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

Read more of the What’s Wrong With Church series!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. RussellSprouts says:

    I think it can be that way… but not always. At my church there’s a lot of unity, despite the new songs.

  2. Sirius says:

    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

    1. William Orris says:

      I believe that we are told not to love the world, the lusts of the flesh, to put to death the old man and live lives differently than our worldly counterparts. How we can then conclude that there exists a form of Christian rock that is acceptable for someone to emulate, copy or saturate their mind and senses with is a real stretch given scriptural admonitions. The acceptance of body piercing and tattooing that is so prevalent today within the church is testimony how far from the truth we’ve gone.

      1. Tony Breeden says:

        William, the very fact that Christian bands DO use a musical genre to edify the church and preach the Gospel stands in direct contradiction to your opinion. By condemning Christian rock, you are condemning followers of Christ and acting as their judge based on outward appearance and musical preferences.

        As for body piercing and tattooing… tell me: do you eat shrimp? Do you make your womenfolk go away for a while because they’re unclean during menstruation? The law was a school teacher but we know that we are not under the law any longer. It is hypocrisy to suggest otherwise.

      2. William Orris says:

        My understanding of scripture is that the ceremonial law (the slaughter of animals for our sins) was done away with in Christ, who is our Passover lamb. The moral law will stand forever. Its God’s rule for right living. It will never be right to murder, steal, present false witness, etc.
        The very name rock as it relates to music found its roots in the 1950’s when Elvis emerged on the scene. Over time the worldly value system has crept into the church so now there exists “Christian rock” an adaptation of a worldly value system that is being sold as something good.
        I’m aware that many will say “I know someone who got saved listening to Christian rock” but what they are really admitting is that the end justifies the means. In Romans Paul states that the law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but we’ve rewritten it to say no, grace is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.
        You may have noticed society is rapidly moving morally south and the church wanting to be culturally relevant has sacrificed the holy for the unholy. If Jesus Christ were to come back today and blend in with the average North American church service I doubt he would ever be crucified, because few seem even distantly interested in living lives different than the world.
        I want to thank you for being willing to hear a position that may be different than what you expected.

      3. Tony Breeden says:

        William Orris,

        You are correct to note that the moral law has not been done away with, but you are condemning an entire musical genre without warrant, which amounts to a ceremonial prohibition.

        It really doesn’t matter where the rock genre’s roots are unless you’re willing to both employ the etymological fallacy [pretending as if Christian rock were exactly the same as secular rock] AND deny that God redeems things. For example, Genesis credits the godless line of Cain with being the founder of instruments that God later commands His people to praise Him with. You yourself were once an unholy pagan who was redeemed by God’s grace through faith.
        I do say that I know someone who got saved listening to Christian rock and others who are edified by it on a daily basis. Can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit? Christian rock brings forth good fruit, but you propose it still brings forth the rotten fruit of the world’s rock trees. In doing so, you condemn the guiltless.

        If Jesus Christ were to come back today, the fundamentalist churches and liberal churches would condemn Him alike because He didn’t hold to their traditions of men yet held to the authority of Scripture. I do no less. Read that article I linked and you will see that over and again the anti-rock critic must employ logical fallacies to maintain their position; can truth be supported with error?

      4. Tony Breeden says:

        I’ve answered Christian rock critics on a more fundamental basis here: https://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/christian-rock/

  3. 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.

  4. Anonymous says:

    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.

    1. Michael says:

      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.

  5. Sirius says:

    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

    1. Michael says:

      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.

  6. muddle says:

    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?

    1. 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. 😉

  7. Anonymous says:

    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!

    1. 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. :[

  8. Anonymous says:

    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.

  9. Anonymous says:

    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.

  10. mark roehrig says:

    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

    1. Tony Breeden says:

      While I value hymns for the reasons I gave, I do like the rock and roll modern worship for entirely different reasons.


  11. jomathan says:

    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.

    1. William says:

      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.

  12. Nicole says:

    My nondenominational Bible church, which we’ve attended faithfully for the past 18 years, is changing from the congregational hymns to the feely-good praise-style music with an amplified lead singer. I HATE it! We are considering driving more than 45 minutes to find a church that sings the traditional hymns.

    1. Tony Breeden says:

      I think traditional hymns are wonderful, but I enjoy modern worship too. While it is difficult to come together in unity when a church is divided over music, I think that music styles are less important than correct doctrine and fellowship… and the Bible’s lack of attention to the matter of musical genres suggests that it is the heart of the worshipper that matters rather than the style it is conveyed in.

  13. Dean says:

    I have shared some of your thoughts about worship. I also respect a worship leader’s position, pouring out her heart and talent (I have none, by the way), which is why I wouldn’t think of complaining to those leading worship. What I’d like to understand is why worship has gone exclusively “new”. Some of the new is good but so is much of the “old ” so why dispense with it out of hand? Why turn away from the rich culture and traditions that were passed down through the centuries? I remember the words of “Be thou my vision”, even though I haven’t heard it in church in over a decade. Do you think I remember the songs from last Sunday? I’m sad that my kids are missing out on singing the classics and imprinting those traditions on their memory. I just want a little variety – not just the same insipid, forgettable choruses every week.

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