Worship is the central act of the people of God. It is the distinctive mark of the Christian, exhibiting itself through holy living, love of God and neighbor, social action in a broken world, and gathering together in community. When we gather, we sing. Singing is the language of the soul –in praise of God, in lament, in gratitude, in grief, in mystery, and in edification of one another. The act of singing expresses the heart, impresses the mind, and forms the inner life of the soul; thus, the Wesleys understood that both the understanding of theology and the catechetical formation of life would be nurtured by hymns of the faith. This is one of the enduring legacies of John and Charles Wesley – a canon of hymnody that enables us to sing our theology, and be reoriented in heart to live as the sanctified and worshipping people of God.
The emergence of hymns has characterized the church ever since its inception, rising out of the prior foundation of Hebrew psalmody. Hymns of worship have sprung forth in every age, in every language, in every culture where the Gospel of Christ has been taken. They arise new in every age, and yet remain in concert with the historical communion of saints who have preceded us. This grand canon of worship is an enduring testimony to the unchanging Gospel and the longings of humanity to be in fellowship with the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The myriad of church traditions that sprang from the ministry of John and Charles Wesley share a distinctive canon of Christian worship across the full scope of the pan-Wesleyan churches that number over 80 million believers around the world. The Wesleyan distinctives of doctrine, theology, and spiritual life are celebrated and preserved in the hymns we sing. Wesley’s grand depositum of theology, with its emphasis upon sanctification, holiness, and the rich contours of grace, is here reflected in worship through a hymnal that draws from across the full scope of the Wesleyan tradition. This tradition itself was built upon the historic stream of Reformation hymnody, and before that, the Latin and Greek theological hymns of the church. This entire heritage is ours, and this rich canon of hymnody unites us in worship as the people of God.