And Why They Are False!
#10 Hymns do not attract nonbelievers to Christ
True. Neither does any other kind of music. Nonbelievers are attracted to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Hymns and other types of music are merely tools that may be used by the Holy Spirit. The spirited and meaningful singing of hymns may be just as powerful an incentive for nonbelievers to investigate the cause of Christ as the spirited and meaningful singing of pop-style Christian music.
#9 Hymns require the ability to read music
This argument would be a surprise to the millions of Christians of previous generations who participated whole-heartedly in hymn singing without being able to read a note of music. The first book of congregational song published in America, the Bay Psalm Book (which contained no music), was issued more than 350 years ago, but hymnals containing music have been standard in the United States for only about 150 years. And even after musical hymnbooks became common, the vast majority of people who sang from them were not accomplished music readers. Music reading ability is helpful in hymn singing and should be encouraged, but it is by no means necessary for participations.
#8 Hymns all sound alike
Hymn texts and tunes range in date from the fourth to the twenty-first centuries. They were written in different countries by various authors and composers, and in contrasting styles and idioms. How can they all sound alike? They only sound identical if we sing and play them all alike. If they all sound the same, it is not the fault of the hymns—it is the fault of the hymn leader.
#7 Hymns are all slow
Some hymns are indeed slow, particularly ones that are meditative or reflective in character like O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (PASSION CHORALE) or When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (HAMBURG). But would we really want to sing the messages of these hymns fast? On the other hand, many hymns can and should be sung at an exuberant pace, such as The Master Has Come (ASH GROVE) or We’re Marching to Zion (MARCHING TO ZION).
#6 Hymns are all long
Most hymns have from three to five stanzas—about the same length as an average contemporary Christian song. In earlier days, hymns in some traditions did indeed have twenty or more stanzas, but they were often sung with stanzas alternating between the congregation, choir, and organ. Even these longer hymns have usually been pared down to the now-standard three-to-five stanzas. And, of course, one can always leave out stanzas, provided the integrity and message of the text is kept intact.
#5 Hymns can only be accompanied by organ and/or piano
Certainly, hymns have traditionally been accompanied by keyboard instruments. But there is no reason at all that other instruments cannot be used, including tubas, saxophones, violas, accordions, recorders, orchestras, and praise bands. Hymn accompaniment is limited only by the imagination of the leader.
#4 Young people don’t like them
This suggestion is a real disservice to young people. It assumes they are so wrapped up in one type of music that they are not willing to explore other sorts of music. Like all humans, young people have favorite kinds of music that they listen to or participate in on a regular basis, but youth are much more broad-minded than they are usually given credit for. The same young person who listens to rock music on the radio may play in a school band and sing in a church youth choir. If introduced and sung in a meaningful and effective manner, young people will take to a hymn as readily as they will to any type of music or text so long as “their” music is not totally abandoned.
#3 Hymns are full of theological jargon
Some hymns do indeed include words that are not common in everyday American speech—terms such as “righteousness,” “justified,” and “Ebenezer.” But then the same is true of the Bible, which is the source of all these words as they are used in hymns. If we abandon hymns because they contain an occasional word, phrase, or concept that is not a part of contemporary casual parlance, we will probably have to abandon the Bible also (not to mention Shakespeare, Bunyan, Keats, Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville).
#2 Hymns are about God, not sung to God
Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course there are hymns that are not addressed to God, but rather teach us about who God is and what he has done, such as This Is My Father’s World or Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. The same is true of many contemporary Christian songs and choruses. There are also numerous songs in both categories that are directed to God, including the historic hymns Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, How Great Thou Art, and Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.
#1 Hymns are all old
This will be news to the many persons both young and old who are writing hymns today in a diversity of styles, including Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Dan Damon, Adam Tice, Carl P. Daw, Thomas Troeger, Ruth Duck, Rae Whitney, Sally Ann Morris, Delores Dufner and dozens of others. There is indeed a historic heritage of hymns that continues to be relevant and needed in the present day, but hymns continue to be written and sung, addressing topics that are as ancient as the psalms and as contemporary as the web blog. Indeed, recent years have seen an outpouring of hymn texts and tunes that has seldom been matched in the past. And, when you get right down to it, most popular Christian songs follow the same form as hymns, consisting of several stanzas with or without a refrain; in essence, the majority of these works are merely hymns that employ a particular musical style.
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