hymn book: relic or treasure?
by James Stevens
A prolific musician and composer of more than 200 songs.
Dr. Stevens writes a column for Christian Today online
Is the hymn book a relic of the past or a treasure for the future? Many seem to think that the traditional use of the hymn book has ended. I would hate to see this be the case.
Recently, I was surprised by a survey conducted by Ellison Research and released in “Facts and Trends” by LifeWay Christian Resources. It stated that while the use of Praise and Worship music has dramatically increased in congregations (with 74 percent including it in their worship services), the use of the traditional hymn has increased up to 88 percent. The use of the hymnal has also increased.
Before listening to much talk about the demise of the hymn book’s usefulness in our worship services, let’s consider some of its positive attributes.
Compiled by the Best
Most of the best hymn books have been compiled by top theologians, pastors, worship leaders, and lay leaders to ensure that hymn texts contain sound doctrine true to the Word of God and appropriate for its intended church or denominational use. This helps guard against lyrics creeping into our worship that may lack biblical integrity.
When using new music, pastors and worship leaders should carefully examine the words of the songs. A good hymn book provides an added confidence of theological integrity.
Hold That Book
There is nothing like holding a book and being able to carefully examine and meditate on the text. Many churches that project lyrics onto screens do not use or make available the actual book. This works all right for many new songs designed with a radio format. These songs offer lyrics that are quickly digested while making an immediate, although sometimes shallow, impact. Some of the best hymns, however, are rich in poetic imagery and contain theological depth that demands involved thinking and meditation.
Learn Hymn Stories
The hymn book is a history of our rich heritage—the stories and struggles of the saints who have gone before us. Its music and lyrics allow us to join an unending song passed down through the ages. One can learn many things by studying the lives of hymn writers and the times in which they wrote.
A good start would be to read some of the excellent books on hymns by Robert J. Morgan who pastors Donelson Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville. The stories of the great hymns are truly inspirational.
Test of Time
Should we use the best new music in our services? Absolutely! Many great new Christian songs have been written in recent years, with some of the best hymn texts being created by English writers. Some of these new songs will stand the test of time, although we can only truly say which ones in retrospect. With the hymn book, we have the music and words which have endured.
So, let’s not throw out the hymnal just yet. It is not an ancient relic of a time gone by, but a valuable treasure that can be used and passed on to future generations to the glory of God.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. James Stevens chairs the Music Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College. He is a prolific musician and composer of more than 200 songs. Dr. Stevens writes a column for Christian Today online magazine and serves as its senior music and culture advisor.
Adapted by permission from Christian Today, October 27, 2006, edition.