What’s Wrong With Church 5: Whatever Happened to Congregational Hymns?


OK, I’ll admit it. I find modern Praise and Worship music doctrinally shallow. A lot of the time they just sing a chorus over and over until they begin to feel some sort of emotion [tedium?]. I love the sentiments in those songs. I love the fact that [originally] they were psalms and scripture set to contemporary music.

I can’t stand the fact that they’re doctrinally shallow. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of the traditional hymns convey a lot of our doctrine. We call this our liturgy. You can tell what a church believes by what it sings, for what it sings is most generally what the congregation remembers and meditates on. We put our doctrine to music for the same reason we use songs and rhymes to teach children the alphabet and such: music gets into your head. It is, in fact, one of the least acknowledged but most effective forms of meditation.

Also, modern worship [and I have much the same complaint about churches where special performances or the choir has likewise dominated the service in lieu of congregational singing] has, by and large, ceased to be worship. Its a spectator event. A rock concert. Entertainment in a sense. Congregational singing was participatory and therefore personal as well as corporate. We came together as the church to sing and remembered that we’re all in this together.

[It's the sort of unity exemplified in the Lord's Prayer:

Our Father...

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.]

But we also sang hymns that were largely about God, instead of being sang to or entertained.

Our liturgy is our legacy. What will ours be?

–Sirius Knott

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17 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Church 5: Whatever Happened to Congregational Hymns?

  1. Thank you for all of your excellent comments, sir.

    I should like to point out that unity is a completely different issue. It is true that the debate over modern worship versus traditional hymnody has caused a lot of division. This is truly deplorable how the debate has polarized the body of Christ. There are even Bible colleges who claim they can tell you what the only “biblical style” of worship is, even though the Bible says absolutely nothing for or against any particular musical style in worship!

    So let me clarify: I’d like to see all of these elements mentioned given their due [though not necessarily all of them in each and every last service!]: hymns, modern worship and choirs. But I’d like modern worship to get less lyrically shallow [doctrinally speaking] and take more of a participatory flavor and less of a entertainment vibe. I’d like to see less dominance of choirs in services at the expense of more participatory worship modes. And I’d like the blasted hymns updated here and there, because [having been the music director in at least one church] most folks just don’t have the musical range to some of these older classics! Worship should not be a rigor! Nor an entertainment. Nor shallow.

    You see, what a congregation sings [on a personal level] is what tends to shape their beliefs. What you sing gets into your head. It’s a form of meditation and it’s quite compelling! That’s why I believe the musical liturgy of the church should be individually and corporately participatory.

    But you are right that this does not have to be a war.

    –Sirius Knott

  2. I enjoy a good praise and worship song, and I think in general they are more fun to sing than traditional hymns.

    But I agree that a lot of them are simply shallow. There is little substance in the lyrics, and sometimes it gets downright annoying hearing the same thing repeated over and over again.

    One time I timed our band at church playing “My Glorious”. It lasted 20 minutes. No joke. I’m pretty sure the fact that I got bored and was timing it defeated the purpose of it being a worship song at that moment.

  3. I dont think that they are shallow i think that they express what the writer is feeling toward God at that moment that they write it! we allgo through different things at different times and it is a reflection of what God is doing or can do. They can inspire us or help us go on in a time of trouble….ect
    Different people need different things. and if you are inspired to worship more with Hymns then there are churches out there that are more traditional that do still play hymns. If you dont care for the hymns then there are those that play other modern worship, I feel that it depends on the person and what they are comfortable worshiping with.

    • That is one of the major problems. If people just look for a church that suits them, it defeats the purpose of the church altogether. If people would stay together, and not leave when they want to try something different, and thresh their differences out, then that would be biblical. If people have the right heart, like Jesus, that’s what we would do. Jesus came to save Israel. By them rejecting Him, they are paying for it. The same principal should be applied here. The only reason Church’s should not be fellowshipping one another, is if the other is immoral, or altogether wrong. It is not about picking one out, for your personal preference, but you’re next door neighbors church is fine. One or the other is wrong for not working together. That should be the mission.

      However, by dilluting the Bible from church music, and going with a more sensual and emotional tone, it waters down the view we should have about God, Jesus, the Church, etc. The purpose of it all.

      Above all, the most important aspect of Religion should be, to search for the truth, and when you find it. Hold it dear to your heart. “The word of God is quick, and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword”. It is to change us. Cut into our hearts, and as we seek that, then we will be drawing closer to the Lord, and closer together. We have to get our “personal preferences” out of the way.

  4. Um, shallow.

    I’m not talking about what vibe you like or what music style you prefer. I’m talking about DOCTRINALLY shallow lyrics. Bordering on feel-good vapidity.

    Frankly, your “do what makes YOU feel good, but never question whether what I prefer is actually good for me or not” is a bit too “hippy” for me. I care about truth and it is not relative. I am not into self-centered “worship” culture. And I do think it matters.

    Because a church believes what it sings.

    –Sirius Knott

    • I completely and whole-heartedly agree.

      One of the reason’s society is going downhill, is because people are wanting to be politically correct, and ignore truth, or decide not to talk about it, because it is divisive.

      Truth is the most important aspect of living. If you don’t have it, you will believe in a lie, and live a lie. I don’t want to do that.

  5. Bring back the hymns.

    Compare and contrast the following:

    (A) “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes! Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes!”

    (B) “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in / when God, the mighty maker died for man the creature’s sin.”

    I attend services of the (A) variety and I find that I just cannot bring myself to join in. I stand there and smile like an idiot.

    Lewis once said that he regarded most church music as fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. What would he say of the music of the contemporary evangelical church?

    • Muddle, gosh, get the lyrics right. It’s “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes Lord”…NOT “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes! Yes, Lord”. No wonder you can’t bring yourself to join in. You don’t know the words. ;)

  6. I agree with you 100%. I like the old hymns and as for the new “praise songs”, i’ve tried so hard to get into but just can’t. A friend of mine calls the new “praise songs” the “7-11 songs”, meaning there are 7 words to the song and it is sung 11 times or verses over and over and over. in example, “My God is an awesome God” O.K. we get it, but heaven help us can we repeat something else. Another friend of mine says , ” oh, now down at the church they are singing these little ditees instead of hymns!” I want to sing about the Old Rugged Cross and I love to Tell The Story and I come to the Garden alone and Precious Memories. Is that asking too much? I guess so when we live in a world of people texting each other during a meal . we might as well all stay home and not have any contact with each other. Good night!

    • Interestingly, Our God is an Awesome God wasn’t really written as a praise tune. As originally written by Rich Mullins, the song has 2 verses and has a finite number of choruses. In fact, the song is only about 4 1/2 minutes long. Compare that to the 10 to 15 minute versions I’ve heard from some of these praise bands. :[

  7. Maybe I’m just too old to fit into today’s worship climate, but I want to go back to the hymn books =- no more drums guitars canned music or concerts during scheduled services. I don’t want to learn a new, repetitious series of choruses.. I often don’t even participate except for familiar verses from older hymns.

  8. I agree completely with “Sirius” that this style of music is more about entertainment than true praise or actual worship. I have been in several churches and the music is the same. The old hymns were more personal, meditative and created actual worship for the individual not just an emotional reving up.

  9. so glad some people are trying to bring back sanity to church
    7/11 music is 7 words said 11 times that isn’t worship thas mindless chanting why dont we sing the bible truths so all week we can let it hummm through are heads as the bible describes this new
    crap gives me a bad attitiude in church i so long for truth and not this muddled up verbage set to drums guitars and the rest of rock and roll crap god please give me a church of true worship i pray this in my saviours name JESUS amen

  10. I’m in favor of the hymns. I think we need hymns in church. I grew up with them and I loved singing them as a child. I’m 30, so I don’t think I’m being an old grump here. The past 20 years I have had to tolerate the new praise songs and basically do without the hymns. Some of the new songs are quite good, but I think church is church; people should not come expecting a concert or sports like event. I think worldliness in the church has left a bad taste in the mouths of many.

    • jomathan
      Have you noticed that many even in the pastorate including senior pastors and music ministers have not even discerned the infiltration of worldliness that you mentioned. The idea of creating a meditative environment to consider Biblical mandates and examine our lives based on those mandates has disappeared within the church. Personally, I’m sick of the trend that idolizes modern / contemporary church music that if I ever hear of a group of people near where I live who desire to return to the old church hymns I’ll drive out of my way to join with them.
      Thank you for including your age, you are to be commended for having moral discernment and the courage to state your position…this 70 year old thanks God for you.

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