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You're singing along, aren't you? This catchy melody was responsible for teaching you one of the most foundational facts you ever learned.

That's the way music works. It teaches. It forms us.

We don't need scientific studies to know that music and melody fuses truth into our memories and intellects. We can all observe how melody infuses meaning, emotions, affections, and experiences into words. It takes lyrics to new heights and depths that they couldn't go on their own.

As a church musician, I'm not trying to downplay the formative importance of preaching. But I couldn't tell you the take-home point of two sermons I heard growing up, no matter how clever the preacher's alliteration. But I still sing "Holy Holy Holy" word for word. I know "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" by heart. "The Solid Rock" is an ever-present companion for me in difficult times. Those songs have given me a vocabulary to express myself. I have learned the truth of God in a way that will stay with me for a lifetime.

It is no wonder. These hymns were written with that very purpose in mind. Pastoral and theological giants of the past went to pain-staking lengths to pen doctrinally rich, gospel-centered songs with the intention of shaping the people under their care. They poetically developed their thoughts to tell stories that would most memorably engage the intellects and emotions of the people who would be singing them. As a result, many of these songs became gems that have withstood the crucible of time.

In contrast, it is quite humbling as a corporate worship songwriter to see the shelf life of even the most popular songs of our day. They might last a decade---if the writers are lucky. Especially with the ongoing advancement of modern technology, it is likely that this shelf life will continue to decrease.

Shoulders of Giants


While it is important to continue to sing new songs to the Lord and to continue to write new songs to the Lord, I am often grieved to hear people say, "I don't like hymns," or, "That's for the older people." Perhaps the only thing that grieves me more is the lack of good doctrinal content in much of the newer corporate worship music.

I am not a traditionalist, but I believe new churches ought to sing old songs. I do not think that the only way is the old way. But we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have written songs that describe and declare the glory of Christ in a way that is unlike many songs written in our day. We miss out when we fail to teach with these songs that have shaped generation after generation before us.

I pray that in our day more than ever before, men and women will write great, God-exalting, Bible-saturated works that join the ranks with these hymns that have endured through hundreds of years of bad church music. All the while, I also pray that our church would guard good doctrine and not settle or compromise the gospel content of our songs for the sake of singing trendy new songs. May we sing songs, new and old alike, that make as much of Jesus as possible.

* * * * *

Stephen Miller's latest full-length album entitled HYMNS releases October 16 on iTunes. Download the exclusive Gospel Coalition preview of "Holy Holy Holy" and "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty."


Comments:

[...] fuel the fabric of our faith. So I appreciated what Stephen Miller had to say in this blog post, Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs. I for one appreciate the old hymns and what they [...]

Barney

October 9, 2012 at 12:40 PM

And yet there's the value of singing to him a new song. I don't see what's so wrong with songs with a short "shelf-life." We're not storing up these songs for a nuclear disaster. Any one still singing songs that they sang in the early church of Acts? Oh, no? Hmm, short shelf-life then.

The danger in singing old songs is that we're taking advantage of familiarity. That doesn't sound like a bad thing, but the value of the "new song" is cultivating a practice of experiencing God afresh and anew. Nothing wrong with that either.

Just like "doing a devotional" the same way everyday, the danger is routine and "going through the motions." A member of my team wrote to me that often our churches understand "singing" in a cultural manner, instead of a natural manner. We're cultural worshipers instead of natural worshipers, particularly if we find ourselves joining in singing only when a time a song sounds familiar to us.

By all means, use old songs to revisit theologically rich songs, but don't do it for the sake of just doing it. Today's generation is not like the previous generation. Songs that speak then may not speak today. As praise leaders, we have to be cognizant of those things. Guard doctrine, yes. But don't condemn the lot of songs today; there are things songs say today that songs of yore did not.

Lovely

October 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Well put LG and I do agree with what you're saying here. I do know people who have grown up in church where stiff formality and rampant legalism reigned. They find in modern worship music what I have found in the old hymns ~ comfort, peace, conviction, and a stirring of the heart(just to name a few). I also understand that for many it's simply a preference for one over the other. I have also witnessed believers get quite defensive over their preferred style of worship music and grieved as it divided churches.

paul cummings

October 9, 2012 at 11:53 AM

For me, coming into a sanctuary with organ, hymns, robes and silence could trigger remembrances of the fake pomp and circumstance, religiosity, arcane language and joyless "worship" of virtually all of the first 20 years of my life that made me abhor going to church...
However...
I must remind myself that my past baggage is mine, and I cannot apply it to others for whom tradional hymnody is meaningful, powerful and leads them to the throne room of the Lord and the foot of the Cross.

LG

October 9, 2012 at 11:38 AM

I'm glad you found a new church where your conscience wasn't being wounded by your association with your previous life. I hope you can likewise rejoice with those who have found churches with contemporary-style music to be a relief from, say, the dead formalism that characterizes some (by no means all) "traditional" churches.

In our relief at finding a "home" in a particular style, I pray we never make our own consciences the law for other believers whose journeys are different from ours.

Paul Ellsworth

October 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Hey Caleb,

It's a long work in progress, but I am hoping to spend my remaining week of vacation from work at the end of the year to at least get a draft completely done. It's ambitious in that I want to hit the subject first from a biblical perspective, but then follow that with music history and theory perspectives as well. I have never read a book or paper that dealt with the topic of church music with a serious look at music history/theory, but it seems that is often where the argument goes, since the Bible *doesn't* say a whole lot about music style, and nothing prescriptive for the church.

Anyways. I'll get there some day. It's been enlightening even in the parts of research/study I've done so far).

Caleb

October 9, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Good call, Brother. Thanks. Would LOVE to see this in my church.

Caleb

October 9, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Paul, I'd love to read that paper if you're ever sharing. I come from a church that sings a lot of hymns. And while I do appreciate the words, I also appreciate the words of Casting Crowns and a bunch of other great Christian musicians of my day (none of which my church would consider). I love what you said here:

"My position is pretty simple. Pick the good ones from the old hymns. Pick the good ones from the new hymns. Make sure that the songs we sing are good and that the lyrics are critiqued *regardless* of age. The "test of time" is not an excuse for not critiquing an old song just as thoroughly as you would a new song. My pastor and I have recently been going through our hymnal and have found theological (primarily) problems with many old hymns, ones that we have sung in the past and apparently simply were not paying attention to the words."

Lovely

October 9, 2012 at 08:35 AM

As someone who once ran with a very wild, punk/heavy metal crowd, I really struggle with most of the modern christian music. My husband and I attended a church for awhile that sounded like a rock concert during the worship time which kept taking me back time and time again to a past that brought much pain, hurt, and anger into my life. We are now in a church where more traditional hymns are sung. I'm not very good at articulating what I'm trying to say, but I will say that the difference in worship is worlds apart. The old hymns bring comfort, peace, and even conviction like no modern day music does. There is more depth in the hymns as well.

Sam

October 9, 2012 at 07:23 PM

Why Churches should sing new songs.

Ps 33:3
Ps 40:3
Ps 96:1
Ps 98:1
......

The guys who wrote the old hymns are with the Lord and if God wants to hear those songs He can get them to sing it to Him.

I believe God creates many talented musicians that can create new songs in each generation. God is calling us to sing new songs but we continually fall back to the work of a previous generation. (maybe we are lazy or apathetic to God's calling).

The church I attend sings old hymns occasionally. Usually we sing songs that the worship leader writes or worship leaders from other churches in our fellowship. To be honest, some of them have become some of my favorites.

There's my five cents worth.

Thanks for the read!

laura

October 9, 2012 at 06:39 PM

I come from a church that sings mainly the old genevan tunes. There is criticism that the music is dated, the melodies are difficult and there are many beautiful hymns we are missing out on. I have also found many churches who want more a more contemporary service start getting the message watered down. While I think that new songs can be a great blessing to a church we need to be careful that they have teh same richness of theology as our time tested songs.

Mat

October 9, 2012 at 05:50 AM

On this note - Phatfish - Faithful

Wonderful Lord,
So full of grace,
So full of mercy.

Mighty You are,

With power to save,
Power to heal.

Not at all Yoda-like...

Bren McLean

October 9, 2012 at 05:46 AM

Traditional churches could do well introducing some new songs, and 'contemporary' churches could do well introducing some hymns. It's about finding a balance that will enrich all congregation members

paul Cummings

October 9, 2012 at 05:31 PM

I think we are also talking about the insufficiency of whoever might be leading worship in either traditional or contemporary settings from what @SD and @Lovely are describing. Whether it's a pastor, music minister or worship leader....they must remember that worship is to be taught and people instructed in what/how/why to respond to the Lord. Someone who understands this in either a Trad or CW setting pushes people to get out of their self centered natures and respond to the Lord in praise and worship, or admonishes for silence and contemplation on His holiness.

DW

October 9, 2012 at 05:30 AM

Many of these great songs are recorded and can be downloaded for free at www.saintsServing.net
Another reason to sing the older hymns is that saints can sing them together more easily than some newer ones

[...] The Gospel Coalition – Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs [...]

Links I Like | Blogging Theologically

October 9, 2012 at 04:00 AM

[...] WhyNew Churches Should Sing Old Songs [...]

SD

October 9, 2012 at 02:53 PM

@lovely; I do not like the contemporary songs in the Baptist churches these days. The songs are poorly written with lyrics and melodies that are poorly matched. They're boring and often just plain bad. I look around our church and folks look like zombies and a lot don't even try to sing. The old hymnal books are the best and the songs create joy in the heart.

paul cummings

October 8, 2012 at 12:54 PM

I would point out though that the shelf life of many an old robust hymn is due as much to the centuries old constancy of classical music, as to the great content. Within the last century more change has happened in the landscape of what we call "music" than in the millenia prior. Much that has been written within the last several decades is equally as rich, written by no less talented or holy people, yet has a shorter shelf-life purely by viture of the "era" in which it was released.
Having said that however, I also affirm re-introducing these great hymns with some updated musical content to the next generation. Thanks Stephen!

Jim Hooker

October 8, 2012 at 12:41 PM

I lost my job two months ago, the third time in four years. Each of them a corporate downsizing. What flooded my mind in the hours that followed this last event? It wasn't the praise and worship song I had heard the previous Sunday, it was the hymns I had been taught and sang as a child - Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father! My faith is built on nothing less...
This is spot on.

Rachael Starke

October 8, 2012 at 11:10 AM

AMEN to this! When I come to church weighed down by trials and sin and fear and discouragement, being able to sing with the saints around me and the ones in heaven, truths that have been true for hundreds of years ministers to my soul far more than the latest CCM thing.

Rachael Starke

October 8, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Radical. ;)

Nathanael

October 8, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Or we could sing Psalms. I think those songs are pretty old.

Humbling Hymns - Stephen Miller

October 8, 2012 at 09:39 AM

[...] I really pray that God uses it in his church and it is a contribution to all generations, especially the next. I really pray that non-hymn lovers would fall in love with these texts, and that hymn lovers would fall in love with them over again. And at the end of the day, I really pray that God receives all the glory for it because he has been gracious to have allowed such passionate men and women to write these songs and has preserved them for his name’s sake. *** For more on HYMNS and to download 2 free pre-release songs, take a look at my new article on The Gospel Coalition called Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs. [...]

Mike

October 8, 2012 at 09:33 AM

Thanks for the good posting. Blending old and new seems like a good balance. All old hymns could make a church tradition-bound, and all new songs passes over the great work that has been written before, as you note.

anonymous

October 8, 2012 at 08:15 AM

So grateful to God for such gifting of lyric, melody,visual composers to His Glory-what a blessing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0Byp7aK2DA&feature=related

Cartwright

October 8, 2012 at 07:58 PM

Good points. Just an observation in response to the comments about singing the psalms: Many, many of the most popular contemporary songs are verbatim from the psalms.

[...] Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs The Gospel Coalition Blog [...]

Roy

October 8, 2012 at 07:17 PM

We are commanded to sing the Psalms, but needless to say, that gets ignored by most. I won't go so far as to say sing them only, but Scripture is at least clear we are to sing them. Add hymns or whatever, but let's at least stop neglecting God's own music in his worship.

Laurie

October 8, 2012 at 07:09 PM

Holding hands with those who have gone before is is a powerful thing. In every part of the world and in every culture there is a handing down of tradition. Along with this there is a creation of new art and story.
I find that on the hymn topic, I like to know who wrote what I'm singing. I don't have to agree with him/her completely I just like to know something about him. I've spent most of my 46 years singing hymns and am well acquainted with John Newton, Willian Cowper, Isaac Watts, John Berridge, Philip Doddridge, Charles Wesley, etc. I don't have as much in common theologically with Ch. Wesley as I do with, say, Isaac Watts but I know where he stands. When he says "Let me find that second rest" I know just what he's talking about and I don't pray that verse. ;) I struggle with getting to know the bios and theology of some of the newer composers. My church sings lots of hymns from a charismatic group that have much good theology in the nonetheless. I would like to know more about the authors though. I sort of can't "relax" while sining unless I have that trust. Kind of like listening to a random preacher on the radio. I'm always "on alert" and "on edge". I would love to hear more about the modern hymn writers (their testimony, beliefs, etc.). That would be a great help to me in being able to sing "their" songs.

[...] Stephen Miller has a post on why churches should sing old songs. [...]

Mike

October 8, 2012 at 06:28 PM

Content content content. Depth of Scripture and theology is vital in hymnody. Music is a powerful tool that can reinforce or contradict what comes from the pulpit. It has always been doctrine sung, singing the faith! Just as we grow in our faith and understanding of the word, so it should be reflected in words accompanying the worship music.

paul Cummings

October 8, 2012 at 05:21 PM

"Praise Him, shall I!" LOL

william

October 8, 2012 at 05:01 PM

Agree with Nathanael; sing the Psalms, they are truly "Spirit filled" something those pentecostals are always going on about, they are also commanded! But then again the works of men have regulated the regulative principle! What we all need to do is to work harder at remembering the sermon as it is supposed to be the voice of Christ speaking to the flock of God rather than some man made song composition; praise is important, vitally important, it is the sung prayers of the church of Jesus Christ, so if you are to meditate on the praise meditate on the Psalms.

Jesse

October 8, 2012 at 04:44 PM

Thank you for the promotional music of Hymns. I will be proud to share these songs with my listening audience.

mel

October 8, 2012 at 04:15 PM

As long as they don't sound like Yoda came up the wording. Nothing worse than worshipping in an archaic language that has no meaning to you. It's not worship then.

Theology-Degrees

October 8, 2012 at 03:48 PM

What a great topic and I completely agree with what Paul mentioned above. As long as you pick the classics that have messages that never go old then everyone should be okay with it, bot contemporary and traditional.

Paul Ellsworth

October 8, 2012 at 03:02 PM

I wonder how much of this is simply familiarity.

Did contemporaries of Isaac Watts sing through his songs when faced with trouble? I would imagine they probably recalled to mind the songs *they* grew up singing in their churches (which likely would have been Psalms, actually).

Did Fanny Crosby's songs race through people's minds 10 years afterwards? Probably not.

I would propose that it is familiarity and perhaps some nostalgia that make the "old songs" (i.e., the songs you listened to growing up) come to mind during various circumstances. If this is the case, then it would make the case for singing a blend. There are some really good new songs that can minister to people. Some find the old songs to be musically "boring," probably because they don't have that same feeling of familiarity and nostalgia.

I would also like to point out that some of the songs we consider to be a part of this hundreds-of-years-old-tradition ... aren't. Great Is Thy Faithfulness is a 1920s song (1923).

My position is pretty simple. Pick the good ones from the old hymns. Pick the good ones from the new hymns. Make sure that the songs we sing are good and that the lyrics are critiqued *regardless* of age. The "test of time" is not an excuse for not critiquing an old song just as thoroughly as you would a new song. My pastor and I have recently been going through our hymnal and have found theological (primarily) problems with many old hymns, ones that we have sung in the past and apparently simply were not paying attention to the words.

Meh. I could say too much about this. Especially since I'm writing a rather large paper/research project on it. :)

Worship Tools 10.24.12 | Worship Tools

October 24, 2012 at 10:35 AM

[...] Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs by Stephen Miller [...]

Colin Bain

October 24, 2012 at 07:13 AM

Like friends, songs are for a season. Sometimes the season is a long summer, sometimes a short spring. We need both for all kinds of reasons.
And a little jab back at the forgetten sermon. Usually a sermon is never repeated, unlike songs, which are. Memory is about repetition for most of us without eidetic memory. Yes, I am a pastor!

Ron

October 23, 2012 at 10:26 AM

AMEN ! That is beyond profound, and I am convinced, straght from the heart of God. May HHe continue to pour His Spirit into ALL you do. Be blessed.

[...] songs, new and old alike, that make as much of Jesus as possible. You can find the original post here. Share this:FacebookTwitter Tags: hymns, old songs, Worship No Comments. « [...]

[...] Continue reading. [...]

[...] good music and value for money. Last week Stephen had a post featured on the Gospel Coalition about Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs. This is a great collection that respects what’s great about these songs while seeking to [...]

Ellen M

October 12, 2012 at 10:06 PM

BINGO!!! Give the man a prize!

Seriously, you just hit the nail on the head.

Ellen M

October 12, 2012 at 09:57 PM

Exactly. Some people don't like hymns because the music and linguistic style isn't culturally relevant to them. Paul became all things to all people to save some. He entered into their culture, rather than expecting them to adapt to his culture. Just as the New Testament church during the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 didn't hinder the Gentile Believers by chaining them with Jewish culture, we mustn't expect newer believers to adopt our preferred church culture and music. New churches need to develop their own culturally relevant worship style while maintaining Biblical truth and integrity.

God gave us humans creativity and literally a world of possibilities. From that starting place, all the cultures of the world have developed and are still developing. In Revelation it states that people from every tongue, tribe and people will be worshiping God. I don't think they'll all be singing Western-style hymns. Please don't alienate new believers by expecting them to adopt your culture.

Glenda Neaton

October 12, 2012 at 08:13 PM

One of the songs at our church I have dubbed "The Gangster Song" because one part goes "Woe, Woe, you got me!" I am all for modern music if it has valid spiritual meaning and doesn't sound like a bunch of chords put in a hat and drawn out at random. Same with the words. Many songs sound like clich phrases randomly strung together. If it has real, heartfelt meaning, and a melodic tune, great. Modern songs like "Shout to the Lord" by Hillsong should be a benchmark, but sadly some of their more recent stuff leaves me cold.

[...] post was reblogged from The Gospel Coalition website; written by Stephen Miller on 07th October 2012] A B C D E F [...]

Phil Long

October 11, 2012 at 08:20 AM

Isn't the real point that we should sing good songs?

Around the Horn: 10.11.12 | Treading Grain

October 11, 2012 at 04:37 AM

[...] Why New Churches Should Sing New Songs A B C D E F GH I J K LMNOP . . .You’re singing along, aren’t you? This catchy melody was responsible for teaching you one of the most foundational facts you ever learned. That’s the way music works. It teaches. It forms us. We don’t need scientific studies to know that music and melody fuses truth into our memories and intellects. We can all observe how melody infuses meaning, emotions, affections, and experiences into words. It takes lyrics to new heights and depths that they couldn’t go on their own. [...]

are you a hymn snob? « Robin's blog

October 10, 2012 at 10:45 AM

[...] regularly has bloggers post on hymnology and worship music. Here’s one I read recently… http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/10/07/why-new-churches-should-sing-old-songs/ - Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

Elizabeth Turnage

November 5, 2012 at 07:54 AM

Amen and praise be to God through all blessings flow (which is one of the few 'church' songs I learned as a denominational mutt growing up visiting various churches:-). Hymns tell the 'old, old' stories, the true story of the Bible, the gospel, our mission and purpose. Thank you for your labor!

Val

November 5, 2012 at 06:10 AM

There is a place for both the old songs of the gpfaith and the new contemporary ones in all churches!

[...] read the rest of this blogpost by Stephen Miller, click here: Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs. Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle +1Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This [...]

Cheryl Marshall

November 4, 2012 at 12:48 PM

Stephen,
My husband referred me to your post, and I really appreciate it. It stirred up some reflections of my own, which I have posted here:
http://womenwalkingwisely.com/2012/11/04/why-new-churches-should-sing-old-songs/
Cheryl Marshall

Linkage: 11.02.12 | Kevin P. Larson

November 2, 2012 at 11:30 AM

[...] Karis Church, we think we ought to sing more old songs, [...]

Providing New Music : AL INGHAM

July 21, 2013 at 05:24 AM

[...] Why New Churches should Sing Old Songs [...]

[...] Zac Hicks defends the kind of worship songs many love to hate; the ones where Jesus “sounds like a boyfriend.” Now read why new churches should sing old songs. [...]