Hump-Day Hymns: The Doxology

I am not completely sure if The Doxology qualifies as a “hymn,” but at the risk of drifting away from hymns, this will be the point of discussion for this week’s Hump-Day Hymns.

Typically relegated to the category of “Service Music” in hymnals, there is something profound that this very simple song speaks to us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

-Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

(NOTE: While I strongly advocate the use of gender-neutral language for God, I have chosen to use the original text simply for historical reasons.)

At our church, much like many churches, we use The Doxology when we are bringing the offering forward. In some ways this is appropriate.  The whole point of an offering during a worship service is to acknowledge that all we have is from God, and the offering takes place in the “Response to God” portion of the worship service.  The offering itself is an act of worship when we give out of our worldly goods (which have been given to us by God) in response and gratitude for all that God has given us.  The offering is both symbolic and tangible.  The offering is symbolic in that money is certainly not the only way to give of our gifts our of gratitude for God, and it is tangible because it is something which is required by the church to continue functioning.  Churches, para-church ministries, social outreach programs, and missionaries all require funding to carry out their work.  Some churches are criticized for being “all about money.”  This is certainly not the case in our church, but the reality, is that it takes money to keep the lights and heat on, as well as the ability to provide a minister.

There is a certain tragedy, though, that the only time that we sing The Doxology is during the offering.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  The first is that to someone who isn’t familiar with the function and theology of an offering and giving, it can seem as though we worship money.  We all stand, the offering comes forward, we all sing The Doxology, we pray, and the offering plate is placed on the Communion Table.  We do not, of course, worship money.  But there is a second tragedy to this near-exclusivity of use in worship.  The idea that financial means is the primary way in which God blesses us, and the primary blessings for which we must give thanks.

This is unfortunate because money and financial resources are not the only blessings or gifts that we receive, and they are most certainly not the only way that we can contribute to God’s mission and work in the world.  I find that I often have to be cognizant of the language that I use when talking about the offering and its function.  Particularly in my context when many people do not have much to give, it can be easy to inadvertently shame people (and I know some terrible “pastors” who do shame people for not giving much).  It is true that stewardship in general is important regardless of whether one is rich or one is poor, but stewardship does not always look the same in every context, and stewardship is far more than simply financial.

I do sometimes wonder if this near-exclusive use of The Doxology has had some role to play in the rise of the Prosperity-Gospel Heresy.  Money is not always a blessing from God, and blessings from God do not always come in the form of money.  It is important that we don’t equate blessing and money, and it is equally important that we don’t equate stewardship with money.  While the purpose of the offering is for monetary offerings to be symbolic of all of our gifts, material and otherwise, I at times wonder if this understanding has been tainted by an over-emphasis on blessing-as-money, giving-as-money.  I think that it would do the church good to have The Doxology more readily in our repertoire, and utilize this gift, this simple ascription of glory in far more circumstances than simply the giving of monetary gifts.

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