I have a confession to make, I’m a recovering hymn-hater. I went through a season of life where I arrogantly threw aside all things of the past for their more modern counterparts. Slowly I began to develop a dissatisfaction that led me on a 6 year journey where God helped me to relearn why placing an emphasis on the words we sing is so important.
During this time, one passage that greatly impacted me was from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
Though we aren’t quite sure what some of these terms meant to the early church, we know that it was important that their gatherings be filled with the singing of the truths of their faith. The use of the word “dwell” literally means to let Christ’s words make a home in you and the encouragement is to do this through song. Through doctrinally rich and scriptural singing, we are also reminded of foundational theological concepts like the Trinity, confession, forgiveness, substitutionary atonement, and the character and nature of God.
I love this quote from the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther:
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”
Many of the time-tested hymns do this masterfully. They combine accessible and memorable melody lines with powerful biblical truth. Ancient hymns also show us our history and remind us that we are part of something that is much bigger than ourselves, our time, and our culture. Singing a hymn like Be Thou My Vision, which derives its lyrics from the 8th century, has a way of grounding us in the permanence of God. If we throw out a song simply because it’s old, we miss out on this.
Style & Emotion
I once heard it said, “Emotion has no place in worship.”
This is a dangerous statement. Though we certainly don’t want our worship services to be emotion driven, God created us as emotional beings. Take for instance this verse from the modern hymn, Before The Throne Of God Above:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
(Verse 2, Before The Throne Of God Above, Sovereign Grace Music)
As we encounter such an honest confession of our dependence on the work of Jesus, our hearts are stirred. Music gives us a venue to express that emotion as we praise our God for all that he has done for us. Some of the most moving experiences I have had in life have been leading people in worshipping God through the singing of hymns.
I believe that, though the musical arrangement is important, which instrumentation is used(guitar/band vs. organ) is not. The Word of God partnered with an appropriate musical arrangement has a way of ingraining truth into the very fibers of our being. It can be said that it ties our heads(intellect) with our hearts(emotion/will).
Note: In the churches that I’ve served, we’ve often taken hymns and updated the music to fit a band led service. We may even update some of the language in the hymns to make them easier for the person singing them understand.
Don’t get me wrong, I love modern music as well. The Colossians passage puts an emphasis on use of new songs of praise as well as ancient hymns. Take for instance the chorus of this newer confession oriented song by the band All Sons And Daughters:
I am a sinner, If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words tangled in lies
You are a savior and you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful, beautiful
(Brokenness Aside, All Sons And Daughters)
This is a powerful truth to sing on its own but now imagine it partnered with the reading of this passage from 1 John.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)
The scripture has a way of illumining the words of the song and the song now becomes our response to the Word of God. What a gift God has given us in music and singing!
We miss out on a whole lot when we let our stylistic preferences determine what we will sing. God can use modern songs as well as ancient hymns to have profound impact on the worshipping body. I believe one way to state this would be there is room in our worship for How Great Thou Art and How Great Is Our God.
Because of God’s grace, here is my new confession. I’m a worship leader who loves Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs.