hymn book

In five years time

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

It was 1992 and I had just overheard a conversation between a senior saint and a young song leader. The older man declared: “We have eight hundred songs in our hymn book. Why would we need any other songs?”

To which the young man replied: “In five years time we will be singing none of the songs in that hymnbook.”

Here are some of my reactions:

  • They were both wrong.
  • Music is an emotional subject. I remember watching a couple in a nursing home weeping to “You are my sunshine,” and that’s just a corny love song. When you threaten to remove the hymns by which someone is spiritually sustained, you will likely get a strong reaction.
  • That was 1992. Much more than five years have passed. The young man was apparently not prophetic.
  • On the other hand, hymnbook editors are not inerrant. Some pretty poor songs have been included in our hymn books, songs lacking theological thoughtfulness, poetic expression and spiritual nutrients.
  • Following a youth devotional an eager young person asked me, “Did you like that new song?” “Actually it was a very old song,” I replied. “About three thousand years old.” The words, it should be pointed out, were drawn from the Psalms.
  • We have to ask better questions of our hymns than whether they are new or old.
  • The words of our songs need to be biblical, whether quoted directly or in essence. In our songs we are to “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16). We are to “teach and admonish one another” (Ephesians 5:19). Our songs teach.
  • Biblical content in our hymns matters, of course. But so does quality. We cannot worship a first rate God with second rate music and third rate lyrics.
  • While Millennials and older saints argue over “contemporary” versus “traditional” worship, don’t forget the youngest of our constituents. After singing “Amazing Grace,” followed by “These are the Days of Elijah,” why not sing, “Jesus Loves Me, This I know”?
  • The songs that are cutting edge, contemporary right now by definition will become out of date in ten years time. Are we condemned to perpetually turf out all “old” songs regardless of their value from now on? Which contemporary song will become the “Amazing Grace” of this generation? I don’t know, but if all songs must be contemporary, we will have to throw it out in five years time, regardless of its great value or ability to reach our hearts. Five years. It’s the rule.
  • No. Worship is not about what you like. You are not allowed to suspend the golden rule (Matthew 7:12) because it’s worship. You are still obliged to be considerate to your brethren. Oh, and one more thing. If worship is not about you, then who is it about? May I make the radical suggestion that it is about God?
  • Beloved brethren, if we cannot work together (old and young) in worship, how will we be able to reach the lost world for Christ?
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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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