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Do Hymns Still Have a Place in the 21st Century?

hymn book
Next time your church includes a song you’re not super familiar with — hymn or not — dig into the lyrics.

I never intended for this to happen, but Facebook has become my primary news source. Coronavirus closures? My Facebook friends will keep me updated. Protests overnight in my area? Not sure — let me check Facebook. Did that new pizza restaurant open on the other side of town? Surely I can find out on Facebook.

And it was Facebook that alerted me to a recent blog post with the clickbait title, “10 Christian Hymns That Need to Be Put to Rest.” To be clear, the blogger was not advocating for stopping hymn-singing altogether, but she listed her (quite subjective) reasons for why certain old standbys should be struck from the hymnal.

Regardless of her specific take on the subject, it made me think a little deeper. Do hymns still have a place in our 21st-century worship services? Do lyrics written generations ago — some even a few hundred years old — still hold true in our contemporary culture?

I’ll show my hand upfront: I’m a big fan of traditional hymns. The churches that have most impacted my life regularly included hymns in their services, so singing hymns just feels right to me.

But choosing what songs to sing in personal or corporate worship is about more than nostalgia or personal preference. Hear me out on two reasons I think we should still be singing hymns.

Reason #1: God has not changed

These are truly crazy times. “We were doing fine until a global pandemic came along,” someone told me today. This year’s headlines have leapt from one drama to another. I wonder how all the journalists keep up.

But the countless changes we have witnessed this year do not affect God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” the Bible assures us, and I doubt anyone ever needed to hear this verse more than we do today.

Yes, most hymns were written a long time ago. Yes, they “feel” old with their music styles from generations past and some words that are no longer in our daily vocabulary.

But hymns are about God, not the times in which they were written. Our God never changes, and the truth written about Him decades and even centuries ago is still true today.

Martin Luther wrote the classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” nearly 500 years ago. Things have changed since then. But the truth Luther reminds us of will never change: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Reason #2: Hymns deepen our understanding

I don’t know about you, but the only time I have ever used “bulwark” in a sentence is when singing Martin Luther’s hymn. I had to Google it.

Sometimes hymns have words or phrases that are more confusing than edifying — at first. Like every generation before us, we view the world with the lens of our culture and the times we live in. If we sing only modern songs, we are limited to a modern perspective.

But Christianity has a long, rich history. As believers, this history is our history. We can learn so much from the Christians who lived before us. They were like us in many ways, but not like us in others. Singing their songs can only enrich our perspectives.

I’m incredibly grateful for contemporary authors like Tim Keller, John Piper and Rosaria Butterfield. But I’m also grateful for C.S. Lewis, Elisabeth Elliot and Corrie ten Boom. New books do not replace old books. In the same way, new songs do not replace old songs.

Hymns and choruses

Not all hymns are created equal. Just because a song is old — or new — doesn’t make it better or even more theologically true.

The songs we sing during worship are not (or at least shouldn’t be) primarily about us and what we like or feel. We are singing to the Lord of the universe — a fact that should move us to worship every time we think of it.

There are both older hymns and more modern choruses that praise our God well. Instead of choosing one or the other, let’s evaluate all the songs we sing, regardless of when they were written. Are the songs we sing true? Do they honor God above all else? Do they remind us — even teach us — about God’s attributes, taking our eyes off ourselves and turning us to Christ?

It’s not about us

At the end of the day, we sing in worship to God — and all around the world, our Christian brothers and sisters are praising Him, too. Some of their songs we have never heard. Some we may not hear until heaven. And speaking of heaven, none of the songs we sing here will ever compare to what we sing there.

We all have preferences. And that’s OK. But let’s not be so guarded against new-to-us songs that we’re afraid to try something outside of our favorite playlists.

Next time your church includes a song you’re not super familiar with — hymn or not — dig into the lyrics. You may be challenged to deepen your perspective. You may end up praising God for some new insight you had never realized before. And you may find a new favorite.

Copyright 2020 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lauren Dunn
Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is an education reporter for World News Group. She loves stories (especially the good ones), making pizza (usually double pepperoni), and spending time with friends and family. Lauren has lived most of her life in Wichita, Kan., but still regularly gets lost when driving around town.

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