For some people, singing is simple entertainment, a distraction from everyday life. For many people, singing is a pleasurable experience, but it also has positive effects on life. It can help us temporarily forget events we may be worrying about. Singing can improve memorization skills, as we learn the words to a song. Singing with a group of people improves socialization skills, whether it’s a duet or a large congregation. Singing causes people to breath deeply, increasing oxygen in the bloodstream and brain. The list of benefits to singing goes on.
While those are all benefits, none of them are the primary reason Christians sing during church services. Singing should be an act of worship to God. The Bible mentions singing in many places, but I’ll give a few examples of Psalms that have the introductory phrase “To the choirmaster”. It seems these Psalms (and others) were songs meant to be sung, not just read or recited.1
- Psalm 4 – Answer Me When I Call
- Psalm 5 – Lead Me in Your Righteousness
- Psalm 6 – O Lord, Deliver My Life
- Psalm 8 – How Majestic Is Your Name
- Psalm 9 – I Will Recount Your Wonderful Deeds
- Psalm 11 – The Lord Is in His Holy Temple
- Psalm 12 – The Faithful Have Vanished
- Psalm 13 – How Long, O Lord?
- Psalm 14 – The Fool Says, There Is No God
- Psalm 18 – The Lord Is My Rock and My Fortress
- Psalm 19 – The Law of the Lord Is Perfect
- Psalm 20 – Trust in the Name of the Lord Our God
- Psalm 21 – The King Rejoices in the Lord’s Strength
- Psalm 22 – Why Have You Forsaken Me?
For the past few months, I’ve been frequently listening to traditional Christian hymns on a music streaming service. I find traditional hymns much more meaningful to me than most contemporary Christian music. It seems many churches use contemporary music, which I believe is a disservice for the congregation. Below are my top complaints about much of the music I hear in church.
Give Me Time to Think!
Music is often played too fast. If the purpose of music is worship, then the songs should be played slow enough for people to contemplate the words and the meaning of the song.
Repeat, Again and Again
Some contemporary Christian songs repeat the chorus again, and again, and again. It often becomes monotonous for me before the song ends. When a song becomes monotonous, I stop thinking about the words, or the reason for singing. I’m not worshipping God anymore. At that point, the song is actually detrimental to my worship. A chorus between verses is fine, but please don’t keep repeating it.
God, Jesus and Lord or Me, Myself and I?
Several years ago, I heard a commentary discussing who was emphasized in the songs. The commentator suggested counting the number of times the song referred to the singers (me, myself, I, we, us, our, etc.) and compare it to the number of times God (God, Jesus, Lord, Savior, etc.) is mentioned. His thesis was contemporary Christian music puts more emphasis on the singer than traditional hymns do.
God does want us bring our concerns the Him; there’s nothing wrong with that. If you look at the titles for Psalms 4, 5 and 6, you’ll see that’s what King David did. There are quite a few Psalms where David starts with a complaint, but ends the Psalm with praise. The hymn Amazing Grace has a similar style, and doesn’t refer to God in the first (or second) verse.
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Now look at the titles for Psalms 8, 9 and 11; those have the emphasis on God. How Great Thou Art is a well-known hymn. The words Lord, God, Thy, Savoiur, Thee and Thou are used 14 times in the first verse and refrain; the words my and I are used 8 times in the same verse and refrain:
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
I think too many contemporary songs are closer to Psalms 4, 5 and 6, focusing on the singer, rather than focusing on God’s, like Psalms 8, 9 and 11.
Theology, not Feelings
I believe traditional hymns are better at teaching theology than contemporary music. Hymns can teach theology in a way that’s more memorable than a sermon. A pastor giving a 20-30 minute sermon on a theological point is less likely to get the congregation to remember it than a 2 or 3 minute song that’s sung once in a while.
On the other hand, I feel contemporary music focuses more on feelings than theology. Singing should bring us joy at worshipping our Creator, but we don’t have to sacrifice teaching to do it.
Worship, not Entertainment
For Christians, the purpose of singing is to worship God, and that can be accomplished with many styles of music. Singing shouldn’t be done simply because it’s a habit, because it’s entertaining, or to fill up time during the service. Singing should direct our attention to God.
Pay Attention, Everyone
Years ago, I asked a person on a church’s worship team why traditional hymns were rarely played. The answer was that traditional hymns are often too long. People like to sing a variety of songs during the church service, and if hymns were used they’d have to sing one less song. I’m not sure if the comment meant hymns wouldn’t fit into the time allotted for singing, or if the expected attention span of the congregation was too short. Either reason is a poor excuse for not singing hymns.
Don’t Change the Words
A pet peeve of mine is when a beautiful hymn starts to play, then part way through the rhythm changes, some new words are thrown in for a verse or two, then the song goes back to the traditional end of the hymn. That will definitely take me out of a worshipful mood. Those songs often violate several of my points above. I greatly prefer the original, not the updated version of it.
Contemporary Christian Hymns
I’m aware of a few more contemporary songs that have a similar feel and meaning to traditional hymns:
- King of Kings by Hillsong Worship, 2019 (Lyrics Video; other YouTube videos)
- In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty, 2001 (Official Lyric Video; other Youtube videos)
Please comment here or on Facebook other contemporary Christian songs that seem like traditional hymns I should put on my list (more people will likely see suggestions on Facebook than here).
- The titles are taken from the English Standard Version.