Music is central to worship so it may come as no surprise to you that the question of whether hymns are better than contemporary worship songs is a subject of debate. While contemporary worship songs have grown in popularity in the 20th century and are quite moving, the truth is the number of hymn-singing churches is shrinking. Hymns have a rich history and depth that shouldn’t be erased.
Did you know that “Amazing Grace,” Americans’ favorite hymn according to a Gallup Poll was written by the former captain of a slave ship. The “wretch” referenced in the song was John Newton, who eventually became an Anglican minister and worked to abolish the slave trade.
What about “How Grea Thou Art” by Carl Gustav Boberg. This hymn is a plea and a declaration of God’s greatness and majesty following a thunderstorm he was caught in. Following the storm, a rainbow spread across the sky, the birds were singing and the church bells rang softly. He couldn’t contain his praise and decided to write the song about what he felt was the overwhelming power of God.
Then, there’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” written by Martin Luther was a hymn that was a battle hymn of the faith, so much so that it is known as “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 46. As the Protestant reformation continued, many experienced persecution and even death. In their final moments, many were known to sing the stanza, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.”
These hymns have profound background stories and though many of these songs written before 1900, they still speak to us.
A hymn is a deep expression of worship. These songs are celebrations of who God is and what He has done for us. They are also songs of thanksgiving, praise and joy in our Heavenly Father.
Jonathan Aigner, a writer on Patheos.com argues that hymns are better than contemporary worship songs. He also explains that hymns are for congregations while contemporary worship songs are non-congregational in structure.
“Hymns are a written tradition, contemporary songs are a commercially-recorded enterprise. This is important because recorded music is inherently non-congregational. It is fundamentally a piece to showcase an individual or small group. While that might be fine in any other setting, it’s not worship,” Aigner said.
Aigner also addresses how hymns may not have the same popularity contemporary worship songs have right now but they have a certain rawness because they haven’t conformed.
“Hymns aren’t written in a popular idiom that is marketable and profitable. They are written in a simple style that doesn’t need to conform to any popular entertainment genre. The result is something more lasting, less derivative, and isn’t bound by industry standards. Exclusive allegiance to contemporary worship allows the church’s worship to be hijacked by the worship industry, which is first and foremost a money-making enterprise,” Aigner said.
Hymns always have been a key part of worship. The Bible tells us, “And David danced before the Lord will all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14). Sing and dance like David. Turn up the praise music. Lift your hands in the air and dance with joy. Psalm 149:3 says, “They should praise Him with dancing. They should sing praises to Him with tambourines and harps. While hymns may not be as popular nowadays, they are extremely personal.
As Christians, we are called to worship. This is one of the powerful ways we communicate with God and develop a closer relationship with Him. Hymns are a great way to speak our faith story out loud and get closer to God. Many hymns were written from some of the realest places people were in and we can feel that when we sing them, even though they were written so long ago.
There are lots of things that can distract us from God. It is a constant struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and to not be distracted by the passing concerns and things of this world. We also live in a world filled with racket. Outside of worship on Sundays, it can be hard to keep focused on God. We can start out our day telling ourselves we won’t allow anything to distract us from talking with or spending time with God, then, not a few moments later, find something catching our attention that keeps us from exceeding. A lot of this has to do with what we allow into our lives that can distract us from God.
There are so many things in this world that fight for our time and when we allow them to take too much of it, we lose our focus. However, what would life look like and feel like if we were to worship daily in such an invigorating way that even when we aren’t worshiping in church, the worship might linger and invigorate us? We have the power to do just that. A great way to start is by beginning each day with a classic worship hymn.
If we are aware of what can, and does, interfere with our walks with God, we can begin to take the necessary actions to prevent them. When make worship a priority and focus on the words in our favorite hymns, we can sense God’s presence in all that we do. Instead of our day to day lives seeming mundane, we can live our day to day lives with a serene, abiding sense of God’s presence.