Why Your Church Should Sing More “Old” Worship Songs

You may have seen a YouTube video called “Evolution of Worship Music”. In this video, David Wesley, with five duplicate versions of himself, covers nearly 1,500 years of Christian music in beautiful A Cappella form.

Listening to his beautiful medley, I remembered a conversation I had had after a sermon. As a sermon illustration, I used the incredible story of Horatio Spafford and the words of his powerful hymn “When peace like a river (it is good)”. And after the sermon, I asked someone to come up to me and say something like, “The story is great, but wouldn’t it be better for us to keep singing the modern version? [by Kristene DiMarco and Bethel]?”

I wish I had the David Wesley video at that time to express the value of singing old songs. Now let me lay my cards on the table and say that I deeply love modern interpretations of older hymns, and I love the wealth of original worship and praise music we have today. In my thirties, that’s what I grew up with and all I knew about church music growing up. I grew up with the likes of Vineyard, Delirious? and Sonicflood. And my personal playlist has Jesus Culture, Hillsong Young & Free, Elevation and everything else in regular rotation.

But recently I learned to appreciate older songs. Not just because hearing an old hymn from an old pipe organ feels holy. But because the old songs have stood the test of time and they are our connection to the Catholic Church (in lowercase).

CS Lewis in his essay “On Reading Old Books” encourages his readers and students to read at least as many old books as new ones. Not because crusty old books are necessarily better, but because “a new book is still being tested and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It must be tested against the great body of Christian thought down through the ages. In other words, the old songs have stood the test of time. We know they are powerful and precious because the Church still sings them hundreds of years later.

I didn’t realize until David Wesley’s video that one of the most powerfully speaking hymns in my life, “Be Thou My Vision,” is 560! It shouldn’t be surprising that it moves so powerfully, we wouldn’t be singing about it nearly 1500 years later if it weren’t powerful.

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But even more than being good books, Lewis says old books are valuable because they show us that the Church is bigger and more unified than what we see around us. Lewis continues: “Each age has its own vision. He is particularly good at seeing certain truths and particularly susceptible to certain errors. So we all need books that will correct the characteristic errors of our own time. And that means old books. Our worship music is no different, it is a product of our times and cannot escape our contemporary vision. But singing old songs brings us into the perspective of the Church in times past, into the hearts and minds of our older brothers and sisters in Christ.

And not only does it help us see the greatest Church in history, but it also helps us see the greatest Church today. Lewis writes that when we read old books, we can see beyond the divisions in contemporary debate and see what unites across the ages. “Seen from this, what remains intact despite all divisions, still appears (as it really is) an immensely formidable unity.” Although it shouldn’t be, what often serves as a marker of divisions in our church is the type of worship music we sing on Sunday mornings, even among churches that only sing worship music. contemporary. But when we look at the hymns and see songs written by Baptists, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, or even Luther himself, we don’t see the individual debates that created these divisions but the unifying love of God. which makes them all part of our tradition today. . In short, we realize that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

So should we suppress contemporary worship music? No, I don’t want to be part of a church that’s stuck in the past. But just as we study the books of ancient theologians and pastors, we should also sing old songs from time to time.

Benjamin Lee

Benjamin J. Lee is a pastor in the New York area. He has served churches and ministries in South Africa and the United States. Ben loves to surf and hike. He once hiked 500 miles through Spain with a group of young people from his church, and the hike was the easy part.