I Want Our Hymns Back

The songs we sing in church have changed – and I’m not so sure I like the trend.

10 years ago churches were wrestling with the issue of what to do with ‘traditional’ services. Hymns vs. contemporary praise music was a divisive issue that church leaders had to wrestle with consistently. Today, the issue is all but gone. It is difficult to even find a church that offers a traditional service any longer. What happened?!

I think this up-and-coming generation (of which I consider myself a part) is responsible for this careless disregarding of tradition. In the 80’s and 90’s we began declaring that church was ‘boring’ and ‘not relevant.’ We threatened to leave in droves if the church didn’t change. What was one of the quickest and easiest ways to change? Out with the stuffy old hymns – bathwater and all.

We made it seem like our issue was with ‘style’ and was a matter of ‘preference.’ The quality would stay the same – we just wanted something with drums. Only, that’s not what happened. We certainly got our drums and guitars – the problem was we didn’t get Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley to go with them. Those men knew what my generation has decided to punt to the curb: the best way for church members to remember their theology is to put it in a song.

When we stopped singing hymns, we stopped singing about theology, God, and the truth of Scripture. We traded them for songs exclusively about our experience of God, our feelings, and our struggles. The way a song made us feel became more important than anything else. We were desperate for an experience with God and these new songs lifted us to those heights. So, we needed a new storehouse of songs that gave us goose bumps and caused our hands to lift high. Problem is now that they always have to be new. No one sings ‘Lord I Lift Your Name on High’ anymore. It doesn’t help me experience God because it’s ‘old’ and ‘cheesy’. We’d better get bigger storehouses.

Interesting that we don’t have that problem with hymns.

On behalf of my generation, I’d like to apologize for our foolish abandoning of orthodox tradition for the sake of emotional experience. The truth is, we were really insecure about our relationship with God and needed a way to make it tangible. Instead of relying on the truth, we fashioned for ourselves songs that made us believe that we were intimately connected with Him – even when many of us were not.

I don’t care if we keep our new songs or not, but I want our hymns back.

3 thoughts on “I Want Our Hymns Back

  1. Matt-

    I stumbled across your blog today reading about your trip to egypt and read this post. I do want to talk about the Theology part-

    As a worship pastor, I understand your point and your frustration, especially with the Christian music subculture being what it is today. And yes, I agree with you that many of the songs that are being sung today in churches are…fluff. They don’t have the meat that the old hymns do.

    But, I would challenge and say to not throw out all of the new songs “bathwater and all” as well. Songs such as “Revelation Song” ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ and ‘You Never Let Go’ -I would argue that some of these songs are as theologically sound as ‘A Mighty Fortress’ or ‘When I survey the Wonderous Cross’.

    The hymns that we know today (the ones that have been printed in hymnals), have been through generations of refinement and theological filters so that they do stand as the greatest hymns of all times…because of their theology. What we don’t have today are the fluff songs or bad theology songs of ancient times. Charles Wesley printed 6000 songs, and yet today we only sing around 13 of them. I would have to believe that of those 6000 songs…a few were pretty weak, and did not make it through the filters (thank the Lord).

    Agreed, a song like ‘Lord I lift your name on high’ is not going to stand the test of time, because, it is theologically weak. But a song like ‘Revelation Song’ could.

    My fear (as with most of the church throughout history), is that we live in this constant state of pendulum swing, from one extreme to the other; where both sides see that they are right and no one seems to want to meet in the middle.

    In my time of leading, I have noticed that people become sentimental and attached to songs that spoke to them during a time in their lives when God was stirring deep within them…those are the songs that they want to sing, because it takes them to that place of stirring once again-it helps them remember what God did for them, and more importantly, who He is.

    My prayer for us as a Church (big C) is that we will try and find the middle of the pendulum swing, that “happy” medium of where we sing and understand the ancient hymns of the faith, but we leave room for the new, theologically sound hymns as well. We can’t argue with Isaiah 42:10 when it says “Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth”. I pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us and show us what hymns-both modern and ancient-are sound and leads us all through this to Him.

    I admit, your blog challenged me to look at the songs we sing within church and ask the question “are the songs we sing on a sunday morning theologically sound?” I would lay that challenge to any worship leader, young and old, to pray and ask that question over his weekly order of service.

    My challege to the church at large (including worship leaders) is to filter these new songs through…take the lyrics and strip the drums, the guitars, loops, etc. and ask the same question, but also ask, “is my aversion/desire more to the style the song was written in (drums, meter, melody, etc.)” or am I more drawn to the lyrics which are theologically sound?”

    This is a huge topic, and I’d love to talk more about it, but these are just a few quick thoughts off the top of my head.

    Love ya man, and praying for you-plus I’m stinking jealous that you are in Egypt right now…

  2. Chris-
    Thanks for your thoughts and I agree with you that there are numerous contemporary songs that have solid theology and are certainly worth our attention.

    My point was not to say we should exclusively use hymns as much as I wanted to say, as Chad put it, that the pendulum has swung too far to one direction. I’d like to see a healthy balance of both types and I just don’t see many churches doing that these days.

    I also don’t think the problem lies simply in our song selection as much as it lies in why we are selecting the songs that we are. If we are seeking the experiential side of worship, then those are the types of songs we’ll choose. If we are seeking to sing about God’s character, those are the songs we’ll choose. I agree with you that the worship pastor must be very intentional – not only in which songs are played, but also what affect those songs have on the congregation he is shepherding.

    I’d love to sit and talk with you more about these ideas in person if you’d like – especially since you’re just up the road! Holler at me and let’s do lunch or something.


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