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May a Baptist (or any other Protestant) sing Catholic hymns?

A critic recently approached me about our hymnal and rebuked us for (among other things) including hymns written by Catholics in our hymnal.

It is no secret that we include Catholic and Orthodox hymn texts. For example, we include the very ancient Te Deum (“Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”). We include works by or attributed to Thomas a KempisFrancis Xavier, Bianco de SienaPeter Abelard, Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius, Theodulph of Orleans, John of Damascus, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Cluny, Frederick Faber, and Francis of Assisi. We have several ancient hymns translated by John Mason Neale. This is to say nothing of hymns written by men we regard to be compromised to one degree or another by doctrinal and practical error (such as Martin Luther or John Wesley).

May a Baptist (or any other evangelical believer) sing such hymns? Are we actually permitted to sing the truth of God composed by someone who may have espoused transubstantiation or venerated Mary?

I think so. All truth is God’s truth, even if a donkey speaks it. There are many things that early and medieval catholic theologians and pastors have taught me about God’s revelation in Scripture. We are certainly indebted to the ancient Catholic church for the clear articulation of fundamental, biblical doctrines such as the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, and the two natures of Christ in one person.

But don’t take my word on this point. Take it from none other than the Prince of Preachers and iconic Baptist pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following is from his preface to Our Own Hymn Book: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Public, Social, and Private Worship:

We thought it best to issue a selection [of Psalms and Hymns] which would contain the cream of the books already in use among us, together with the best of all others extant up to the hour of going to press. … The area of our researches has been as wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish–ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believer that we have enriched our collection thereby. [emphasis mine]1

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preface to Our Own Hymn Book: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Public, Social, and Private Worship (Pasadena, Tx.: Pilgrim Publications, 2002), [iii]. []