Why Sing Hymns? Part 2
In the previous blog article on “Why Sing Hymns? Part 1” I offered three reasons why I believe the church would do well to retain the biblical Psalms and the classic hymns of the church as the predominant (though not necessarily exclusive) resources of the church’s worship song. To review, these three reasons are as follows:
(1) Good hymns are theologically rich and feed the Christian soul.
Good hymns have biblical and theological substance, and thus they edify and feed the soul of the believer.
(2) The classic hymns of the church connect contemporary Christians with the historic church.
Singing the great hymns of the faith reminds us that the Holy Spirit has been at work in all ages of church history, and that our faith is a multi-generational faith for all ages.
(3) Good hymns serve a catechetical purpose in the church.
Good, Bible-based and doctrinally-sound hymns reinforce the biblical truths that are preached from the pulpit and taught in the Sunday School. They “preach” the Word in song.
In this blog article I want to offer three additional reasons (reasons # 4-6) why the church today would do well to continue the practice of singing the biblical Psalms and the classic hymns of the faith.
Before I offer these reasons, let me again reiterate what I stated in Part 1: Let the reader understand that I am not, in reactionary fashion, saying that “old” equals “good” and “new” equals “bad.” There are some old hymns that are theologically bad and shallow, just as their are some newer hymns and praise songs that are biblically faithful and sound. The church would do well to avoid singing the former and should be open to singing the latter. But, again, I would commend the biblical Psalms and classic hymns of the church as the predominant content of worship song in Christ’s church for the reasons under consideration.
And now for reasons # 4-6:
(4) Good hymns can help to close the generation gap in the Body of Christ.
There is no doubt that we in the West (and especially in the United States) live in a predominantly youth-centered culture. Our culture almost idolizes youth. Older people strive to look younger and as younger people eventually start to age they often strive to do everything they can to put off and cover up the effects of the natural aging process for as long as possible.
This youth-centric mindset has infiltrated the church to such a degree that even middle-aged and older pastors have often put off the dignified attire of their clergy robes or dark business suits in an attempt to look and dress more “hip” and “cool” so that they can “be relevant” and “relate to the young people.” (Things like skinny jeans, sandals, and a Star Wars t-shirt, along with a few tatoos and body piercings, may make an athletically fit 20-something year old “youth pastor” look “hip” and “with it” at the annual youth retreat, but these same “youthful” duds on a balding, middle-aged pastor with a prominent pot belly and jiggling love handles just make him look silly and pathetic, if not a bit creepy too.)
But this youth-centric mindset not only shows up in terms of the casual, youthful attire that many clergy and congregants have adopted in our uber-causal, youth-centric age. It has also infiltrated, to a large extent, the contemporary church’s practice of worship song. Many contemporary churches have abandoned the classic hymns in favor of an exclusive use of contemporary worship songs led by a “praise band” (i.e., basically a soft rock band that leads the worship). All done in the name of attracting and/or retaining young people in the church. If this upsets the older people in the church, well, that’s just too bad. They’re just “set in their ways” anyway, and they need to “get with the (youth-centric) program” if they want their church to continue to be “relevant.” If they don’t like it, let ’em leave.
In this way the generation gap between young and old in the church gets amplified and widens even further, so much so that many larger churches have basically split their congregation in two by offering two separate, distinct worship services – one called “traditional” (for those crusty old folks who just can’t let go of their hymnals), and the other called “contemporary” (for the hip young people and other youthful congregants aspiring after hip-dom and “relevance”). So much for the gospel of Christ bringing the generations together into one Body!
The problem with all of this is that God’s Word is not youth-centric. On the contrary, if anything the Bible stresses the importance of honoring our elders as a vital duty for all of God’s people.
Of course, it is true that the Apostle Paul counseled the young pastor Timothy not to let anyone despise him for his youth (First Timothy 4:12). The elderly certainly ought not to despise those who are younger, whether they be younger in age or younger in the faith. At the same time, I believe that one of the keys to closing the generation gap that we often find in the church today is by encouraging a culture in the church that seeks to biblically honor those “seasoned saints” who have more years under their belt and therefore (as a general rule) more wisdom, maturity and stability to offer the church.
In Leviticus 19:32 God says: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (ESV) In the culture of Moses’ time, one of the ways that you showed respect for the elderly was to rise in their presence as a sign of that respect. Showing honor to the elderly is closely connected to the reverent fear of God, and Israel’s covenant God reinforces this duty to show such honor with the solemn words, “I am the LORD” (“LORD” being a translation of “Yahweh”, the covenant Name of God).
What does this have to do with worship song? Well, may I suggest that one way the church of Jesus Christ can “honor” the elderly and “rise up” before them is by favoring their musical choices in worship (provided, of course, that those choices are biblically and theologically sound). In other words, if a church has to choose between sticking with a biblically-sound hymnal that is favored by older members of the church, and transitioning to the use of contemporary songs that might be more pleasing to the youth, if the older members of the church would be upset or offended by such a change, then I believe the biblical choice would be clear: Let the youth of the church “stand up before the gray head” and keep using the hymnal, even if it might not be their personal preference. Such an honoring of the wishes of the elderly in the church by the youth could do much to deepen respect and appreciation for the youth of the church by the “seasoned saints” in the congregation, and likewise it could help deepen the sanctification of the church’s youth by providing them with an opportunity for self-denial for the benefit of others.
(5) The singing of good hymns reminds believers that the singing of praise is worship, not entertainment.
Music is powerful. I enjoy attending good musical concerts, whether the music be classical or contemporary. I have a high regard for good musicians who perform their music masterfully. But when attending a musical concert, it is clear that a concert is just that – a concert. A performance. In other words, entertainment. But worship song is not entertainment. No, it is worship (i.e., a vital element of biblical worship).
The congregational singing of good hymns reminds us that the singing of praise is worship, not entertainment. The whole congregation sings together in one voice. And hymns are written and designed for congregational use. They are not designed to be performed by a select company of trained musicians. But, at least in my limited experience of contemporary worship, often the worship songs are written in such a way that they are better performed by trained musicians (in this case the praise band) rather than being written in a way that encourages congregational participation. This performance aspect of some contemporary worship songs sends the wrong message. It tends to blur the line of distinction between worship and entertainment. The classic hymns of the church avoid this, generally speaking.
(6) Good hymns are a source of great comfort for God’s people.
A number of years ago I faced a very stressful time in my life. There were numerous pressures and life changes that closed in on me at the time, and I faced an uncertain future. In the midst of this pressure-cooker period of my life I found myself one day driving alone down the highway. As the road stretched before me tears started to well up as I just felt emotionally overwhelmed. Then I decided to do something counterintuitive. I decided to sing some hymns of praise to God.
One of the hymns I sang as I chugged down the highway, misty-eyed from anxiety, was “It Is Well.” The words of this precious hymn struck a chord in my heart:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul!
It is well, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul!”
Being reminded through that touching hymn that, because of Christ, it was indeed “well with my soul” flooded my heart with a sense of peace and calm, and brought great comfort to my soul, even in the midst of my stress.
One of the reasons why the great classic hymns of the faith have stood the test of time is not only because of their faithfulness to Scripture and theological orthodoxy, but also because they have proven over time to be a source of great comfort to generations of believers. When the church robs younger generations of this precious treasure of hymnody, it also robs them of what could prove to be a powerful source of great comfort to them as they face the trials and tribulations of their Christian lives. Let us not rob them of this resource of comfort.
Much else could be said, but I hope this has been enough to give the reader some food for thought on this issue.