It is in vogue these days to regard the old hymns of the church as outdated and irrelevant. After all, many of the selections in the hymnbook were written hundreds of years ago. How possible is it for these antiquated songs to be germane to today's upbeat, sophisticated society?
Admittedly, there are possible grounds for objecting to the prolific use of hymns in church services. Many hymns employ phrases and terms no longer understood by this generation of Christians. The language of most hymns is biblical. It is an honored tradition of the Church that Christian praise and worship be framed in the language of the Holy Scriptures. However, even this is a problem because of the increasing degree of biblical illiteracy among those who attend church services.
Also, some hymns may refer to spiritual experiences far removed from the average Christian. Consider, for example, words like;
"Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart, does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest and have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul."
"I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward go,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."
Or look at the commitment to Christ called for in the following:
"All To Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever love and trust Him, In His
Presence daily live."
"Fully surrendered, Lord, I would be,
Fully surrendered, dear Lord to Thee.
All on the altar laid,
Surrender fully made,
Thou hast my ransom paid;
I yield to Thee."
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where increasingly the only acceptable type of commitment is where "I" receive the obvious benefit and where there is an out for "me" if it becomes inconvenient. Hymns such as "Take My Life, and Let It Be," "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken," "Come, All Christians, Be Committed," and "Yielded to God," do not reflect current concerns among many church-going people.
Furthermore, some of the grand, old hymns reflect a mystical tendency that is unacceptable in our materialistic, pragmatic society. The average person probably cannot passionately appreciate;
"Oh Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be."
"My Lord, how full of sweet content
I pass my years of banishment!
Where'er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,
In heaven, in earth, or on the sea;
Such daring expressions from a God-intoxicated soul may even shock some people.
Still, it is their "other worldly" character that gives some hymns their ultimate value. Dr. A. W. Tozer once commented: "A great hymn embodies the purest concentrated thoughts of some lofty saint who may have long ago gone from the earth and left little or nothing behind him except that hymn. To read or sing a true hymn is to join in the act of worship with a great and gifted soul in his moments of intimate devotion. It is to hear a lover of Christ explaining to his Savior why he loves Him; it is to listen in without embarrassment on the softest whisperings of undying love between the bride and the heavenly Bridegroom." (WE TRAVEL AN APPOINTED WAY)
To scorn hymnody is to disregard and despise an important aspect of our spiritual heritage. Hymns always have played an important part in the life and health of the Christian Church. Many of the most-loved hymns were born in the heat of revival, when a fresh moving of the Holy Spirit was on the Church.
F. W. Boreham, in one of his essays, points out that "Every religious quickening in the history of the ages has immortalized itself in song." Boreham illustrates his point by writing: "The spirit of the Hebrew devotion lingers in the Book of Psalms; the faith of the early Christians lives in the Te Deum; the choicest life of the medieval monasteries is bequeathed to us in the hymns of men like Bernard of Clairvaux; the age of the Puritans is revived in the stately melody of Milton. And, in the same way, the movement that brought new life to the world in the eighteenth century stands crystallized in the throbbing verse of Charles Wesley." (A LATE LARK SINGING)
This is not a time to throw out the old but rather to acclimate youth and new Christians to the rarefied spiritual altitude our forefathers enjoyed and embraced. It is the responsibility of the pastoral team to teach people to understand as well as to sing the grand hymns of the faith, the songs of Zion.
Hymns used in congregational worship can help prepare us emotionally and mentally for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in us and through us. They should be sung thoughtfully, reminding us of our respect due to Almighty God and expressing that to Him. The assembled Church is never more glorious then when it is exalting the Risen Savior in terms worthy of His majestic nature and character. Our hymns must burst forth in opulent splendor once more on congregations intent on genuinely worshiping Deity.
Rev. James L. Snyder