Updated on April 6, 2015
I love Jesus. I’ve gone to church all my life, probably since conception, and my family has always been heavily involved in our church community. I grew up in Sunday school, youth group, praise band, and choir.
Which brings me to my next fact: I love to sing. It doesn’t really matter what, as long as it sounds good. Now, I haven’t been singing as much recently, so I’m surely not as good as I once was, but the joy is still there.
Part of becoming an adult, for me, involved going to different churches. Leaving your home state will make that a necessity. Music is a big deal, no matter what church you attend–and, in some cases, it’s an even bigger deal because of what church you attend.
I’ve been to churches where percussion is “bad” (that means anything from drums to hand-clapping). I’ve been to churches that only sing the Psalms. I’ve been to churches that sing only hymns, only contemporary music, or a mixture of the two. I’ve heard of churches with orchestras and rock and roll bands, organists and electric guitars. Everyone has an opinion on what is best and what is sinful. And don’t get me started on hand-raising and when you’re expected to sit or stand.
Each church has its own rationale for what types of music they use in worship, and some are more adamant about it than others (I’m looking at you, Reformed Presbyterians). I respect the well-reasoned arguments of each, and can even appreciate the beauty of the variety of worship music that I’ve experienced. So don’t take what I’m about to say next as an insult if it applies to you.
The church that my husband an I attend together uses contemporary music almost exclusively. It’s fine, really; the only problem is that I grew up with a combination of hymns and older contemporary songs. The music that our church uses is nice, but I tend to feel a bit left out. Sure, it’s not that hard to pick up, but it just doesn’t resonate with me like singing a song that I know by heart.
Yesterday, as I’m sure we all know, was Easter. I’ve come to have some expectations about the music that I’ll hear on Easter Sunday–expectations which have been backed by the many different Easter services that I’ve attended since I went away to college. There are those old standards that you know you’ll hear: Christ Arose, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, The Old Rugged Cross, Were You There, and so on. All classics, and at least one with a moving bass line. (If you’re really lucky, they might even throw a little Keith Green in there!)
We sang one hymn, and it wasn’t even the one I was hoping for. The rest were contemporary songs that I’d never even heard of. We watched not one, but two inspirational videos, and there was a choir being utilized mainly for dramatic, swelling “ooh” and “aah” moments. They practiced for a month for this one service.
So I’m left with two questions: First, if a regular attendee doesn’t know most of the music, how’s this service working as an outreach tool? And second, what is so wrong with singing hymns?
I think that the Church, as a rule, is too concerned with appearances. I once heard someone use the term “tragically hip,” and I think it applies perfectly here. We want to be cool so badly that we neglect our history, those things that tie us to the Church of ages past. We don’t want to scare potential new members away by singing old music, so we sing a new song every week. It works out fine if everyone in the congregation listens exclusively to Christian radio–but what about those of us who don’t? And, honestly, what’s so scary about hymns? Is it the intricate harmonic patterns? The imagery–does it get clearer than “Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain/Wheat that in dark earth with the dead has lain”? I genuinely want to know: Why are modern Christians running away from hymns?