Growing up in a church with a drum set on every stage, an amplifier bigger than a box of bibles, and a lead worship director who went on to star in The Voice, you would think I would be the biggest proponent of 95.9 The Fish, Bethel and Hillsong, and the myriad of new worship songs that are coming on the music scene daily. But I’m not. Rather, I almost exclusively prefer to open a hymnal and sing the music of Wesley, Crosby, Lowry, Towner, Watts, and many others. Understanding why I have these preferences may have some rooted interest in desiring what you didn’t have. Nonetheless, the gratefulness that I have for the hymns of the church is difficult to comprehend, but we must try to understand as the coming generations will have fewer and fewer people vouching for the music of hymnals, favoring the music of the radio.
The text of hymns I have found to always have biblical rooting. Each hymn has at least one corresponding verse reference, some possibly have more than just one. This doesn’t always seem to be true for modern praise music. There is a website called the Berean Test, named for the Book of Acts Chapter 17 peoples of Berea, that were eager to hear the teaching of Paul and Silas, but who also would analyze the teachings in comparison with that of the Old Testament. The Berean Test is a website built to analyze Christian music for its theology, and not just of modern worship, but of pop, Christian Rap, Christian Heavy Metal and Heavy Rock, and even the analysis of hymns. The creator of the website hopes to use it bring awareness to theologically weak music and uplift the music that has rich text reflective of the Word of God. So, for me, I find that I appreciate the text of hymns more than modern praise music. The hymns have words that I must think about, and really explore to deepen my understanding, plus even when they repeat the chorus, it tends to be more than 5 words repeated 5 times.
The design of hymns also is another aspect of the hymn singing process that I prefer. I love the methods of composing that are used to set hymns apart from each other. The framework of structure of a hymn is often rigid and concrete, whereas modern praise songs can really go wherever the worship team pleases them to go, sing this line, repeat this line, cut this line entirely, repeat half of this line. The difference between the hymns and the modern stuff is the cultivation of the hymns. The standards are hymns that everyone does or at least ought to know: Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, and the Old One Hundreth (the Doxology), but more than just these, the hymnals of the church have been put together dutifully and thoughtfully for the glory of God. There are some worship bands or groups who have written music that is rather questionable theologically. To not get too deep in the weeds of the questionable, we must gird ourselves with text that is true and reflective of our beliefs.
Ultimately, I believe that we sing hymns not necessarily to practice our ability or to pronounce our consonants with resounding force, but we sing hymns to join in worship of God, our Savior and King. The work of the music staff in every church is not to wage a war between the traditional and the modern, but to find a point at which a church body can boldly worship together, singing praises to our God, while bringing together the lovers of the old music and the new music. This is not to say we should relax our pursuit of music that is accurate to the Bible, but we must work to cross the aisle of the organ and the drum set. There is a certain beauty in the lyrics of music from modern musicians such as Tomlin, Elevation Worship, and Cory Asbury that is not necessarily found in the hymns. There is also a beauty in the music of composers many years passed away that is not found in the modern stuff.
My challenge to you today: Seek discomfort and look for God in your non-preference. I challenge you to spend time specifically looking for and listening to modern praise music that is rich in theology and glorifying to God. If you find yourself like me, preferring hymns, this may be difficult at first but worshipping God should be a joy to do, not a chore. Similarly, to those who prefer the modern music, spend some time searching for hymns that are accurate to the Bible and bring glory to God, and learn them. In the end, we will have learned something new, sought time outside of our normal Sunday service to sing praise to the Lord, and perhaps found a new enjoyment in what we thought we did not enjoy. At the end, we will all praise God together in heaven, and we really won’t be too concerned with whether the organ is sounding correct, or the drum set is too loud, rather we will be focused on what really matters, Worshiping God.