Sing the Hymns Again

Sing Them Again is the first in a series of articles “introducing the artists leading a renewal movement in church music.” This is a really encouraging movement going on right now. And I think this is the importance and heart of it,

a little research will reveal that many of the great hymn writers weren’t musicians; they were theologians who saw the power that song had in shaping the spiritual lives of their congregations. They worked as theological poets, writing hymns in meters that were commonly used amongst the churches, relying on melodies that were written by others.

Most of the groups in this movements had “had enough of the praise choruses we’d been singing in Bible studies and college ministries.” They are seeking a “renewal movement in church music, a synthesis of the hunger for creative, contextualized music, and of rich texts and deep connections to our history.”

Music of rich texts and theological depth is what our churches need. I pray that we would return to the rich, deep truths of Scripture that were written into the hymns that were once so familiar to us, but that have become nothing but a memory of childhood.

Mike Cosper, who wrote the article is part of Sojourn Church in Louisville of which Sojourn Music is part. Here are a few others in the movement: Indelible Grace, New Old Hymns, Page CXVI, and Sovereign Grace Music.

Is What We Sing Really Important?

I’ve been tracking this discussion for sometime now. It’s been almost a year since that one Sunday where the weight of the power of music came crashing down on me. Ever since that time, I’ve seen a steady flow of articles, blogs, and even a few books devoted to this topic.

I want to be specific about what I am referring to because there are broader views that we could take. We could look at worship as a whole, an all-encompassing definition. Such as the whole of the Christian life should be worship, which is true. We could get a little more specific and look at only what a church does as it gathers for worship on the Lord’s Day. Specifically the “worship time”. I want to go even more specific than that. I want to look at what a church sings. I want to look at what songs churches employ during these worship times, and what implications these decisions have for the congregation.

The origin of this discovery for me goes back almost two years, and when I was first introduced to this aspect of worship I wasn’t really paying much attention. Although, as this discussion has progressed, I find I was listening more than I thought I was. “Listening to what?”, you may ask. Well, Bob Kauflin was the primary voice.

It was during the 2008 Desiring God Conference where he gave the message, Words of Wonder: What happens when we sing?

A question that has remained with me from that message is, “If the teaching of our church was limited to the songs we sing, what would our people know?”

I’ll try to write a few of my thoughts on this first and then give you more resources than you probably want at the end. But, if you just want a few resources on the topic, skip to the bottom. I won’t hold it against you.

So, “Is what we sing really that important?” I’m sure many of us have never even entertained this question, which then begs me to ask, “Why haven’t we?” Shouldn’t we be asking these kinds of questions?

To find the answer, you have to go no further than looking around at what our modern/contemporary worship has become, little more than praise-chorus-producing, radio imbibed pop-culture. What ever happened to the importance of words? What ever happened to the meat that used to make our hymns tough for us to chew on?

Especially the songs we used to sing that would sting and pierce our hearts because they were filled with the convicting nature of the Word of God. Not the happy, upbeat, feel-good choruses that permeate so many of our churches, but yet so poorly represent what the true Christian life is really all about.

Yes, friends, the songs we sing really are that important.

“Put your ear to a church’s mouth — not your nose in her books — and there she will tell you what she truly believes, not just what she claims to believe. It is no coincidence, therefore, that virtually all communions within Christendom have their own distinctive hymnody. This mirror their theology. Nearly every schism within the church catholic has translated its falsehoods into rhythm and meter. Heresy cannot live long without hymnody.”

from Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 views, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (actual quote from Chad L. Bird) via Ad Fontes

We are so susceptible to being led astray doctrinally through the songs we sing. Now, you may respond, “our songs aren’t filled with heresy!” That’s fair, that may be true. Maybe they aren’t, but are you growing in your Christian life by their content? Are they making you think about and reflect on the deep truths of the faith?

What is the point of gathering on Sunday morning? When do most Christians receive instruction about how to live the Christian life? Exactly. So, why do we waste so much of that time singing meaningless songs that do nothing more than produce a false emotional high, and that give us a “feeling” that we’ve communed with God?

We would do well to serve our churches by tapping into many of the available resources that are available to us today. I feel we have to be more discerning in our generation, though, because there is almost too much available to us. We’ve lost what is truly good. Here are a few resources from those who have studied this much more in depth than I have, and who have much more wisdom than I.

LITERARY RESOURCES:
Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin
Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin’s blog
Biblical Worship, Resources on Worship and Music Ministry
Stuart Townend on Worship
Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal, T. David Gordon.

MUSICAL RESOURCES:
Indelible Grace
RUF Hymnbook
Sovereign Grace Music
High Street Hymns

I’m sure I will think of more after I post this, so check back.