical size, quality editing, and the respected names of its publisher and editor meant that a volume called Christian Hymns would be in the hands of many, many Christians for years to come.

One practice of Pullias's era that Sanderson continued was the acquisition of copyrights, and this led to perhaps the greatest lasting influence of the 1935 Christian Hymns. In those days long before clearing-houses such as CCLI, hymnal publishers bartered with each other for discounts on the use of their copyrights. If publisher A held copyright to a particularly popular hymn, publisher B might offer a discounted rate on the use of several of his own hymns in exchange for permission to use publisher A's hymn. Gospel Advocate had been late coming into the hymnal business, but Pullias had learned the ropes and did his best to acquire material to use as leverage with other publishers.(Sanderson, "100 years")

One of the best means of working around this situation, of course, was to write your own songs. They cost you nothing to use, and if they became popular enough they could become a valuable asset sought for by other publishers. Sanderson wrote a number of new songs for Christian Hymns--in fact, the final page of the hymnal is a list of the songs included to which Gospel Advocate held the copyright, and many of them were brand-new works for which he wrote the music. Many of these were collaborations with his Methodist pen-pal (they never met face to face), the talented lyricist Thomas O. Chisholm. Though Sanderson wrote many fine hymns, it is ironic that the hymnal that premiered so much of his music to the Churches of Christ, would contain so many of his best. Theodore Thomas notes this as the high point of the hymnal: "Christian Hymns was a less ambitious work than Great Songs, but it had the virtue of disseminating a number of its editor's finer hymns."(411)

In a later post I will examine the contents of the hymnal itself.


Bowman, John. Sweetly the Tones are Falling: A Hymnal History of Churches of Christ. Brentwood, Tenn.: Penmann Press, 1984.

Hughes, Richard T., and R. L. Roberts. The Churches of Christ. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

McCann, Forrest. "A History of Great Songs of the Church." Restoration Quarterly 38/4 (1996), 219-228.

Catalogue, University of Louisville, 1910-11.

Wallace, Foy E., Jr. "Does it read that way?" Gospel Guardian volume B/1 (January 1936), page 19.

Mankin, Jim, and Jason Fikes. "'When Shall I Reach That Happy Place?' Apocalyptic Themes in the Hymns of the Stone-Campbell Movement." Restoration Quarterly 38/1 (1996)"

Hooper, Robert E. A Distinct People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Sanderson, Lloyd O. "'The Lord has been mindful of me': an autobiography of L. O. Sanderson." Gospel Advocate 146/9 (September, 2004), pages 26-28.

Thomas, Theodore N. "Hymnody." The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 409-411.

Sanderson, L. O. "One hundred years in song." Gospel Advocate July 1955. (quoted in Bowman, John. Sweetly the Tones are Falling: A Hymnal History of Churches of Christ. Brentwood, Tenn.: Penmann Press, 1984, 69ff.)

Boll, Robert H. "Commendations." Word and Work 19/2 (February 1926), 64.

Collins, Willard. "Charles Mitchell Pullias." Gospel Advocate 104/17 (26 April 1962), 263-264.,cm.htm

Harp, Scott. "Nicholas Brodie Hardeman." The Restoration Movement.,nb.htm

Overton, Basil. "Brother and Sister Ijams." The World Evangelist (March 1975), page 6.

Childers, Tom. Obituary of James Franklin Cox.

Harp, Scott. "Foy E. Wallace, Jr." The Restoration Movement.,fe,jr.htm

"Foy E. Wallace." Wikipedia.

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