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Hymnals are immediately outdated.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
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.”
And wouldn’t it be tragic if we missed the voice of the Spirit because we were waiting for the kick-drum to come in…
We are a visual, tech-reliant society, so we must use media to bring people to Jesus.
[I]n a culture of modern technology I find it hard to believe that churches that don’t have those modern things, grow at all. I bet if you took the median age of the commenters in here who agree with this stance you would find the elders of our generation. Not to say they are wrong….because their wisdom is what we need. But we HAVE to be moving forward in all ways to bring people out to church and ultimately be saved by Christ. Plus I don’t think anyone gave their life to God by singing a song…. – Josh
Technology has benefits. But technology has a terribly isolating effect, and our addiction to it has resulted in all kinds of harmful effects. As a former educator, one of my biggest problems with public education was the insistence we use pervasive technology to help kids learn. Of course, it can help kids learn, but increasingly, they can’t learn without it. They need over-stimulation to be able to apply themselves. In a sense, in trying to help kids learn, we’ve created a learning disability.
Marva Dawn highlights an even more disturbing effect for the church. “Our culture is becoming less and less able to discern the ‘one-step-removedness’ of their screen addictions. Since screens are connected in daily life with activities that are bodiless, will their use in worship begin to make us less aware of the Body and of our own bodies, which otherwise could touch the hymnal and see more fully the lasting evidence of the Church’s communal song.”
There’s no doubt that hymnals tactilely and symbolically connect our body to the Body, both those sitting next to us in the pews, and those who have gone before. And let’s be honest – in a day in which long self-help sermon series are prevalent, hymnals can teach better than most preachers.
And could the mere fact technology is addictive at all be a good reason to avoid using it in worship, or to at least use it sparingly and carefully? As church is a place of detox from the cursed world we live in, maybe it should be a detox from the things that so easily enslave us.
Hymnals aren’t necessary for worship.
I agree that hymnals and hymns have an importance and singing hymns can be beautiful, but this article is saying that a hymnal is necessary to “worship well”. Which is complete garbage. – Rachel
No, hymnals aren’t necessary for worship, but they help us tremendously in the acts of corporate worship. They help us to sing well. They help us sing more knowledgeably and responsibly. They give us a communal language when words otherwise fail us.
Those are things we’re called to do. Those are things we desperately need to do if we’re going to be a church for the world.
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