Hymnals and Looking Backwards

Should Churches Go Back To Using Hymnals?

This post from the Ponder Anew blog has been floating around the interwebs recently. It’s technically well written (good grammar choices, punctuation, etc) but it falls flat on the lack of strength in it’s own arguments.

I’m sure the author is a nice guy, good husband, and a brother to me in Jesus. But he’s also holding the flag for a past tradition. According to his argument, it’s not enough just to sing hymns. We have to sing them using traditional (old outdated) technology in church buildings with traditional (old outdated) architectural styles. Why? Because that’s the way the author likes it.

The authors post is summed up with three foundational principles:

1. Nonsense

2. Personal Preference

3. Idolatry of the Past

But What About Us?

It’s easy to rip on someone with a different point of view, especially when it’s a silly notion of the world. The hard thing is not to make the same mistakes.

We can’t let Sonic Flood, Chris Tomlin, or Jesus Culture become the new hymns of the past in 20 years. Folks stuck in the traditions of the 1950’s or the 1850’s are easy to spot. 2005 or 1995 are a little harder.

Additionally, we can’t be guilty of doing the equal and opposite thing. If your reasons for embracing new songs, technology and forms of worship are for the same reasons as those who won’t move on (Nonsense, personal preference, idolatry of the future) then you and I are just as guilty on the other side of the coin.

My take?

Worship Jesus. Follow Jesus.

Do so in a way that speaks to and serves the people you have now while not making it impossible to speak to and serve the people you will have in 5 years.


Have your say in the comments below

6 thoughts on “Hymnals and Looking Backwards

  1. Interesting article. I was surprised at the number of positive comments he received. I wouldn’t have thought this was such a big issue for people. I grew up in a tradition where we used hymnals but I never learned to read music or sing parts. That came later with formal music training. One thought that occurred to me is that for people who don’t read music (probably 90% of our congregation) music notation in a hymnal would be a distraction. I would also think for many churches cost is an issue. Hymnals aren’t cheap. Projecting lyrics on a screen is a lot more cost effective. It seems it would also limit introducing new songs including hymns not in the hymnal. Having said that, I do own several old hymnals and enjoy reading them and often find “new” songs to introduce to our congregation.

    1. I wasn’t surprised about the response. He’s in the Bible Belt so it’s not surprising. Even on the west coast you’ll find a church or church leader like that, they are just more isolated.

      They aren’t an issue so much as people who migrate from those churches to ours but still hold those traditionalist leanings.

  2. Riley Taylor

    I primarily agree with you, but I don’t think you addressed any of his points, several of which are fair. The consideration of distractions of space is an important one, even if his specifics are non-applicable or outdated.

    Also, he brings out some great benefits of the hymnal, such as discovering new songs. One day before a funeral service, I heard a lady at Calvary practicing an old hymn from a hymnal, and I just had to know what it was. It became a favorite worship song for the church.

    The ease of anticipating upcoming lyrics is another benefit, as is people learning music, rather than consuming it. I don’t think these issues have everything to do with using hymnals, but they are good considerations.

    However, lines like “It may be a secondary issue, but it’s also a theological one” are troubling, because he never proves it, so I’m left where you’re at. You make a great point, but I don’t think it’s a counterpoint to his points.

    1. I’m working through if there’s a good way to write a direct response to his points.

      Here’s the thing. I’m a “hymns guy” whatever that means. But his thing isn’t hymns. It’s the hymnals themselves. That’s the big red flag for me

  3. bradrhine

    This reminds me of an exchange I had with someone who has since left my church.
    Them: “Why don’t we use hymnals?”
    Me: “There are actually a lot of reasons. For one, hymnals encourage people to look down rather than up. And in a very practical sense, it’s really hard to add new songs to the hymnal.”
    Them: “Why do we need new songs?”
    Me: Audible sigh……

  4. levinjapan

    I don´t care if songs at church are from the hymnal as long as they´re biblical. I must confess I don´t feel comfortable being bombarded by CCMs and many songs that can´t even quote the name of the Lord but, on the other hand, songs played along with organs kinda take my motivation to sing…I know this is totally personal but I think ALL should be respected.Being caught up in style doesn’t add up to the kingdom of God.

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