6 Reasons We Shouldn’t Use Hymnals Anymore

...and why I don't find any of those reasons compelling.

“Hymnals are intended to be a collective statement of faith for the denomination or group that adopts it. The theological content of our singing is certainly stronger when we have a primary resource that’s been examined, vetted, and solidified on that basis.”

 

A year ago yesterday I wrote a post about hymnals.

A lot of people read it, liked it, and shared it. It was my first viral post, and it’s still my most-read post of all time. That was all a little embarrassing, to be honest. I felt like I had published it too quickly, hadn’t proofed well enough, could’ve developed the points more cogently.

But maybe it was fine the way it was. It found an audience.

Then came the comments. Then came a bunch of responses on other blogs. And while much of it was supportive, or at least politely critical, there was some real nastiness in response. I couldn’t believe the polarizing effect of this discussion. All I wanted to do was write about why I thought hymnals were important.

I tried to respond to many of the negative comments, but the task soon became cumbersome, and so I never got around to addressing many of the objections.

So let’s revisit a few of these. The following points were the most common arguments from those who think of printed hymnals as mere relics of the past.

Hymnals keep people from looking up and singing out.

Every congregation that makes the switch from book to screen realizes how great it is that everyone is looking up, so you can hear their voices! – Kent

This can be an issue, yes. But those of us in leadership can teach and model how to hold the book up so that our voices are pointed forward and out. I actually find screens, when mounted high enough for all to see, to be more of an issue for good singing posture. I’ve experienced a shift from hymnals to screens in three churches, and visited many more, and the quality of singing was never the same.

Oh, and from all the posts and articles flashing across my Facebook feed, it looks like I’m not the only one who has noticed this.

Nobody reads music anymore.

Most of the points made under the “musical” heading would be of limited benefit in any church I’ve ever attended since most church members do not read music. – Josh

Actually, many people read music to varying degrees, and your congregational singing will be bolstered by empowering those in your congregations that do. And you don’t have to read music fluently to learn to pick up on melodic direction, rhythm, and syllabification, all things you can’t get from words on a screen.

Hymnals are immediately outdated.

My biggest challenge with the hymnal is that it does place a constraint on the musical library used within the church. – Chris

Good.

Hymnals are intended to be a collective statement of faith for the denomination or group that publishes or adopts it. The theological content of our singing is certainly stronger when we have a primary resource that’s been examined, vetted, and solidified on that basis. Not that we are completely limited to the content of our hymnal, but perhaps it’s best that we allow some time for reflection before a text finds a place in our core repertoire.

We are what we sing.

And being a slave to the new, the current, and the trendy is always a dangerous position for a congregation to be in.

I can’t lift my hands if I’m holding a hymnal.

“I’m a hand-raiser, and a clapper (both EXTREMELY Biblical practices), so having my hands hymnal-free to worship is a huge blessing.” – E.E.

I’m not sure I understand this one, to be perfectly honest. And frankly, the question of whether those activities are biblically-sanctioned isn’t as cut and dry as this person suggests, but that discussion is best saved for later. The point of congregational singing is singing. Singing with each other (liturgy!) and to God. Singing truth. Singing theology. Singing our proclamation. This is a worshipful act in and of itself. The notion that music in worship is supposed to be a pipeline of good feelings heading in God’s direction just isn’t true.

When it’s time to pray, pray. When it’s time to speak, speak. When it’s time to sing, sing. If emotions are moved, fine. If not, it’s still an act of corporate worship.

And I think it might be time to examine whether such physical actions are a sign of true worship, or if they’re more representative of being carried away with the affect of the music.

In the words of the late Rich Mullins, “That wasn’t the Spirit. That was the kick-drum.”

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