Hymns Didn’t Come from Drinking Songs: Putting an End to the Myth

Hymns Didn’t Come from Drinking Songs: Putting an End to the Myth July 24, 2017


No, the melodies of our beloved hymns weren’t borrowed from drinking songs, bar tunes, and tavern music. I’ve had about ten comments on my blog posts this week alone trying to use the bar song myth as their smoking gun in the case for commercial worship. It’s an argument many love to make, but it didn’t happen.

Those most often implicated in this myth are Martin Luther and the Wesleys. Luther did use German Bar form, a musical style in an AAB pattern having nothing to do with the suds. There is no indication John John and Charlie ever suggested such a thing, and knowing their position on imbibing and the importance placed on proper text/tune pairing, it’s unlikely the would have even considered the idea. Tunes were occasionally borrowed from existing folk songs, but they weren’t simply extracted from whatever people were singing at the local watering hole and paired with jesusy poetry. And even if they were, it was not, as commercial worship apologists are wont to say, in an effort to borrow from culture for the purpose of evangelism or getting butts on the stools…er…in the pews.

This rumor has been thoroughly debunked by both scholars and laypeople. So why do people still believe it? I’m not entirely sure, but it seems like the “Grassy Knoll” theory of Christian hymnody. There’s no evidence for it, but dang it, it’s just more interesting than the truth.

Irresponsible? Yes, absolutely.

Difficult to suppress? You bet.

This is why I’ve decided to take to Twitter with a more active and annoying approach. I searched for tweets containing “hymns,” “drinking songs,” and “bar songs,” and left some drive-by education for those who perpetuate this dumb myth. The results are…interesting, to say the least.

This guy seemed relieved to know the truth, actually!

Better late than never.

It’s a global effort, mate.

A troll’s gonna…troll…

This was my favorite exchange. Especially when the troll-er got troll-ed.

Note who else was included in this thread. It’s 90s CCM minor player, Bryan Duncan, ladies and gentlemen:

Send your jigsaw puzzles to:
Chris Tomlin
1 Commercial Worship Drive
Atlanta…or Nashville or Something

I make the whole world sing the truth.

At least he was honest.

A blogger is helpful, loyal, thrifty, persistent, honest, and helpful.

That’s enough for today. After a long evening of mythbusting, I managed to convince a few people, and have a few humorous exchanges. Help me out, will you? Okay, maybe trolling through a decade of tweets isn’t the most effective way. But when you hear your pastor (sigh!), music director, worship leader, music teacher, professor at your unaccredited “university,” parent, sibling, grandparent, or random internet troll say that Martin Luther used the tune from “Roll Out the Barrel,” take a minute to set them straight.

It’s a poor argument, and a lousy excuse for using any disposable ditty available to entertain people in Jesus’ trademarked name.


Flickr, creative commons 2.0

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