Hymns old and, err, older.

I often complain about the music in my church. Let me explain why.

The church I attend has an ageing congregation. It also has a choir made up of 15 or so people. It is a very serious choir. They take all their music seriously, sing it perfectly, and have robes and everything. Unfortunately most of the hymns that they sing were written in the 18th or 19th century. Very occasionally they sing something modern, by which they mean written after 1900.

Now, there are some very powerful hymns written in the last few centuries, the best of which are still sung in churches around the world today. Most of the hymns sung in our church, though, are at best obscure and at worst have no consistent tune, are completely unpredictable and are impossible to sing without being taught the tune and practicing extensively.  I get the impression that the music is selected to allow the choir to show off their technical competency. In contrast, modern church music (And I include anything written since 1970 in this group!) is normally easy to learn, easy to remember, and (to me anyway) much more meaningful during worship.

But this brings me to an important question.

What is the purpose of church music?

It seems to be the case that old hymns are very strong in both teaching theology and teaching scripture. This is a very important role in the church. Modern music is often much simpler and often foccuses on one very small bible quote, or worse, foccusses on some abstract concept like “Take me to the other side” or “Na, na, na, na, na, na! Hey!” They rely on changing your feelings rather than teaching you something. This is not to say that modern church music cannot convey sound teachings. Many examples do. The ancient hymns teach you nothing if you are unable to sing them because the tune is so convoluted and not written down!  Is teaching via hymns still necessary? This is questionable. In older times people may not have been literate and hymns and sermons might have been their only exposure to the bible. Nowadays people usually own their own bible and can read it for themselves. Whether they do or not is a different story.

So where does this leave us?

I do not think my church will change the style of music sung there while the congregation is so old. There is some progress though, because Karen and I now lead the music at a small monthly evening worship service there which is slowly growing in attendance. The vicar actually took a copy of one of the songs that we did and muttered something about making the choir do that one.

Thus end my rambling thoughts.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

3 thoughts on “Hymns old and, err, older.”

  1. People learn more from repeatedly singing the same song many times than listening to a talk once, or reading a book once.

    It’s the action and repetition involved with singing that make it a good teaching vehicle.

    OTOH the purpose of hymns in the church might be to check that the congregation hasn’t fallen asleep. Or died.

  2. I find that my brain remembers things better when they’re set to music. e.g. I can remember the words of songs much more readily than I can remember Bible passages (for example).

    In that respect, though, the tunes do actually have to be good!

    I think also we forget what the purpose of singing hymns is – it’s not just teaching theology or scripture, it’s praising God. We sing as a response to what God has done for us. So a tune which is dull and boring isn’t going to be sung in a very praise-ful way!

    Good to hear that you’re leading some more lively music though, I hope that grows and the morning service gradually begins to follow suit 😉

  3. I agree with Phill here. The main purpose of music and songs in church should be praise & worship, giving glory to God. I agree that the words of a Christian song can be inspirational to us too, and may also teach simple truths to those who haven’t heard them before. But the main purpose should be praise & worship, not teaching. Teaching is what the sermons are for, and if the sermons are too dreary or off-topic to be useful then that’s another problem entirely.

    Praise & worship of course needs to come from the heart, as that’s what God looks at, not the technical superiority of the choir. So the words you’re singing need to have meaning for you, express the words you’re longing to say to God, and be sung in a manner (rhythm, etc) that allows you to express them properly. In this respect I feel the same as you, that the modern songs (at least 1970’s and later) work far better for me than the ancient ones do (with a few exceptions).

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