You may notice that I said “hymns” are better than contemporary songs of worship. »No” old hymns “. Or “classic hymns”. Just “hymns”. There are a few reasons for this.
First, there are still some good hymns being written, although they are overshadowed in popularity by the dreck being promoted by the so-called “cult industry”. So some hymns are not old, and there are brand new hymns being written as I write this.
Second, most of the time when people talk about “old” or “classic” hymns, I have noticed that they often talk about hymns and gospel songs which peaked in popularity between the late 19th century. and the mid-twentieth century. While hymns like “Blessed Assurance” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” are in fact old compared to the songs of the modern worship machine, they are centuries younger than most traditional hymns.
I’m not delusional. I know the number of churches singing hymns is decreasing these days. And while I’m not going to deny that this is happening, I will continue to talk about all the reasons I think this trend is so tragic. Here are a few of them.
1. We must honor our history of faith
I have often said that the contemporary church tends to worship as if Tom Brokaw has shattered the events of the passion of Christ as they occur. But being a Christian means that we are part of an ancient and deeper history. In worship, we tell this story through an ancient and disciplined liturgy. We sing old songs and pray old prayers and bathe in the testimony of the saints who have gone before us. And in doing so, the centuries that separate us from the events of salvation history seem to collapse into themselves, and we find ourselves as part of something transcendent and divine.
Cutting the church off from its sacred lineage can only create a narcissistic, self-referential church that doesn’t really care who it is. Worship in a contemporary void literally suffocates the church in a selfish, masturbatory pursuit.
2. Hymns are usually written by the right people
The best of hymns have been written by theologians, pastors, poets and scholars. Contemporary songs of worship are written by marketable people who can write marketable songs. Most of these well-meaning people have questionable credentials at best, and their work shows it. Take a look at the theology and poetry in the nearest hymnbook, then discover the most popular songs of worship. There is no real comparison.
3. Anthems are not “popular”
Granted, the popularity of the traditional hymnody has been declining for decades, but I want to say something more specific. The hymns are not written in a marketable and profitable popular idiom. They are written in a simple style that does not need to conform to any popular genre of entertainment. The result is something more durable, less derivative, and not bound by industry standards. Exclusive allegiance to contemporary worship allows church worship to be hijacked by the worship industry, which is primarily a lucrative business.
4. The anthem has been reviewed and verified
Are all hymns better than all contemporary songs of worship? No of course not. There has been some real bullshit written down through the centuries. But for the most part, the hymn body we have today has been carefully examined and verified, evaluated and scrutinized by generations of pastors, scholars, songwriters, and faithful. It is a rich, vast, wide and varied collection in which churches and the faithful can have confidence. Over the ages, the anthem continues to embrace the best of each generation in its ranks, retaining what is good, faithful and strong, and letting the dross drop.
Likewise, to reject the body of the Christian hymn and rely only on what is new and marketable is not only foolish, but is blatantly arrogant.
5. Hymns are for congregations
Anthems are a written tradition, contemporary songs are a commercially registered enterprise. This is important because recorded music is inherently non-congregational. It is basically a piece to showcase an individual or a small group. While this may work well in any other setting, it is not worship.
6. Singing our faith is worship
I have often heard the argument that hymns are too wordy, too academic, too dense to lend themselves to worship. For example, here is a Facebook comment I recently received on one of my posts.
“One of my gripes in the pre-worship music era is that the songs of this generation give TOO MUCH information – they are like musical sermons leaving no room for” thinking again about what the Whole -Powerful can do. “We’re too busy trying to figure out what an ebenezer is! When the Jesus Movement struck, he brought with him simple songs of worship To God – I remember – I was there – I’m old. And for a few decades we’ve had songs in churches that have transcended information-based music… At the same time, I totally agree that “Christian music” is unfortunately become a type of false cult and today we have far too many “cult stars” – that makes me sick, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean that ALL repetitions should be rejected. My encouragement is for ALL of us to take a moment and allow the Holy Spirit to bathe on us WHILE we sing “Cry out to the Lord” 3, 4, 5 or even 6 times. – Dan M.
There is an element of truth here, in particular with the mention of the heavenly liturgy and the often criticized repetition of contemporary worship. The repetition can be good or bad, meaningful or silly. And he is also right that the Jesus Movement was a natural response to the vast scarcity of 20th century church life. These are good topics for further discussion. But the problem with Dan’s comment is his implicit acceptance of the idea that worship is more about doing something for God or expressing my good feelings toward God, and less about God shaping and shaping me through truth. biblical and theological.
In summary, this argument says that “hymns make me think so much that I cannot worship.” Words, truths and poetry keep me from feeling all the cult things. But while emotions are not inherently bad or foreign to worship, they are not a litmus test, indicator, or even a reliable sign that worship has taken place.
Yes, singing a hymn requires a deeper level of effort and commitment. This is where the discipline of corporate worship resides. Yes, the liturgy is a discipline that demands a lot of us. It not only confronts us with the drama of Christian history, but demands that we play a part. And in these times of discipline, effort and personal commitment, in the hassle of contextually deciphering words we don’t know and concepts we don’t yet understand, we don’t just learn what the word means. “Ebenezer”, but teach us to give thanks for the God who graciously brought vagrants like us to this place.
7. Because words mean things
Who cares about words?
Many pastors, worship leaders, or aspiring worshipers have asked me this over the years.
The answer for me is simple. I don’t know, but you should.
The liturgy is a true and disciplined prayer. It relies on words for a reason. It relies on elegant, eloquent and refined language to make Christian history correct. And as the truths in high language, repeated carefully and often, take root in us, we become the church we need to be. Through our attentive and disciplined prayer, we become God’s prayer for the world. Much of the Christian hymn is written with this effort in mind, and it recognizes the seriousness of Christian worship. It contains the substance necessary to nourish and nurture a church that can be up to the task. The same just can’t be said for jesusy’s latest and greatest hits, no matter how well they sell.
My detractors would predictably respond with accusations of cult warfare and sowing discord. I reject them quickly and completely. It’s not about fueling the wars of worship, it’s about transcending them. The assembly song was never meant to be a popularity contest.
Frankly, we have wasted enough time on the contemporary worship experience. It starved the church and sparked a mad obsession with copying mainstream entertainment culture. A rejection of popular worship and a return to the historic Christian liturgy are absolutely necessary if the church is to fulfill its purpose in the world around us. That way, it’s not only better to sing hymns, it’s vitally important that we do it.
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