Hymns


Rose-on-hymnal-on-pianoI suspect fewer and fewer churches sing hymns any more. My church did away with hymnals when we remodeled the sanctuary last year. We now have one service with “classic worship,” but the music of late seems to be one hymn to every three contemporary praise songs.

What stands out to me when the songs are put side by side is the quality of the hymns and, well, the weaker craftsmanship of the contemporary songs. Often times the latter doesn’t have a very complex vocal arrangement. I’m not a musician, but I don’t think you have to be one to hear the difference when they’re played one after the other.

But of late, it’s the lyrics I’ve been noticing. The last two Sundays I’ve been thinking, I grew up singing the kinds of hymns like “To God Be The Glory,” and it’s no wonder I have a strong sense of who God is and what He’s done.

At least for me, music gets inside me and makes the lyrics live. If contemporary music focuses more on the worshiper (“I give You my heart/I give You my soul/Lord, have Your way with me”) rather than on the object of our worship (“To God be the glory, great things He has done”), then it seems we’ll have fewer and fewer doctrines of the faith reinforced through our music.

I understand hymns are hard. There are too many thee‘s and thou‘s and hath‘s and would’st. But it dawned on me a number of weeks ago, those hymns were hard for me when I was growing up, too. I didn’t understand phrases like “schisms rent asunder” or “Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore,” at least not in those early years when I first sang those lines.

But like learning another language or learning to read poetry, the meaning of those hymns became clear one by one. When I was younger I loved “Trust and Obey.” Now I’m pretty sure I thought of that song as my favorite, not because I was so trusting or obedient or even because I valued those qualities greatly, but because I understood what the words were saying. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

I’m tempted to say “Trust and Obey” has a lot in common with contemporary music because it does seem to put the focus on the worshiper, but there’s still doctrine woven into the fabric of each line. The point here is, “Trust and Obey” is an example of my “entry” hymns. I understood it and came to love it and that led me to other hymns I understood and loved.

Ultimately, singing hymns was no longer a chore but a rich pleasure. I miss four part harmony, I miss the great truths of the faith put to music. And I’m concerned for the next generation, growing up with parents who have been raised without hymns and with a postmodern outlook on life which has given them a relativistic perspective and a lack of an authoritative anchor.

Of course there are a handful of musicians who saw this situation before I did and who are doing something about it. They’re writing modern hymns. The ones I know are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have written songs like “All Around The World”:

All around the world the Kingdom cry resounds
From mountain town to desert plain,
From city to the shore.
Truth will not be bound by walls upon the earth.
From every nation, tribe and tongue
God calls His people forth

Now if we could just sing those hymns more often.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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