One of the most obvious examples of the downward spiral of Christianity—and civilization as a whole, for that matter—is what has happened to our music.
The world’s “taste” in music went from orchestral to mainly electronic in the space of about forty years. Even popular music was entirely orchestral (the “big bands” consisted of actual musical instruments played by actual people who knew how to play them—trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets, guitars, pianos, drums, etc.) up until the 1950’s. At that point, most of the other real instruments (except the drums) were dropped in favor of electric guitars (developed in the 30’s), which became the most popular instrument in pop music.
Fast-forward to the 1980’s and beyond, and you don’t even need the guitars; you have entirely synthesized music, synthesized voices, synthesized talent, and synthesized people, who are “airbrushed” with photoshop and presented to you in “music videos.” By the way, music itself is supposed to paint a picture in your mind; the fact that a video is necessary to convey the “message” just proves that the music isn’t worth a dime.
The fornicating dope-heads and drunks in the music industry today like Fergie and Brittany Spears ought to be arrested for “attempted music,” and hauled off to the trashy trailer park where they belong. There is hardly any talent there whatsoever. “Music” is now a media-driven phenomenon where the women have to dress like strippers and writhe around the stage like animals to be known as “talented performers.” By and large, the music (if there are any vestiges left of it) and the voice of the singer are the last things on anybody’s mind.
The main goal of the contemporary christian movement is to “keep up with” the world. As far as the CCM leaders are concerned, the church is in a competition with Hollywood and the music industry when it comes to what they provide for their audiences (after all, having and keeping a big audience is key, right?).
The ignorance of such thinking is astounding. Biblically illiterate clowns that they are, the CCM crowd is not only oblivious to the fact that the church is failing miserably in the so-called “competition”—the world has much better movies, entertainment, music, and much greater popularity—but that they were never supposed to be in any such “competition” in the first place.
The Christian is instructed to be SEPARATE from the world and the world-lings, and “come out from among them”—not “join up and be like them” (II Cor. 6:17). Christians have no business copying the world’s Madison Avenue techniques for drawing people in, getting their money, and keeping them happy; and yet this is precisely what the contemporary movement has done. Music is a big part of it.
CCM leaders look at the crowds of young people that Pop music “artists” bring in, and think “WE could have crowds like that if we give the young people that music; we’ll just throw Jesus’ name into the song every now and then and make it ‘Christian.’” This approach is entirely carnal, of course. It’s a carnal nature trying to manipulate people in a manner completely devoid of the will or dealings of God the Holy Spirit; it’s carnal music being used (appealing to the flesh alone), whether Jesus’ name happens to be thrown in or not; it has a carnal goal as its end, for nowhere in the scriptures is a Christian commanded to do anything in order to gain popularity or draw a crowd (these are wholly egotistical desires); and it has a carnal result: CARNAL, BIBLICALLY ILLITERATE, UNSPIRITUAL, WORLDLY Christians, with no spiritual discernment whatsoever, whose minds and spirits have been jaded by electrical interference.
This desire to compete with “pop music” has spelled “the end” the for the hymn book; it has to go. It offers NOTHING that compares to pop music.
And perhaps that is a summary example of the indisputable truth that the hymnal should stay, by all means.
Here are a few reasons the church hymnal is indispensable.
Hymnals are musical.
Hymnals actually teach music.
We’re making less music than ever before. Oh, to be sure, there’s lots of music going on around us, but very few people are actually making it. We’re just consuming it, or at the very most, singing along with music someone else made first. There are reasons for this, the primary one being the issue of “inspiration.” There has been little new inspiration for songs of the calibre found in our hymnals because a perfect and inspired King James Bible has been stolen from the body of Christ and replaced with plastic, substitute versions that have no spiritual power (Ecc. 8:4). Of course there is also the problem of Christians who HAVE an inspired King James Bible but don’t READ IT.
We won’t venture down those rabbit trails here, as we are simply trying to focus on the good things about the hymnal. The truth is, even an untrained musician can look at the words and music in the hymnal and learn to follow melodic direction (the melody) and rhythmic value (the timing).
Hymnals set a performance standard.
Contemporary “worship” music is based on recording (learning “by ear”) instead of notation (following musical notes). This is endlessly confusing, and it opens each song up to individual interpretation. Without notes to follow, it is exceedingly hard to sing well as a congregation. Hymnals fix that. Everybody has the same notation, so we all know how the song is supposed to go.
Hymnals integrate the music and text.
This is connected with the previous point. It is possible to learn a song “by ear," but words on a screen give no musical information. Hymnals fix that. Singers aren’t dependent upon learning the song by rote.
Hymnals are practical.
Hymnals allow you to sing anywhere.
When you depend on projection to display hymn or song texts, you’re bound to do your music making in a space outfitted with sufficient media (laptops, projectors, sound equipment, etc). And what happens when the power goes out?
It could be argued that “the power” is already out, hence the need for the electronics.
Hymnals allow people to take ownership of the music.
Some members of the congregation like to find out the next Sunday’s hymns during the previous week, so they can open up their hymnal, refresh the words, and work on their part so they’re prepared to lend their voices.
Preparation like that is one of the ways music making becomes a worshipful activity. Time and energy is sacrificed to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Hymnals make it possible for people to have easy access to the best songs, at any time.
Hymnals don’t screw things up.
Unless some kid has ripped the page out of your hymnal, you know the hymn you’re looking for is going to be there. Technology lets us down all the time, and if it happens in the middle of a song or hymn, you’re sunk. It can be a real distraction and hindrance to worshipping God in song.
Hymnals are as helpful as the singer needs them to be.
It’s hard to ignore a screen, no matter how well you know the song being sung. Its mere presence sends most people into a trance. There are times I have to pay close attention to the hymnal. At a recent meeting, we sang the hymn Immortal, Invisible. I know of the hymn, but I didn’t grow up singing it. I had to follow the book the entire time. I needed the hymnal. When it came time for the invitation hymn, I Surrender All, I rose, opened the hymnal, and held it out for my wife, but hardly looked at it once. I long ago memorized every note and word of this hymn. I was free to look up and out and enjoy the surroundings.
Hymnals teach doctrine.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; TEACHING AND ADMONISHING one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3;16)
It’s commanded in Scripture that Christian music is to teach us some things, and warn us about some things. Hymnals are a sort of theological textbook.
Sometimes a song can be a little “off,” doctrinally, but you can still get a blessing from what’s correct in it, and you can instruct the congregation where it should be corrected. Some Christmas hymns—like It Came Upon A Midnight Clear—fall into that category as they were written by post-millennialists (look at verse 4). Other songs must remain unsung because they’re completely wrong (In A Cave).
But for the most part, the hymn book is a treasure trove of Bible truth. Eternal security is taught in Blessed Assurance and Once For All! Justification is addressed in Arise My Soul, Arise!; the Blood Atonement in There Is A Fountain; the Rapture in When We See Christ and It Is Well; enduring trouble is addressed in hymns such as Like A River Glorious. It goes on, and on. Then you have the warnings for the lost who reject Jesus Christ in What Will You Do With Jesus? (the line, “someday your heart will be asking, WHAT WILL HE DO WITH ME?” sends chills down my spine every time I sing it); or the Christian who wastes his life in Shall I Go And Empty-Handed?
There is no perfect hymnal, but well-crafted hymnals are reliable sources of theological information.
Hymnals involve taking action.
Hymnals make people work. Picking up the hymnal, finding the right page, and holding it up to sing grounds you in time and space. Feeling the weight in your hand engages you in the activity more than staring at a screen ever could.
Hymnals are not particularly distracting.
Screens are actually very difficult to follow. Whenever I’m forced to read a projected text, I am so easily lost in the colors, backgrounds, and movements. I find myself anticipating when the next slide will be advanced. When I’m using a hymnal, none of that comes into play. I have the words and music, and I don’t even have to worry about turning the page.
Hymnals preserve the aesthetics of the sanctuary.
There is rarely a good place to hang a screen. Even worse, when installed into older spaces, the result can be a visual nightmare. Wires and screens, chrome, and black, white, or silver plastic boxes laying all over the place clutter up a nice, clean church sanctuary that ideally should feel uncluttered for purposes of dealing with God without distraction.
Hymnals confront us with “new” songs.
We tend to go back to our favorite songs too often. It’s easy to fall into a rut. I recently looked back on it, and was a little embarrassed at how much we had sung several hymns. Not that there was anything wrong with the hymns, but the congregation needs to be stretched to learn unfamiliar songs. When I visit other churches for meetings, I’m sometimes forced to sing hymns that I don’t know, or that aren’t among my favorites. After the initial discomfort of trying to sing a song I don’t know, I begin to pay attention to the words. Often, these “new” hymns turn out to be great sources of encouragement to me, even though they were once unfamiliar and foreign.
Hymnals make songs less disposable.
Okay, obviously you can throw a hymnal away if you want; but text on a screen is there one second and gone the next. There’s no visible permanence. Hymnals are symbols of consistency. They give life and breath to the great songs. They demonstrate that what we sing is worth keeping around.
Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people.
Congregations watching screens are at the mercy of whoever is sitting behind the computer. Holding hymnals reminds us of the fact that the voice of the congregation is the primary instrument God wants used when we worship Him in the local church.
Is it a sin to “follow the bouncy ball?” I don’t know; where is the ball bouncing TO? I know in whose “court” the vast majority of bouncy balls are found. I don’t believe it’s a good thing, and “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17), so there you go.
I believe it best to hang on to our hymnals for the very good and valid reasons stated above. In addition, when a church gets rid of its hymn book, another Book, the King James Bible, has been statistically proven to follow.
And that’s not a road on which I have any interest in traveling.
[In the interests of ethical disclosure, I want the reader to know the outline for this essay is not original to this author. I don’t know where I came across the points, but they have been edited and altered to make them my own, and original material has been added.—GLC]