To Hymn or not to Hymn

Growing up in church we always sang hymns from a large hymn book that was placed in holders on the back of the church pew.  Many times there would also be a Bible there.  The “song leader” would announce the page number before each song and we would all turn to that page and sing from the hymn books which had both the words and the music printed for us.  (In some churches the page numbers would be listed in the bulletin or posted on a sign at the front of the church.)

Depending on the local church, the singing might be accompanied by a pipe organ, an electric organ and piano and maybe even a few guitars or drums.

hymn 2

This was how worship was supposed to be done.

Slowly over the years in the churches I attended the organ became a thing of the past and the piano was replaced by the keyboard.  A few guitars became many guitars.  Song leaders were replaced by worship teams.  Hymn books became obsolete as the words were projected on a screen from an overhead projector.  Finally, the hymns I grew up with were replaced by what we call “contemporary music.”

Gone were the days of the great song writers like Charles and John Wesley, Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts.  This was now the time of Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant and Matthew West.

And the music war began.

On one side was the younger generation who loved the new songs and the new technology which made hymn books seem outdated.  On the other side was the older generation who treasured the songs they had grown up with and loved singing with hymn books that included the music.

Arguments went back and forth.  Some said we needed to use music that would reach the younger generation and keep them in the church, or in some cases, bring them back to the church.  Others said we were showing disrespect to the older generation that had worked hard in the past so that the church even existed.

I have found it so sad that we have had this music war.  While I understand the desire to have worship that we feel comfortable with and really like, I question:

  • Is our worship based on the music itself rather than on praise and gratitude to God?
  • Are we unable to worship God unless it is done “our” way?
  • Is it really worship of God if we seek our own personal enjoyment?

I wrote a couple of blogs on this thought before – hope you will click on and read them also

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

Recently I began reading a book “The Hymnal – A Reading History” by Christopher N Phillips.

I discovered that this war on music in the church is not a new thing.

Mr. Phillips has studied the practice of reading and using hymnals going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He relates that Isaac Watts created a small hymnal with only words.  These hymnals were not kept in the pews at church but rather were owned by individuals who used them not only for worship in church, but as a source of devotional reading.  They would carry their hymnals back and forth to church much like we used to do our Bibles.  Many learned to read by using the hymnals as a text book and the songs were memorized as poetry.

Up to this time the worship in churches had been to read only songs taken directly from the Psalms.  When Watts began introducing hymns (songs written about God but not taken directly from scriptures) there was controversy between those who welcomed the new hymns and those who said the church should only use psalms.

watts

Examining old hymnals Phillips found that family members used them to record special events and even wrote notes in them during the church service to share with one another.  In one hymnal he examined he found written notes in two different hands:

What are you laughing at?

Bumble Bee has struck an atitude (sic)

In one hymnal he found comments on the fashion and appearance of other members.

Mrs. Horatio Fisher has got a new bonnet!

Ellen Stearns looks at this distance like Mrs. Frank Cutter.

As hymns became accepted and replaced the psalms or were used with the psalms,  churches began to use hymn books as a mark of membership.  Phillips writes:

“Only the most ambitious and radical new communities made the effort to produce a new translation of the Bible, but every group seems to have shared an impulse to create its own hymn book.”

At first even the hymns were read more often than sang as there was no musical notation for the songs.  Slowly musical notation for the hymns was developed.  Only a few who were trained in music would purchase the books with the notes since printing both words and the notes was very expensive.  As some became trained in music choirs developed to sing the new hymns.  Most of the congregation still had hymn books with the words only and read along as the choir sang.

Then Henry Ward Beecher came along.  A minister at Brooklyn’s new Plymouth Church,  he wanted his congregation to sing the hymns in church.  He felt a strong need for his people to get beyond intellectual consent to the Gospel and to actually have an emotional response to the good news.  Music was a way to do this.  If he could get the music into the hands of his congregation they would sing and thus engage personally in worship awaking their emotions and heart as well as their intellect and mind.

So – began another war on music in the church.

But that story is for another post.

Questions:

  • What style of music does your church use?
  • Do you like the “contemporary” worship or long for the “good old days of hymns?”

 

 

 

 

Worship – What’s Your Style?

We talk a lot about worship.  We write/read books on the subject.  We talk about the “style” of worship we like. There is contemporary worship, traditional worship, liturgical worship.  In some churches the argument over what songs we sing, what instruments we use and whether or not we have a praise team or a choir has actually split churches.  At many larger churches we see signs that advertise a certain style of worship will be used at one service and another style at a second service.  Seems to me that we treat worship like we do other music.  Some love country songs, some classical music and other rock and roll.

Traditional vs Contemporary – Us vs Them

So we appear to insist there are two kinds of worshipers.  There is the “old crowd” who love their hymns and want something “traditional.”  There is the “younger crowd” who want contemporary songs only with drums, keyboards and guitars or, if they do an old hymn need to change it to a more contemporary style.

But is that really what worship is?  Should my own musical likes or dislikes determine how I worship?

Tradition

To those who long for the “good old days” when we had organ and piano instruments and “traditional” hymns, I have to ask:  “Do you think worship only started when those old hymns were written?” The singing of hymns was not officially approved in the Church of England until 1820.  Yet, without those old hymns the early church clearly worshiped.  Paul wrote to the church at Ephesians

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Matthew’s Gospel tells us after the Last Supper before Jesus went to the garden to pray He and His disciples sang a hymn.

Traditional means:  the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs,information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice:

If you want traditional music, how far back do we go for that?  Just to the hymns of the 1800’s and England?  Maybe we should go back to the Middle Ages and the Georgian chants?  Most Biblical scholars believe the early church probably sang the Psalms?  So if we want to have traditional music perhaps we should only sing the Psalms.

Contemporary

Contemporary means:  what is happening right now, marked by characteristics of the present period.

So contemporary worship will be worship that is suitable and meaningful for the current population.  It is not for those who lived hundreds of years ago.  Therefore, we have to recognize that the “method” of worship will always be changing.

From Psalms to Gregorian chants to Charles Wesley’s hymns to Chris Tomlin’s praise songs.

The Old Becomes New Again

For those “old folks” who long for the old hymns, just hang around a little longer.  I found interesting studies as I did some research on the history of worship that many millennials are leaving churches with contemporary worship and returning to the liturgical churches with their organs and old hymns.

Is Worship Just About the Style of Music?

When we have made our focus on worship about the style of music, we have lost the real meaning of worship.   Our worship should not be dictated by the style of music we like or dislike.  Our worship should be dictated by what we believe. Our worship should be directed toward God, not ourself.  In John 4:23-24 Jesus told the Samaritan woman

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

So our emphasis is not about the style of music, rather we have a praise team or a choir or a single worship leader.  It is not about the “outward form” of worship.  It is about the “inward form” – our heart.  God is seeking worshipers who will worship him truly from their hearts.  God could care less if we have the latest sound system and the best worship teams if we do not come to worship Him from our hearts. God wants our hearts!