Do you love the old hymns? Do they give you comfort, solace, or hope? Or do they seem distant, irrelevant, and unimportant? Do hymns move you or lose you? Even if you love the latest worship music and feel lost when the old hymns are sung, there is special beauty and meaning in hymns that you can appreciate.
I was pondering this just the other week when the church choir sang. One week, they sang a beautiful, moving, and very serious arrangement of Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring, an old Bach piece that has been around for many generations and still finds its place in church. The following week, the choir moved to the opposite extreme with a fun loving number entitled, “I’ve Got Joy.” This upbeat, Gospel piece was accompanied by an ensemble made up of drums, bass, B-2, and a piano. The congregation had a fascinating appreciation for both styles of music.
I freely admit that I do love hearing and singing the newest songs, and discovering through music how God is working right now in the lives of my generation. It inspires me, it moves me, and it helps me. But I also find that the old hymns are genuine treasures, full of deep nuggets of theology, beautifully crafted music, and a connection to generations of Christians long gone on to sing in God’s presence.
What is it about hymns that I find so special? First of all, It is interesting to think that these songs we think of as old and “traditional” were once contemporary and new. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was based on a bar song, if you will – the pop song of its day, something new for that long gone generation. I love the connection to Christians in our churches history. They experienced trials and difficulties that we cannot fathom and sung about how God helped them through.. They experienced miracles that showed God working in their generation, further proof that He still works in ours. They shared their joy in His resurrection, His hope, His sustenance. They shared their struggles and their victories in a musical voice unique to their own generations, a voice that reminds us that God is present in our lives just as He was present in theirs. .
I also love the depth of the theology in the old hymns. Each verse was simply jam packed with enough theology to ponder until the following weeks service. Contemporary music still packs a theological punch, but often the songs rehash a single theme, allowing you to ponder a single Scripture or idea. Both are great ways to worship and I find that having both old and new worship songs offers a more complete worship experience.
I also love the musical depth found in the old hymns. As each verse is jam packed with many nuggets of theology, each note of the old hymns is jam packed with moving chords, passing tones, and intricate counterpoint. It can be difficult to simply an old hymn as the chord structures often moved as quickly as the melody moved along.
Which is better? The old hymns or the latest worship songs? My answer, of course, is neither. They are both precious gifts from the Lord that we can use to worship the Lord. Certainly, a particular song or a particular style may fit a specific service or situation better than others. And naturally, most of us well resonate with a particular style, or worship band, or even a particular song more than others. That’s ok, too. Music is very personal and very unique to each person. But my hope and my prayer is that we can all worship our Lord and Savior with all different kinds and types of songs, that we can find ways to engage ourselves in singing God’s praises even when the music is not our favorite genre. Next week, our choir is singing a beautiful arrangement of a contemporary piece, accompanied by a background track. It will be a bit different than the past two weeks. But it will be worship.