A few weeks ago I linked to a blog post by Tim Challies in which he listed things we lost when “we” gave up the hymnal, but then basically said, “But I don’t think we should go back.”
Yesterday he followed up on that with a new post, “What we Gained When We Lost Our Hymnals.” Let’s run through what he lists as “gains”:
- We gained immediacy. Challies complains that hymnals “made us wait years or even decades before we could add [new hymns] to our services.” Two problems with this: first, our church uses hymnals, and we often sing “new hymns” by printing them and including them as inserts in the bulletin. Second, having to wait to make new songs a regular part of the repertory is actually a strength–it helps to weed out the poor songs.
- We gained posture. Challies complains about having to hold a book while looking down at the words. Can you imagine the same complaint applied to the Bible? “We had to hold the [Bible] in one hand (or even in both hands) and look down at the words. This [Bible] posture was stiff and fixed.” Again, I actually see this as a strength that helps to discipline us as we sing, and “having to look down” at the words and musical notation is far superior to having no notation at all. Further, Challies claims that an “open and free” posture is a “superior posture for worship, and especially for worship that is physically expressively.” It’s difficult to raise or clap your hands when you’re holding a hymnal, Challies observes. Mark that down as one more in favor of hymnals!
- We gained variety. I actually think Challies is absolutely wrong on this point. Most of those (not all) who sing off the wall typically have very little variety. They sing a much lower number of songs from a much narrower range of sources than those with hymnals do. Just in the hymnal we’re producing, we have an amazing variety of songs from every era in church history and from multiple forms and languages.
- We gained portability. This is the one point with which I agree with Challies. I do appreciate this challenge. This is one of the reasons we’re making all of our hymns free to download; churches can download and print full hymns as they are needed if their situation can’t afford or facilitate hymnals.
- We gained spontaneity. Challies notes a time when he quoted a song in a sermon, and the worship leader was able to pull the song on the screen. I actually think this point is a wash. Sure, a guy might be able to pull up a song with a couple clicks, but I can also use the index in my hymnal to find something as well.
- We gained service. Challies claims that singing through bad songs helps filter the good from the bad. But why do we have to use corporate worship to do this? This is what gifted, qualified, dedicated hymnal editors do.
Challies states that “the reality is that neither hymnals nor PowerPoint are entirely good or entirely bad.” True. It is also true that we didn’t always have hymnals. And I will concede that there are a couple positives with singing off the wall.
But as a friend said on facebook regarding getting rid of hymnals, “the cons outweigh the pros by a mile.”