Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What happened to hymn writing?

I was reading an article recently that was talking about the difference in our older hymns and the Christian music that is being written today. There is a difference. I've thought about it before, and have done some thinking on it lately, and decided to put my thoughts in a blog post. Some may agree with me, and some may disagree, which is fine. Just don't label me a heretic for daring to say something you disagree with. Anything I say about a style of music is not a personal criticism of you, and don't take it as such.

  A few months ago, I was listening to the only program I listen to regularly, The Gospel Greats. It is all Southern Gospel music, which is my favorite, and is the best music there is,in my opinion. On this particular program, it was an all hymns edition. Every song that was played was a hymn with chats with some of the artists who had recorded them. More than one music artist commented on the positive response they get when they sing hymns in concert. And I've noticed it. I have been to concerts and enjoyed all or most of the songs, but there is something different about it when they sing an old familiar hymn.

  It has been said that just because something is old, that does not make it good. And on the flip side, just because something is new, does not make it bad. That applies to music also. There are a lot of awesome hymns with some great theology and anointing of God on them..... and there are some not-so-great hymns.

  I attend a Wesleyan Methodist church, and some years ago they bought enough Wesleyan Methodist hymnals to stock 2 in every songbook rack. It is not our main hymnal (thankfully!), and does not get used a lot. I don't like it. The hymns don't have names, but are arranged by first lines in the index. And they are old. A lot of them have weird tunes. There are very few songs in the book that I know. There is one song we used to sing occasionally that I particularly didn't like. It starts out with "If I spread my couch with roses". That is all I can remember of the song, and it always seemed like a bizarre song to me, much less to be a hymn. Just because it is old, does not make it good.

And to be honest, there are a lot of songs with great words in that hymnal, but so many have tunes I don't like, and that may be part of why I don't like them.

We just got a new hymnal few months ago. It has a lot of great hymns in and also a lot of newer songs. Unfortunately, to make room for the newer songs, they phased out some hymns. One such hymn is "Hallelujah for the Cross". I remember our church belting out that old hymn many times and you could feel God in it. It is a wonderful hymn..... and now it is gone, most likely never to be sung in our church again. I like the new hymnal, but I wish we had kept the ones we just got rid of so we wouldn't lose so many hymns that we have lost with a new hymnal.

  There aren't many songs being written today that can compare and stand with the hymns of yesterday. I'm not saying today's songs aren't good. There are a lot of good songs, but not many that are hymn quality. There is something about hymns. And many music artists are making CDs of hymns and recording one here and there. And they are well received.

  Bill Gaither and others have written some songs that are standing the test of time. Songs like Because He Lives get almost the same reception as a hymn, but they are few and far between.

  I love Southern Gospel music, but most of the songs don't stick with me. There are a lot of good SG songs, but no one will be singing the ones 20 years from now that are being written now, and the same with any genre' of Christian music. Most of the songs will not last and will fade into the dustbin of history. And the same holds with most Christian songs in any genre'. Most of them don't last. Some do. A hundred years from now, they may still be singing some of the newer songs....... but not many.

  And if you think I am wrong, think about this: Think of some songs that were written early in your lifetime. How often do they get sung now? How often do music artists record them? How often does someone break out into a verse or chorus of those songs at a concert or church and everyone join in? It doesn't happen often. In Southern Gospel music, occasionally an artist will record a song from the 70's or 80's, but not often. It is all about new music that will chart.

  I have asked myself why there aren't many hymns being written today. Hymn writing is almost nonexistent. There is an occasional song that pops up that sounds like an old hymn, but not many. In Christ Alone by Stuart Townsend is one such song. How Deep the Father's Love is another, also by Townsend. I thought that it was an old hymn, until I looked it up and discovered it had just been written in 1995....... but it sounds like an old hymn.

"How Deep The Father's Love For Us"

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

  But the songs that last, that really say something that will resound down through the ages... they are as scarce as hen's teeth. But why? Why aren't people churning out powerful hymns today?  I've thought about that, and here's my thoughts:

1) The reason they are written. The hymn writers wrote songs to sing in church. They wrote when God inspired them. Now, people write songs to fill a CD. Many are written with charts in mind, hoping they will have a number one song. Not many songs are written today with the intent of writing songs for the church, or simply because God inspired the writer with a thought to put to music.

2) Gadgets. We all, myself included, are too involved in our gadgets. The great hymns were written before TV and the godless influences of Hollywood came along. There were no cell phones, computers....even no phones when a lot of them were written. There was no modern technology to drain people and take up their time. And that isn't to condemn modern technology, though if we removed Hollywood's influence and lack of morals we would all be better off. But it is different for us than for those who wrote the old hymns and those who lived during those times. Which brings me to my next point:

3) We don't have the spiritual depth of those in times past. We are shallow. Too many of us don't know the true meaning of sacrifice, denying ourselves, true surrender. We make our own religion, our own God, and our own rules. We go through the Bible and decide what applies to us and what doesn't. The result is a churches full of shallow Christians. Too many of us don't have the spiritual depth of our forefathers.

  We are too concerned with who is playing who in the sport of the season, who is going to be picked for the next American Idol, when the next book is coming out by our favorite author.... work and play consumes our lives and each hour of our day, and God gets the leftovers. He is an important part of our lives, not THE most important part.

4) Anointing and inspired by God. Anyone can write a song. I even wrote one once as a class assignment, and it was a hymn, written to the tune of a published hymn. You won't find it in a hymn book. I can't even remember the title of it, much less the words. It was just something I did as part of a college music course I took. God didn't inspire it. It didn't have the anointing of God on it.

I believe the great hymns of the faith - Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, It Is Well With My Soul - God inspired the writers to write them. And the anointing of God was on the writers and on the songs. We don't have many Fanny Crosbys. Phillip Blisses, Horation Spaffords, and others like them today. Back to my first point, these men and women weren't trying to write the next #1 song. They didn't have an artist asking them for songs to fill their new CD.

God inspired them to write, and they wrote and the words were put to music. And those songs still resonate with us years later, some of them a couple of hundred years later. That won't be the case with most of today's Christian music. Like the music from my childhood, most of it will fade away into history and won't be remembered, sung, or recorded.

  Now a couple of notes:

1) I am not making a blanket statement on all modern Christian music.....just most. And just because it doesn't measure up to hymns, does not make it bad. I receive a lot of encouragement and help from new songs. This is not a condemnation of new Christian songs.

2) Not all Christians are shallow. Not all gadgets are bad. However, if each of us were honest, we have a hard time making time for God amid the busyness of life and entertainment. The majority of us need more of God and need to be closer to God. Especially me.

3) There is such a thing as personal taste and opinion.... but if one is totally honest and considers this issue, most people will agree that a lot of our modern Christian music does not measure up to the hymns.

4) I am not worshiping hymns. I just believe they are so much more and so much better than

  Enjoy good Christian music of today. No matter what your tastes are, there is probably something that is at least labeled Christian music you will enjoy..... but treasure the old hymns. They have great theology and "meat", and many were written out of great trials and triumphs of saints long gone.

  I hope the day never comes when my church has a hymnal with no tried and true hymns. With each new hymnal that is published, it seems more and more new songs are added, and more and more older hymns are discarded. If we keep doing that, soon all of the old hymns will be gone. That has happened in many churches. All they sing are new praise and worship songs, some which do have some depth and meaning, but many which are "7/11" music...repeating the same lyrics over and over to get the crowd excited and worked up. I've heard songs like that, and they bother me. The church that has discarded the old hymns and just do whatever the new hip and popular worship music is, is a deprived church. Music sets the tone for the service, and we need to get away from just getting a spiritual high from music that may have us jumping up and down and dancing.

 Others might find other reasons, and some may scoff at the reasons I came up with. I don't always make sense, but I think my reasons here do. If you disagree, then why do you think hymns aren't being written today? And why does so much of Christian music being written doesn't hold up to our hymns, though I am sure some will argue that point.

 I like to hear new songs, but I am thankful for the hymns we have and still sing.

The first verse of my favorite hymn:

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