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Friday, January 6, 2017

This Hymns Business - Part 2

In Part 1 of this little study, we briefly looked at some of the accusations against contemporary worship (CW) and the parallel arguments for the use of the hymns (H). The study was inspired by yet another article on the superiority of the H.

The article juxtaposed a popular CW song (“One Thing Remains”) with a classic H (“Rock of Ages”) to show the supposed shallowness of all CW compared to the depth of all the H. Again, I have nothing against the H, and I agree that many contain excellent doctrinal content, but each must be judged on its own merit. I gave my example of CW v. H by comparing “This I Believe” with the H “In My Heart There Rings A Melody.” The latter being somewhat generic and applicable to all kinds of heretical groups. It also contains rather weak sauce in its refrain, “In my heart there rings a melody, there rings a melody of heaven’s harmony; in my heart there rings a melody, there rings a melody of love.”

If I posted those words and said they’re from a CW song, the knives would come out from the H-Only crowd.


We could make these comparisons all day. What is missed is that we should be doing this with all music. In the end, some H and some CW will be deeper than other H or CW. In either case, the doctrine should be what matters. I don’t mind “In My Heart There Rings A Melody,” just don’t tell me it’s superior to Keith Green’s There Is A Redeemer simply because it’s a hymn.

Just to close that chapter, I’d gladly compare CW song “Your Love Never Fails” to H such as I Serve A Risen Savior featuring the refrain, “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.” 


That’s rather subjective, isn’t it? It could be seen as weak and not terribly biblical. Musically, it sounds like a 30s drinking song too.


Truth be told, many of the proponents of H are probably as opposed to contemporary arrangements as they are to the songs themselves. Many CW churches use updated versions of the H. So, even though the content is the same, they object to the music. With that in mind, let’s quickly look at the common accusations again.

  • CW is “me” centered
  • It’s not very deep
  • The music is not “high” music
  • It tends to be loud
  • The songwriters sometimes have suspect lives
  • It’s repetitive

On first blush (and I acknowledge this list in mine, based on experience), none of these is particularly biblical. Many of the H are “me-centered.” The Bible knows nothing of “high” music. The Psalms speak of loud music (“Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!” - Psalm 150). How many of the H are based on music written by unbelievers? Neither Fanny Crosby nor William Booth wrote music, they sometimes incorporated known tunes of their era (Booth saying that the familiarity of the tunes attracted interest). How many classical music composers led suspect lives? Repetitive is in the eye of the beholder.


It’s fine if you prefer H (or even if you hate CW), but we do not have a biblical basis for judging someone based on his preference in this area (as long as the content of the songs are biblically accurate). The writer of the article which led to these short studies belongs to a church which denies eternal security. Obviously, singing “Blessed Assurance*” hasn’t helped him in that area.

I was listening to a radio network which plays only H. Fine. I sometimes enjoy hearing H. The DJ came on and before introducing the next song he named the network and added, “where the drums don’t drown out the message.” Now, on the face of the statement, he’s wrong. That is, if you attend a CW service, not only will you most likely hear every word, the words are probably splashed in huge letters on a screen (yes, some people freak out over screens too - see also “not a biblical issue”).

But what came next was even more stunning, he played an instrumental! That is, he played a song with NO message! I know a lot of hymns and I did not recognize the tune. For all I know, he could have simply been playing the music of some godless or heretical composer. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by instrumentals? No, by the Word of God.

These little studies are not exhaustive (nor are they meant to be). I simply want to start looking at music, literature, art, preaching through the lens of doctrine and not through the ever-changing, subjective moods of the flesh. That works both ways.


*The chorus of “Blessed Assurance” (“This is my story, this is my song/ praising my Savior all the day long;/this is my story, this is my song/ praising my Savior all the day long) could easily be a CW worship chorus. 

Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us. - William Booth




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