Much has been said on this topic and I don’t wish to cover well-worn trails. My wife and I are marvelously blessed by the Lord to be among saints who can really sing well.
I love music. I remember a televangelist said once that music is a gift from God. It truly is. I love to hear well performed music. I love to sing songs that glorify and praise the Lord. I love it when the saints are on pitch and in harmony exalting God! I love to hear my children sing songs of praise and songs about the Lord, even if they don’t know or understand all of the lyrics yet.
I get the impression from reading Acts and Corinthians that when the early church sang, a lot of the time it was an overflow of the heart, and songs just burst forth-the group singing together.
Music bonds us together. Singing together bonds us even more so.
Will it Work? Challenges of New & Old Songs
Let’s suppose you want to sing more modern songs. Maybe you want to prevent the loss of young saints to other churches where modern songs are sung. Maybe you feel a little variety would be an improvement over singing a song with frequent use of Thy or Thou.
Let’s suppose you want to sing only older songs. Maybe you fear compromise on music is a slippery slope. Maybe you feel trying to get the saints to sing a modern hymn or even chorus would be like fingernails on a chalk-board.
Not every old or new song is going to work in church. Not everyone has the vocal ability to sing every song, nor can all of us read music. For example: Handel’s Messiah. I love the opening baritone solos but I can’t quite pull them off. I love the alto parts of He Was Despised, but I won’t ask my wife to sing it.
Any piece that has a four bar instrumental is going to feel very awkward unless you have skilled musicians. Any piece that is written as a solo isn’t going to work well for a group to sing unless it’s rewritten.
In full disclosure, we have on occasion stopped singing a song that we didn’t know and elected for a brother to read the lyrics rather than continue to grind through it. While the song, written in 1870s, had tremendous lyrics, we just didn’t know the tune and sight reading wasn’t really an option that day.
Finding Common Ground
Here are some things your assembly could do to bridge that generational and preferential gap.
-Host a hymn sing in a home. Spend time to just learn and sing hymns together. If we know the songs, we can join in!
-Share links to modern songs. Several brothers, knowing my background, shared links to modern songs via email, YouTube, and other social media with me. What a blessing! I got to hear the songs done well the first time!
-Practice new and old hymns. In our somewhat new assembly we saw that the newest song in our hymnal was written 20 years before almost half of the assembly was born. So one of the brothers came up with a song book. We paid for the legal rights to reprint the words and music, then assembled a book of more modern songs. I still don’t know all the songs, and we collectively still have some awkward solos while the group gets the hang of the tune. But we’re working on it.
-Share old and new hymns in outreach. Our assembly has done a choral outreach to one of the assisted living centers nearby. We sang a few songs from our regular hymnal and a few modern songs, all in wonderful four-part harmony.
-Focus on the lyrics and theological content. A great way to bridge the gap is to focus on the lyrics and theological content – not as a point of division and debate but as an opportunity to nurture and disciple the body. I literally wept buckets, after typing out the lyrics of hymns like: Name of Jesus, Highest Name, It is Well With my Soul, Only in Thee, We Have an Anchor, and O God of Matchless Grace. The same is true for How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, 10,000 Reasons, In Christ Alone, My Lighthouse, Sparrows, Take Me as I Am.
The End Goal
The point in all of these measures is not to be modern for the sake of being modern. It is to bond together through music, as we offer our best praise to the God who loves us. It is to lift up one unified voice, in harmonious singing that glorifies God, not us.
Not every modern song is going to compare with an Amazing Grace. Not every older hymn has lyrics as theologically correct as How Deep the Father’s Love.
But, to dismiss all modern or all older songs is foolish.
Let’s agree that the saint that doesn’t like your style of music is still a saint. The living God sent His Son to die for that soul, and they, like you and I, have believed it to be truth. And let’s work to find some musical middle ground.