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In Defense of Hymns (Performed in a Classic Way)

I went to a church the other day and it was not much different than a rock concert. Might I say, it was a very well done rock concert. Electric guitars, drums in their own sound area, smoke, lights, and two or three people singing the latest in contemporary worship music. There was a part of me that enjoyed it and another part of me which sighed. Another church I attended had a mixture of some of the classic hymns along with some contemporary worship. No smoke. No flashing lights. But the sigh was still there. It just had a different sound. It was lacking something.

There is hardly a place you can go anymore and hear the classic hymns of the faith sung in a classic way. Nine out of ten times, churches have quietly changed their tune. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary worship music. In fact, I really like it. But more and more the great hymns of the faith are being ushered out. Now, even when they are played, their sound is contemporary. It is not really the same. The best way I can express it is that hymns are epic and epic songs need an epic sound. 

I like the word “epic.” It fits when it comes to the great hymns of the faith. Hymns are epic as God is epic. Hymns played in a traditional way, with the traditional sound, are even more epic.

I don’t wish to beat this thing to death. I am 37 years-old. I just caught the tail-end of the transition to contemporary music. Think of this as an opinion piece rather than an informed theological argument. I am not saying that God is more pleased when we play hymns. I am not saying that this is the “right” way to worship. I am just saying that there is a defense that can be made for hymns.

Hymns enter the church into a saga. While I think church can and does take these kind of things to far, there is something to be said for tradition. When I attended an Eastern Orthodox church not too long ago I remember thinking about all the things that they did wrong to the detriment of the Gospel. However, there is something that I believe they get right: they allow people to experience the church. No, not the building they are in or even their congregation, but the historic church. Because of their liturgy, which goes back thousands of years, they join hands with all the saints of the past.  Other traditions do this as well in their own respective ways. This is one aspect of the value that the great hymns of the faith sung and played in a classical way have. Of course most of them don’t go back to the earliest church. In fact, most only go back a few hundred years. But when we sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (pipe organ, trumpet, choir and all), their is a sense in which we take the hand of Martin Luther and the reformers expressing our solidarity with them.

I know I have said in the past that I don’t like the organ. Really, I don’t like to sing with it. It drains me. However, I do love to hear it. It is not simply that it has a classic feel, but that it has an historic feel. Big difference here. The same thing with the choir. Not a quartet. A choir. People everywhere are going retro with everything. Retro cars. Retro shoes. Retro movies. Retro restaurants. Why? Because in our fast-paced, technology-doubling-every-four-years, society we are losing ourselves. We no longer feel our heritage as it has disappeared out the rear-view mirror a long time ago. Now we are groping for something to hold on to. Something that reminds informs us of who we are. Why do you think so many church goers are exiting the back door of pop-Evangelicalism in search of something with ties—real ties—to the past?

This type of stuff is simply hard to replicate.

The classic hymns also have wonderful theology. You know I was going here. Please don’t hear me saying that contemporary praise does not have good theology. So much of it does. But classic hymns are classic for a reason. They have stood the test of time and the test of a thousand theologians. Though “It is Well With My Soul” only goes back one-hundred and fifty years, its theological depth combined with the historic circumstance into which it was written make it epic.

For me, there is a time for songs with great theological depth and there is a time for songs that are outbursts of praise and petition. There is a time for everything (didn’t someone already say that?). But let us not forget the value, educational and doxological, of the more didactic hymns.

I am not saying that we should jettison everything contemporary with a self-righteous smug on our face. Don’t sing only hymns. In fact, if you were to only sing hymns, it would detract from what I am saying. We need to respect the overwhelming power of hymns. Too many of them would be exhausting. Just as I don’t want to hear multiple sermons every Sunday (I would end up forgetting them all), I don’t want to hear too many hymns. I would be happy with just one hymn that came across as an epic performance that gave us pause, caused us to joined hands with the historic church, and was rich enough for us to reflect on for days. “And Can it Be” would be fine this week. For the rest of the time, let’s sing the catching worship stuff.

Am I the only one who likes the classic hymns sung in a classic way?

73 Responses to “In Defense of Hymns (Performed in a Classic Way)”

  1. Leslie Jebaraj June 26, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    No. I too like hymns sung in a classic way.

  2. Many hymns are wonderful, in the way they were written. I’m pretty tired of “rocked-up” hymns, mainly because they’re usually not done well, and the impact of the words is lost. And, many contemporary worship songs are sorely lacking in truth, and heavy on emotion. As I wrote on my own blog this week, “‘Jesus, I love you’ is a pretty weak worship line. It says nothing about Jesus, it merely reflects the writer’s emotional state.”

    Hymns are wholly devoted to truth (and often sung to really exceptional music). I often attend an Episcopal church that has an exceptional music ministry. I’ve sung hymns to an organ, an orchestra, a folk band, a jazz band, and a brass ensemble. The music is all great, and the truth still shines through.

    Though I’ve been a contemporary worship leader and love many of the songs, I’m still addicted to hymns.

  3. Michael,

    You’re 37? Looking back over my 59 years, I don’t know whether to be envious of your age or feel sorry for you–and thank God I’ve passed those days successfully :) That said, most people seem to think I’m a very youngish 59. With that in mind, my friend, there are two hymns the church has somehow neglected to canonize: 1. “Breathe” —a modern hymn (lyrics by Micael W. Smith) and 2. “Be Thou My Vision”—An Old Irish hymn probably written around the 6th century (Called “Rop tú mo Baile” in the original Irish–just to show off my smarts). I don’t like most hymns (especially those popularized in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s). But I do think that God must be sad that neither “Breathe” nor “Be Thou My Vision” were included in the Psalms :) I have (very seriously!!) begged a very shy friend of mine–with a voice like an angel–to sing both of these songs at my funeral…assuming, of course….well, worst case stuff (No plans here!)
    Thanks for the opportunity to direct people to these two beautiful songs. Listen with tissues, and God, nearby.

  4. Richard, “Be Thou My Vision” was my graduation song from DTS. Very special to me. Katelynn, my oldest, used to say “Be thou my bision.”

  5. Michael,

    At sixty, I really miss the old hyms when they are not sung. As you said, there is often very good theology expressed in them. But I also agree with you that it is a connection to the past that is often missing when they are not sung. And for me, I am old enough that it is not only a connection with the saints and the faith from hundreds of years ago, but it is a connection with my own youth. Things have changed so much in the last years that a connection like that is really needed, IMO. As you said, it is something to hang on to.

    We know that God is the same–He never changes. However, it is comforting to know that there are a few other things in this world that are stable too! Reckon my age is seriously showing here!

  6. Michael,

    Thanks for the memories I have two recently married daughters who went from 2 years old to 25 years old in one week. They both married great guys–who will never be good enough for them! Be forwarned! :)
    I’m listening, at this moment, to “Breathe”. Just curious if you–or anyone “out there”–passes this song on to their children as well.

  7. Love that song! One of my favorites. Always tear up when I hear it, even though it isn’t technically a really old, old hymn but a 80-90’s one I think

  8. I personally like the older, traditional hymns because they are theologically rich. I enjoy singing songs that are distinctively Christian–those which celebrate the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, etc.

    Christians sing a lot of songs that are so shallow–something along the lines of “God thank you for being so good and for being in control of my emotions.”

    Those type of contemporary song lyrics–which are at the same time both needed and truthful–are lyrics that a Muslim or a Jew could sing as well.

    We need to sing songs that are distinctively Christian.

  9. Here’s a great one for you Tyler, and from the 1980’s:

  10. Also, just a pet peeve. Let the “conductor,” if there is one, hide. I don’t want to see him. It detracts from the “epicness” of the moment!

  11. Micheal,

    I’m a worship leader at my home church so I appreciate discussions like these. Hearing what people that are in the congregations are thinking. As a worship leader I struggle with this issue quite a bit, I love the hymns, although not always the “popular” ones that people like just because they grew up singing them. But I struggle with knowing how to incorporate them in to our corporate singing time, because many people who like the hymns feel like you do when we put them to music. Which, to be honest, is quite frustrating. What should be important is the words right? I mean, as a worship leader my goal is to teach truths through the songs we’re singing. I want my congregation to find themselves singing the Gospel to themselves throughout the week because the tunes stuck in their head. So to me, the words are the important part.

    Another thing that has been interesting to me in this discussion is that when the hymn writers were writing the songs, most of the time the ones writing the words were not the same ones writing the melodies. And, correct me if I’m wrong on this, many of them got put to standard melodies and often times that melody would vary from location to location. Over time one melody would stick with the song. But again my point is that whats important are the words.

    Just some thoughts from a worship leader who is trying to lead a multi-generational church in worship. the way I do it is usually try to do 2 hymns a week, one done somewhat jazzed up with a modern sound and one done basic with mainly a piano.

  12. Shawn, thanks so much.

    You are exposing my ignorance and inability to speak to this issue with precise knowledge, which is good (and expected!).

    I think that my point with the “classic sound” is not so much just the classic sound that is tied to the hymn, but a classic sound in general. Again, I can’t take TOO much of this either. But when the organ, trumpet, and choir are together, it has the historic feel. And the feel is what I am getting at. A feel that makes you pause and understand that this is a difference genera with a different kind of message.

    It is like the smell of incense to the Roman Catholic. It has a feel that what they are doing is not novel. I am trying to get the feel of “roots” not outdated music that people just can’t let go of. Hope that makes sense.

  13. I had Be Thou My Vision sung at my wedding by a classical male soloist. It was very rich and meaningful to me. I wanted it to represent what would be important to us as a married couple.

    I love to sing the hymns which are rich with strong doctrine (the gospel). I do like them best sung in the traditional way. I want my children to grow up knowing these hymns, but they aren’t exposed to them until Middle school when they finally join us in the service. More than half of what we sing is contemporary. I want my children to know the hymns with staying power, which will in turn be sung by their children. The sense of heritage and tradition is very valuable.

    We visited a Reformed church while on vacation in Leeds, New York once. The church building was 200 years old, made largely of river rock. It was beautiful. The sermon was nothing but a man’s opinion about things of little importance. The pastor didn’t teach from God’s word. It was hard to sit through. At the end we stood and sang a hymn. The hymn was the only truth from God’s word which was heard that day. I sang it heartily.

  14. Michael-
    I am only a few years older than you, and I am Director of Music at a very small Methodist church in West Nashville, TN. I grew up Lutheran, and we always sang hymns. I always liked them. Between my teens, when I went to church regularly, and my late twenties, when I returned to church after several years away, I found that many churches had embraced the contemporary worship paradigm. I must say, even though my church choir does some pop arrangements, I detest pretty much everything there is about contemporary worship. “Detest” may seem like a strong term, but let me explain. When I was growing up, we used hymnals; part of how I learned to read music in the first place was singing from a hymnal. Now, many churches, including even the small Methodist church where I now work, use Powerpoint projections, almost to the complete exclusion of hymnals. Very few people learn how to read music, because all they have is lyrics projected on a screen. In the more contemporary churches, the highly trained and amplified worship team “leads” worship, which usually means that they sing while others dance along. Most research indicates that amplified music actually discourages congregational participation in the music. Worship becomes a spectator-oriented activity. Sure, people feel really good about “worshiping,” but their actual participation is stifled, precisely because of the “rock concert” atmosphere you mentioned above.
    Not only have we lost the theology of the old hymns, sung together by a participating congregation; but we also have turned worship into an activity that is essentially a bunch of individuals watching a performance. All that Protestant evangelicals gained in their liberation from a clergy who performed Mass while the faithful watched is quickly being lost in this performance based worship paradigm. We often lose everything that evangelical worship could be.

  15. “Hymns are epic as God is epic.”

    Overstated?

  16. A group of us (from several different churches) now get together on Friday evenings to simply sing hymns (and read some passages of Scripture aloud in between) because the old hymns are wonderful. This is, of course, because the churches don’t do this any longer. And, like you, I also like many contemporary worship songs, but…

  17. So I bet you miss chapel then sometimes, although on occasion there will be a contemporary song done classic, which is…different :)
    Then there’s the acappella classroom singing; rich. I can always count on the Baptists to carry the tunes.

    I like how my former church struck this balance. There would always be one hymn with just the piano as accompaniment, followed by 2-3 contemporary praise tunes with full ensemble. Of course, they still do that but I just don’t get to experience it now.

  18. Delwyn X. Campbell June 26, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    When is the last time any of you have gone to a black church where they sing Gospel songs? There is a song written by James Cleveland – No Greater Love – which brings tears to my eyes everytime I hear it, even now.

    Still, Gospel music is so different from what you guys normally listen to, and it reflects such a different experience, that I’m not sure if we can even put the two together.

    Another area of music hat is distinctive to me is the music of Keith Green. Hw wrote such powerful songs, and I wish our church praise band (I now attend a Lutheran church), sang some of his music.

    As far as it goes, the organ that I think about is the Hammond B-3, and I don’t think thqt ia what you are talking about. I wish we had one, because when I was a young preacher, a sermon wasn’t really preached until the B-3 joined in :).

    It’s a black thing, I guess (lol).

  19. I go pretty much the whole spectrum from traditional to contemporary, but I think it would be a mistake to throw away our heritage. The doctrinal richness and majesty of many of the old hymns is something that should be preserved.

  20. Michael … I thought you would have wanted country music to be sung in churches ;-) Have you listened to those Merle Haggard tunes I recommended yet?

    I personally like most of the different styles of music sung in church these days … Gospel, Hymns, contemporary, country, bluegrass, even the blues (although some folks think that’s the devil’s music ;-), … I think its crazy when churches get so wrapped around the axle about playing only one type of music (either contemporary or classic). People actually getting angry … I wonder how many churches experience this problem. Mine does.

    Different people … different tastes … I like a church that will mix it up a bit. That said, I think we’re all nostalgic for what we grew up with from time to time … but I would surely like to experience the Hammond B3 sermon that Delwyn is talking about one of these days.

    Which brings up another question … why are many churches still so segregated even today? As long as we’re together on the essentials, I think we should encourage diversity in music and theology and people. If we dared, surely it would ultimately strengthen the church. Who knows, maybe we’re modern day reformers … not just those guys in the 1500s.

  21. When I am in church I like “church music.” Hymns, please. I don’t even like to swing out into chorus music.
    Traditional hymns are deep in doctrine. Not only did every line mean something, but every word.
    I will leave a church over the music in a single heartbeat. Our church started doing a lot of chorus music that was leaning on contemporary music. The music guy made this transition over a year and a half and basically “boiled the frog”, the pastor. He noticed a difference, but not a big difference. I brought out some of the big differences and he was surprised. Over the next few weeks, we got our hymns back! LOL!

    I want my children to know how to navigate a hymn book. I want them to have hymns as a tool. I have both albums of Page CXVI Hymns albums (http://pagecxvi.com/) and my daughters are addicted to them.

    I play some Casting Crowns, and they like it. I play some Brian Free and Assurance and went to a concert a few weeks ago with BFA. But, I wouldn’t want them at my church. Maybe that’s hypocritical, but I don’t think so.

  22. I’ve never sung a hymn (I don’t think) but you can get some ‘epic’ new songs. Maybe hymns do have a place, but I don’t see why a rock sound of music should cause a ‘sigh’ either.

  23. Lisa – it’s not just the Baptists that carry the tune :) I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church but now am part of the URCNA — trust me, they sing 4 part harmony very well! In addition, they don’t sing anything that is not theologically accurate and strong. I appreciate this so much after participating in what I would call worship which bordered on idolatry. I don’t say this lightly.

    Michael – I’ve mentioned before that I was at a large megachurch and played in the worship band. So much of what we sang spoke of our own emotions and rarely spoke of the sovereignty, majesty and holiness of God. I’ve since left — I couldn’t take it any more. The worship was so shallow in content and even stylistically, even though it was done with excellence. It’s very hard to stay in an environment where you sing a song with the words “You are in control” a million times—over and over. I much prefer things like, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.” Or, “Be thou by vision, O Lord of my heart….etc.” The content of the words is important….even to the heart of an excellent musician.

    I grew up and became an excellent musician because I learned to sing from a hymnal – I learned to improvise on the keyboard from a hymnal. I learned to listen to the parts sung and read intervals in my head. (Our children are missing this great opportunity to excel in their music, I believe.) Thankfully, the theology of the great hymns remained in my heart — even during my wandering through the shallow current world of contemporary evangelicalism. Those classic hymns/theology protected my heart. The words I memorized never left me.

    There is a false presumption in many of our churches today — that worship is music. Worship is so much more than just music. So much more. Thanks to people like Michael Horton and RC Sproul, I now understand the depth of worship that God requires — not the worship that we want to give to him…

  24. As far as it goes, the organ that I think about is the Hammond B-3, and I don’t think thqt ia what you are talking about. I wish we had one, because when I was a young preacher, a sermon wasn’t really preached until the B-3 joined in.

    It’s a black thing, I guess (lol).

    Delwyn, are you saying there’s another kind of organ? All I know is Hammond! It ain’t just a black thing! I love it.
    ********************
    As a worship leader, I love both styles, but I see some common ideas cropping up in these comments that I have to address.

    1. It is not the job of the church to teach music or to teach how to read music. Such statements miss the point of the music in church – it’s worship, not musical education. You want your kids to learn to read? Send ’em to a school that teaches music.

    2. The condemnation of songs such as “You Are In Control” betrays an attitude that I hate. I find it just as sad as the attitude of some contemporary fans that dismiss the power and value of the historical music of the church. As if the music bubbling up from the hearts of contemporary believers, out of their faith experiences, is somehow less than the contributions of believers
    from years past. I know of family who lost a daughter, then a month later lost her mom. We played that song at both services, at their request and it was of great comfort to them. Who are you to say it is of little value? It’s drawn from the 23rd Psalm. Have you ever payed any attention to the verse or the bridge, which directly states Romans 8:28? In content and theme, it is the new “It Is Well With My Soul.”

    3. The smugness of one who takes joy in “correcting the error” of a church introducing contemporary music – “LOL.”

    To be continued…

  25. Christianity is a faith of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. My parents (dad in early ’90s, mom in late ’80s) attend a large inner-city contemporary church (with a healthy dose of Gospel, Delwyn). They don’t prefer the music, but they see what’s happening – large numbers coming to Christ, marriages and families being restored, in fact, a whole community is being changed, to the extent that the mayor of the city came to the pastor and said, “We see the effect this church is having and I want to say how much I appreciate what you’re doing.” So, my parents get past the music because they see the greater mission. I deeply admire them for that, instead of whining about how they dislike the music. After all, as a contemporary song says, “It’s all about you, Jesus…It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way…”

    C.S. Lewis wrote about this once, calling the church music of his day, “the dead wood of the service” and “”fifth-rate poetry set to third-rate music,” yet realized that it was being sung with benefit and devotion by others. And then realized his own judgmentalism and self-righteousness, stating he wasn’t fit to clean the shoes of those other saints.

    It’s one thing to say, “I dislike” something. It’s something else entirely to treat it as somehow inferior based on personal taste.

  26. Delwyn X. Campbell June 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

    At the end of the day, this sounds more like a cultural thing than a spiritual thing. Those of you who are familiar with traditional hymns feel like something has been lost. Others, such as myself, who have been exposed to other music forms, while I might understand your pathos, feel that it sounds like the opening to “All In The Family” (boy, am I dating myself).

    There is some good music out there being written today, theologically rich, and accessible by the congregation. Unfortunately, it sounds like many of you are unfamiliar with it.

    As a musician, I don’t think that it is an “either/or” situation. Some of the hymns that we sing the praises of today were viewed as radical when they were introduced. Everyone has heard of “the good old days;” few have ever heard of “the good new days.”

    So, other than have a pipe organ, what could a modern songwriter do to earn your approval?

  27. Dave Z – it is not smug to have walked in your shoes and find them wanting. It is truthful and accurate. My guess….I’ve seen a little more than you have so be careful before you correct someone who’s been where you are right now.

    I once thought exactly the same way you do. God teaches and I’m grateful.

  28. @From the Balcony.

    The “smug” remark was not aimed at you, but I’m reconsidering…

    Perhaps you’d enlighten us with some of your wisdom and experience, which is, according to your guess, much greater than mine. But maybe your guess is not correct. I’m in my mid-fifties and have seen several church trends come and go. And anyway, this is not a matter or age or wisdom, but scriptural truth and principles.

    Regarding “You Are In Control,” perhaps you’d explain your objections to the 23rd Psalm and Romans 8:28, as those scriptures form the heart of the song. Or perhaps you feel the song is less than truthful, that God is not in control, or maybe he is but an acknowledgemnt of that in song is somehow incorrect or shallow. IOW, perhaps you’d show us all from scripture how the song is “wanting.” Either that or agree that it’s simply a personal preference, not an issue of righteousness, and not something to feel superior about.

  29. Dave

    I’ll try to briefly answer your questions, but fyi – I will not argue this topic with you or anyone. I’ve come to understand that God is the only one who can change hearts. My words are simply my words.

    I am your age – have played church music since I was 10 years old in both traditional and contemporary churches, including a huge evangelical megachurch of 7000+ people. The band I played in was exceptional, smoke machines, cameras and full media. I’ve led as a worship leader. I am very gifted at what I do – only by the grace of God.

    Having said that, time has finally taught me that worship is not defined by anything we do. It’s not our preferences that matter. It’s not something to feel superior about. God defines our worship. It is not what we offer to God that interests him. He instructs us to worship in the manner He desires of us.

    As I’ve grown through the maze of evangelicalism, and experienced idolatry in worship, I am grateful God has led me away from that “arena” – because that’s what it felt like — a show.

    I now attend a Reformed Church (URNCA) and understand worship differently. You can read these two links to understand. I certainly don’t expect you to agree, nor will I argue about it further. You can also listen to the Whitehorse Inn to get a feel for where I am coming from. Michael Horton and crew are spot on.

    http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH02/04e.html and

    http://www.reformedfellowship.net/articles/hyde_daniel_worship_may07_v57_n05.htm

    Again, please believe what you will – arguing over this issue is senseless for any of us. As is the use of sarcasm, which I have to say, I did not really appreciate in your post.

  30. John From Down Under June 28, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    A retired pastor in his 70’s once told me that the reason he liked the old hymns was “because many of them were written by people who suffered”.

    I too am a megachurch refugee and I’m with Cathy from the Deck on this one. ‘Worship’ had a great deal of showmanship in it and looking back now it seems it was commercial and plastic.

  31. “There is hardly a place you can go anymore and hear the classic hymns of the faith sung in a classic way. Nine out of ten times, churches have quietly changed their tune.”

    I suppose that depends on the circle of churches you run in. There are many Roman Catholic and Episcopalian congregations that have been singing the same tunes for decades or centuries.

  32. Delwyn X. Campbell June 29, 2010 at 12:23 am

    Drop by any Church of God in Christ, You’ll still here them singing the old-time songs:
    God is a good God – Yes He is! I say God is a good God-Yes He is!
    I’m a soldier – in the Army of the Lord! I’m a soldier – in the Army!
    Yes…Yes…Yes…Yes…Yes…Yes!
    Can’t nobody do me like Jesus, can’t nobody, do me like the Lord! Can’t nobody do me like Jesus – He’s my friend!
    Wade in the water, wade in the water children! Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water!

    See, y’all just need to get out more :)

    You know I’m going to keep messing with y’all as long as this conversation is active, right? After all, we don’t have this kind of problem in black churches, because we love the old time songs, and we love the new songs too! Why? because, in the lyrics of Kirk Franklin, “there’s somethin’ about the name “Jesus!” It is the sweetest name I know…”

  33. @From the Balcony…

    One of the articles you linked to ends with this, “Our purpose in making this contrast so pointed is not to demean evangelicals.”

    I responded strongly to your posts specifically because I felt they were demeaning to anyone who might hold a different opinion. Your tone implies you’re right and anyone who disagrees is wrong. There is an air of superiority – God teaches and you have learned, whereas, alas, the rest of us still dwell in ignorance.

    As a focus, I asked for specific objections to the song you mentioned. You have not addressed that. You condemn the song but do not support your condemnation. All I want is for you to say why it’s wrong. In two responses you have not done so. It just seems fair to ask you to support your specific condemnation. Not to argue, but to explain.

    BTW, I spent seven years in a Presbyterian church, so I am aware of Reformed doctrine. I will point out that not all Reformed traditions would agree with your articles. Further, Church of Christ folk use your “regulative principle of worship” to forbid the use of musical instruments in any form, as there are no examples of such in the New Testament. So, who’s right? Even the “regulative priciple” (which I reject in favor of the normative principle) is subject to interpretation. How do you know your interpretation is the correct one?

    But my biggest objection is that I feel like I’m picking up an attitude of “we do it right” which necessarily implies everyone else does it wrong. That carries an air of self-righteousness, and yes, smugness, which is, in my opinion, the essence of legalism.

  34. Back to the article – while I love the “classic” presentation of hymns, it’s difficult for many churches to accomplish. A pipe organ can cost upwards of $100,000.00, and installation is a very big job. Even a small console with a modest set of pipes will run well over $50.000 with significant maintenance costs. An electronic organ (the kind built to simulate real pipes) can be $50K. A decent Hammond B3 and Leslie will run between 5 and 10K depending on condition. That option is usually only acceptable to black or southern gospel congregations. (Funny thing about organists – they fall into one of two categories – “Nothing but a Hammond” or “Anything but a Hammond”)

    OTOH, a decent digital keyboard can be purchased for 2K or less, much more affordable for most churches.

    And no, the digital keyboard will not effectively replicate a pipe organ, which has been called the King of instruments. It does a better job emulating a B3, but still, there’s nothing like the real thing.

  35. Dave, if you think I was trying to demean you or anyone else here, then you have read that into my words. Those who know me here know I do not have that attitude in my words nor in my heart. My words represent what I have learned on the path I have walked — through the maze of non-relevant evangelicalism. Trust me, it’s been a painful path. And as John Down Under said, it all became very plastic to me through the process.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, you might consider that you over-reacted to my words and were defensive? :) Trust me, I feel superior over no one because I’ve been in their shoes. I also trust God to work in their hearts as He has worked in mine. This forum is not a place to point fingers. It is a place to dialogue. God has placed us together to learn from each other because if any of us think we are perfect, well….that’s just impossible and ignorant.

    The articles you read are sincerely written — I’ve met both people who wrote those articles. I can assure you that they would never demean anyone. Yet, they must be faithful to teach what they see is faithful to the scriptures. Both graduated from what I consider to be an upstanding seminary with high standards. Godfrey, in fact, is Pres. of that seminary.

    As far as the presentation of the hymns – my Motif does a pretty decent job with most organ sounds. However, that’s not even the point. The point is the content of the words. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with a contemporary presentation of the gospel if it is done with careful consideration of the content of the words.

    The reason many hymns sound better presented classically is because they are written to be presented that way. When you try to make them contemporary using the same melody, very few work well (but some do — such as Be Thou My Vision, Holy, Holy, Holy, Savior Like a Shepherd, etc.). Not ever hymn works in a contemporary environment. A Mighty Fortress needs the big classic sound.
    cont…

  36. Dave
    I can assure you that both authors of the articles I sent have no intention of demeaning anyone. I have met them both. Godfrey, in fact, is the Pres. of a seminary I respect. Many people in the URC have come to its doors as refugees from the world of irrelevant evangelicalism. Why? Because they, like me, are tired of the lack of content in worship and in teaching. We are weary of the plastic worship which plagues evangelicalism (I agree with you John) and the interpretation of scripture which suits the person instead of Christ.

    Having said that, I hope you might consider that perhaps you over-reacted to my post in a defensive way. People here who know me understand that I do not feel I am superior to anyone nor would I ever demean them in my mind/heart/words. I have walked in their shoes, thus I am sensitive to their opinion and walk of life. I have not arrived, nor will I until I see the face of Jesus. Still, the purpose of this forum is to express that opinion so that together, we can learn from each other. God has taught me. I have learned. But I am not superior to anyone. I still have a lot to learn.

    I understand the distinctions between the various reformed traditions….having traveled through a few….as well as others not within that tradition. I understand the regulative principle is interpreted differently in different circles, thus the reason for different traditions.

    Those I have met in the URC have no objection to contemporary music. It’s the content of the music that is at question. It is also the presentation of the music. Is it done in a way which could be interpreted as idolatrous? Does it focus on a leader or the words of God? Is it led in such a way for the congregation to participate, or does it overpower them with a show?

    cont….

  37. I understand the distinctions between the various reformed traditions….having traveled through a few….as well as others not within that tradition. I understand the regulative principle is interpreted differently in different circles, thus the reason for different traditions.

    Those I have met in the URC have no objection to contemporary music. It’s the content of the music that is at question. It is also the presentation of the music. Is it done in a way which could be interpreted as idolatrous? Does it focus on a leader or the words of God? Is it led in such a way for the congregation to participate, or does it overpower them with a show? cont….

  38. When I was a little girl I had a nanny named Sally. She used to take me to her church sometimes. They sang all the traditional hymns, but also songs like Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and Beulah Land. I still love those songs, as they invoke so many sweet and profound memories of my childhood.

    One thing I learned early on is that music about God transcends all denominations and generations. The good music will last, because it carries the right message, whatever its genre, but the stuff that’s just for show will pass away into oblivion along with the Christian groups who sing it.

  39. I’ll try one more time to explain that both men who wrote those articles would never demean anyone. I’ve met them both and they are wonderful men of God.

    Many people who have come to the URC have come as refugees from the world of irrelevant evangelicalism. Why? They are tired of the lack of content, plastic worship (I agree with you John) and the interpretation of scripture which suits the person instead of Christ.

    FYI – People here who know me understand that I do not feel I am superior to anyone nor would I ever demean them in my mind/heart/words. I have walked in their shoes, thus I am sensitive to their opinion and walk of life. Still, the purpose of this forum is to express that opinion so that together, we can learn from each other. God has taught me. I have learned. But I am not superior to anyone.

  40. Re Music: My Motif does a great job of imitating most organs when run through a decent sound system. Again, it’s not about these technical details. To understand how music should be presented, you must understand the character of the music as it was originally written. A hymn often sounds best presented in a classic manner because it was written to be sung congregationally. Some hymns, (Holy, Holy, Holy, Savior like a Shepherd, Be thou my vision and others) work well in a contemporary setting. Still there is something about hearing hymns sung in 4 part harmony, done together as a congregation with singers on the same page musically (instead of people making up their parts) that is beautiful.

    Contemporary songs have their own beauty. It’s the content of so many contemporary songs I take issue with. Do we mislead people with their words? I think, in some cases, we do. Notice, – I said some. Often, in contemporary worship, we focus on us instead of God. There are some musicians, who like me, are working to change this approach. Some, like Red Mountain are rewriting old hymns from the 1600s with new contemporary melodies. Some of us are rewriting other hymns in ways we hope will improve the delivery.

    The classic hymns have stood the test of time – theologically and musically. Most of what we hear in contemporary circles today will vanish in the breeze. A few will stand out and survive — but I pray it’s only the ones that accurately reflect the true character and nature of God, so that people will really know who He is, instead of a facsimile of what they want to believe Him to be.

  41. Delwyn X. Campbell June 29, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Larnelle Harris did an interesting rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” In fact, that was the first rendition that I had ever heard.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtxTTNlOsug

    Enjoy

  42. Mannnnn…I don’t mean to be combative or belligerent, or insulting. But I don’t understand it. Can’t see it. Although there are some beautiful “Christian songs” (Actually, I can’t stay away from “Breathe”, “Be Thou My Vision” or “Amazing Grace”), most hymns are horrible. I hate them. It’s probably just me–and the fact that I can’t sing without making others climb over the church pews to shut me up :) :) But…I go to church to worship God with like-minded/like-loving friends (“Fellowship”) That’s true worship, at least for me. I don’t know why “worship service” became all about singing. Most Christian hymns are just horrible: Think tent revivals and Elmer Gantry! Hmmmm…then again, maybe it’s just my Southern Baptist background–combined with my Calvinist instincts :)

  43. “….then again, maybe it’s just my Southern Baptist background–combined with my Calvinist instincts ”

    Oh my, Richard, you are in trouble! :)

    Seriously though, we don’t have to like to sing all hymns in the classic style because they’re old. I find many of them difficult to sing as well, but I like the fact that the lyrics to some of them are better than many modern day sermons we hear, so some of them are much better just read. We used to have a man in our church with a beautiful voice, who simply read them while the melody played softly in the background. I found that quite stirring because then you could concentrate on the message of the hymn.

    ‘Abide With Me’, for instance, which was written by Lyle as he was dying of tuberculosis becomes more like the prayer of the dying man when read than when sung.

  44. Well said, BUT…most of them are written in keys my voice can’t handle. I don’t mind singing them badly, but I bet you wouldn’t stand in front of me two weeks running…:-D

  45. Mbaker,

    Thank you for your great comments. Truly.

    You must be a Calvinist yourself. Who else could understand?? But it is a thrill, sometimes, to live dangerously :) Short story: Most Sundays I do exactly what you said—I listen to and read the hymns as others, who are not ashamed to share their singing voice, carry the tunes. But last Sunday I was standing next to one of my best friends in all this world–and the next (come to think of it) and she notice I wasn’t singing (Confession: I did this on purpose–wretched man that I am :) and she eventually did exactly what I expected (and planned): she nudged me with her elbow and said, “You could sing a little louder.” She couldn’t stand the idea that I wasn’t “worshiping”. But….later, I did get her to admit that God had elected her to salvation—because she is His only child! And because He loves me more than her. :) Thanks for the memories.

  46. You know Richard, like you, I have to really question what the definition of ‘worship’ really is. I have heard the term praise and worship in the modern day church, ad nauseum. If it’s only singing in church on Sunday, hymns or not, which seems to be its current definition, I fall far short, :), but if it is worshipping the Lord every other day of the week with our very lives, then that’s how I define real ‘worship’.

    God bless.

  47. Mbaker,

    Ad Nauseum. Well said!!!

    Darn it! You sound just like my best friend (the one I mentioned in my earlier post). She would–as I do–agree with you completely!–well, after I did some schmoozing :) However, I do wish she would see the wisdom in agreeing with me more often than she does:) Thank you! Also, BTW, “Baker” is the last name of another good friend of mine! Sing well, but not too loudly, this Sunday. I won’t. God just hates it!! :)

  48. Mbaker,

    I just re-read my last post. I’m sorry if I sounded flippant. Didn’t mean to–Just in a silly mood. And now I must shower/shave and go grocery shopping (Calif. time). I will give you a more serious reply…to your…serious reply ASAP. Sorry. But, again, well said and I agree with all you said.

    God Bless You Too!!

  49. Richard,

    No problem, and you didn’t. Really interested in how you define worship, hymns sung, or not.

    Always welcome both sides of the story, and especially interested in how you coincide your Southern Baptist training and you Calvinist leanings.

    That should be interesting! :)

  50. Richard,

    A PS: Not to make this into a Calvinist vs. Armianian debate because worship shouldn’t be about that. Only how the Lord defines it. Is it about only singing and music, and what we decide is important or not is my question.

    And, BTW, just so you know, I am not a Calvinist, although i started as a Southern Baptist. Not fair to let you assume otherwise. :)

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