Sing Unto the Lord

We are un-teaching ourselves grace
August 23, 2007, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Thinking Music

On the weekend we sung a new rewrite of an old hymn called ‘Before Jehovah’s awful throne’. It’s by Isaac Watts and the new version could be online sometime soon.

It got me thinking again about why we teach Hymns to a modern congregation. Don’t we have enough people writing praise choruses without going back to the old stuff? A freind of mine told me that he doesn’t understand why our church does hymns because surely people can’t relate to something that says ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in it. It seems that singing hymns needs some kind of explanation. I reckon there are heaps of reasons why we should still sing hymns. Heres just one of them. (I haven’t written about this stuff for a while so I thought it would be apt. Sorry if you have heard me talk about this stuff lots. I will continue to do it.)
Modern Praise Choruses are filled with longing and promises: “I want to worship you” “I will sing of your love forever” “Here I am to worship” “Lord we want to bow before your throne” Some are quite explicit vows: “I make a vow that I will always honour Christ whether I live or die”.
As you look through the songs that we sing we are obsessed with promising things to God. We will love him more, we will worship him harder, we will be fired up everyday of our lives.
I wonder if with all this promising and longing, we are teaching ourselves that we need to work for our salvation. We need to prove something to God. I think that there is a place for making some sort of vow to God or for expressing a longing to serve him, but to quote Kevin Twit, ‘a constant diet of promise songs leave you spiritually immature’.
Compare this to the Christian life seen in the hymns. I will take Rock of Ages as an example because it is so well known ‘could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, you must save and you alone.’
Rather than only feeding us with songs of response the hymns bathe us in God’s grace. They show us God’s saving power and teach us to rely only on him. I think that many modern song writers do this too, but our individualistic western culture always drags us into thinking that we need to do something.
Keep singing hymns and keep trusting God.

4 Comments so far
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Amen! Give me a good diet of hymns any day!

I like the way you’ve expressed this – hymns bathing us in God’s grace, rather than teaching ourselves that we need to work for our salvation.

Comment by Andy M

Dan I really love your commitment to hymns and your desire to arrange them so that our churches don’t sound like a 1900’s Irish church.

But I wonder if you have made your point too strongly in favour of Hymns and so against modern praise choruses. Many of the modern praise choruses are in fact following in the tradition of scripture (see below).

I propose a balance of songs that give us reasons to praise the Lord, and songs that enable us to express our response to his great love and power.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7 ESV)

“it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20 ESV)

“I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.” (Psalms 59:16 ESV)

Comment by Toby Neal

I totally agree with your balance idea Toby. I didn’t mean to say that Praise choruses that sing of an emotional response to God have no place in our singing. I think that they do. Singing itself is a response!
My point was that singing only about our vows and promises to God would be unhelpful.
I have some CDs where every song is about how I am going to sing forever and honour God forever but say little about God’s grace to me. That is unhelpful I think.

(I would like to be in a 1900s Irish church. Is that bad?)

Comment by Dan

I agree!! Although Dan you do know my position on the “well-knowness” of Rock of Ages.

Comment by Dale Kerrigan

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