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 wonderful medley, I remembered a conversation I had after a sermon. As a sermon illustration, I used the amazing story of Horatio Spafford and the lyrics from his powerful hymn “When Peace Like a River (That’s Good)”. And after the sermon, I asked someone to come over to me and say something like, “The story is great, but wouldn’t it be better if we just keep singing the modern version?” [by Kristene DiMarco and Bethel]? “
I would have liked to have had David Wesley’s video at that point to express the value of singing old songs. Now let me put my cards on the table and say that I deeply love modern renditions of older hymns, and I love the richness of original music of praise and praise that we have today. In my 30s, that’s what I grew up with and everything I knew about church music growing up. I grew up with Vineyard, Delirious? and Sonicflood. And my personal playlist has Jesus Culture, Hillsong Young & Free, Elevation and everything else in regular rotation.
But recently I have 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 are our connection to the Catholic Church (in lower case).
CS Lewis in his essay “On Reading Old Books” encourages his readers and students to read at least as many old books as new books. Not because crispy old books are necessarily better, but because “A new book is still being tested and the hobbyist is not in a position to judge it.” It is to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down through the ages. Simply put, 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’s no surprise that it moves so powerfully that we wouldn’t sing it nearly 1,500 years later if it wasn’t powerful.
But even more than being good books, Lewis says old books are precious 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 perspective. He is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially prone to making certain mistakes. So we all need books that will correct the mistakes that are characteristic of our time. And that means the old books. Our cult music is no different, it is a product of our time and cannot escape our contemporary vision. But singing old songs brings us into the perspective of the Church in the past, into the hearts and minds of our older brothers and sisters in Christ.
And not only does it help us see the greater Church in history, it also helps us see the greater Church today. Lewis writes that when we read old books we can see beyond the divisions in contemporary debate and see what unites through the ages. “Seen from there, what remains intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it really is) an immensely formidable unit. Although it should not, what often serves as a marker of our divisions in the Church, is the type of worship music that we sing on Sunday mornings, even among churches that sing only music of worship. contemporary worship. 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 that makes them all part of our tradition today. . In short, we realize that what unifies us is greater than what divides us.
So should we get rid of contemporary worship music? No, I don’t want to be part of a church 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.