Why Have Classic Hymns Essentially Been Banished from Churches Today?
I’m 58. I share that with you only to let you know how long I’ve been on this earth, and as a kid through to my early adult years, classic hymns were an essential part of the worship service at the churches I attended. There was (and remains), something very powerful in the majesty and deep theological truth of those hymns. Most were also played in a straightforward fashion with piano (and/or organ), and voices. That was it. There were no drums or percussive instrumentation, except when the particular hymn utilized a military march or cadence.
In the 1960s, life began to change drastically in America. The Beatles hit America’s radio stations and shores. What had been considered “rock” music before their time now became something different altogether.
It wasn’t long before potent psychedelic drugs became a “normal” part of American society. Music began to reflect that as well, with rock groups pushing the limit with both music and lyrics. Some of the groups at this time were Uriah Heep, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Three Dog Night, Steely Dan, Led Zepplin, and many others that forced young people to question everything, especially authority.
Even the Beatles changed from their look-a-like haircuts, suits, and pointed shoes, to men who appeared to be homeless, with long hair, beards, and clothes that seemed to tumble out of a second-hand store. The message was “revolution” in more ways than one, meaning drastic change to society.
More and more music today (both secular and Christian), also now incorporates more African-type beats to it (or what are known as “world beats”). There is a reason for this. People even today do not realize the power that music has over people. It can create emotional highs and lows that people sometimes mistake for elements of worship. I would hasten to add that music, in and of itself, is not amoral. Music alone can direct how we think and how we emote.
As someone who began playing in drums in 5th grade, I am very well aware of how much musical stylings have change throughout the decades. In fact, I have been involved in music (singing, piano, trumpet, and drums), since my very early years as a child. I’ve been in bands that produced records of original recordings where I was the lead singer and drummer. I have played with many bands in and out of churches over the years. However, I have pretty much given all of that up because of what music in church has become. I no longer care about it. I have chosen to play my drums in my basement for no other purposes but for fun and exercise (it’s a great aerobic!).
Hymns had, for the longest time, remained a constant in churches. Onward Christian Soldiers, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, It is Well, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and many other classic hymns written by men and women who knew God in Christ, who loved Him immensely, who marveled in His majesty, and who were dedicated to Him to their very last breath, were the essential part of any worship service.
But eventually, the “world” forced its way into the church for one stated purpose: young people. The leaders of many churches and denominations in the 1970s began to question the use of hymns. After all, they mused, these “old” hymns don’t mean the same thing to today’s youth as they do/did to yesterday’s adults.
The argument went that churches were deliberately or accidentally excluding young people from “Christianity” because there was nothing that attracted them. Slowly, hymns were set to the side, replaced with choruses. The choruses, in and of themselves, were not bad (for the most part). Choruses like Majesty!, Shine, Jesus, Shine, and many more certainly had some theological depth. The added benefit, of course, was that you could almost dance to it and what better way to attract the young? This meant that new instruments were needed. Sure, you could play these choruses on a piano or organ, but my goodness, wouldn’t they sound better with a drummer, an electric guitar, and bass (and I’ve been a drummer for years)? Of course they would. Then, if you get young people from the church playing those instruments, you will not only include them, but their friends as well! Wow, think of the possibilities of keeping Christianity alive through music! Whoo hoo!
But of course, it didn’t stop there. Go into almost any mainline church today and what you will see can often only be described as a show. It is really a form of entertainment and how dare those of us who would rather sing hymns even deign to complain about the lack of them. How utterly selfish, arrogant, and self-aggrandizing that there are still folks today who actually want to sing the old hymns, without all the upbeat change-ups and heavy instrumentation. Don’t we know that we need to do what we can to attract young people into the church too, because God clearly cannot do it without our help, can He?
But if you take the time to listen to the so-called Christian music of today, much of it is short on majesty, theology, and reverence and long on showmanship. Take time to really listen to the singer of some of the music that is being pushed by Christian artists. Some of them sound as though – forgive me – they are sexually aroused while they are singing. That is the growing trend. Then, when a young woman gets up in church to do the same song, who do you think she imitates? Yes, the original artist. So, there she is, standing at the microphone, both hands on the mic, sort of “growling” and slightly swaying as she croons her way though the song. When she’s done? People applaud. They applaud, which simply proves to me that all eyes are on the singer and not God.
That’s another thing that bugs me. Why do some congregations applaud so much in church? No one applauds when the Scripture is read publicly, do they? No one applauds at the end of a sermon, do they? There may be a few “amens,” but in general, no real excitement. No, we reserve our applause for all the “entertainment” we hear in churches today. Isn’t that swell that the singer/musician is using his/her gifts for the Lord? The pastor is using his gifts as well in teaching and preaching. We don’t applaud him, do we? There is something terribly wrong with this mentality that places musicians/singers above others in churches today. All Christians have gifts. I certainly don’t want people applauding mine. I feel uncomfortable when people tell me how great they think my teaching is. My teaching should direct people to the Lord and for that, I should receive no applause or acclamation. HE gave me the gift (if I have it), in the first place. I did not create it within myself. Let’s get beyond this way of thinking.
Hymns have been basically banished in their original form from the church. If they are sung at all in a church service, it is usually changed up, with a rock beat added. This needs to happen so that everyone can clap along and smile big time. Can you feel the excitement? This translates to “worshiping” God for too many people.
Today’s church caters to young people because they are the next generation. The older folks are expected to accept it, suck it up, and even willingly step aside. No hymns, at least not the way they were sung growing up. Older believers are expected to sit at the back of the bus while the new, younger, less-discerning Christians take over. We then wonder why so many are leaving today’s churches.
Aren’t you glad they didn’t do that with Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Aaron, Jesus, Paul, and others? Wisdom looks pretty good on older believers. Lack of wisdom and discernment leaves young people looking naive and naked. Yet, instead of mentoring them, we essentially part the waters for them. We tell them, “It’s YOUR turn! Enjoy! I have to move out the way now!”
There is no reason why old and young believers together cannot appreciate God’s beauty during the worship service. There is no reason why hymns have to be banished in their original form so that young people don’t become “bored” and walk away. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In truth, if young people (or anyone!), will walk away because of a style of music, then one can only wonder how deep their love of God is in the first place.
I believe that both styles of music can be utilized in church services today, yet hymns have taken the hit for the sake of being “with it.” Is it because too many pastors believe that going back to the hymns in their original form means going backwards?
Let me leave you with a video of hymns as instrumentals. Lift your hearts to God. Worship Him in His splendor and majesty, with the reverence that today’s so-called Christian music can rarely achieve.