Encouraging a higher standard for Christian music

Changing Hymns

For years now Indelible Grace has been at the forefront of the new hymns movement, setting old hymns to new music. Their stated purpose is:

 “Our hope is to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace.”

Frankly I am not sure what is meant by “tradition”.

They also claim:

“But our true goal is even more ambitious. We want to be a voice calling our generation back to something rich and solid and beyond the fluff and the trendy.”

They go on to say…

“We want to remind God’s people that thinking and worship are not mutually exclusive…”

“We believe worship is formative, and that it does matter what we think.”

No, probably not as long as we feel good right?

“We believe that this theological poetry is supremely suited for expressing the seeming paradoxes of the faith that drive us to worship. Our prayer is that Jesus would be made more beautiful and believable, and we have found few things better suited for this than hymns.”

After listening to a few of the songs below, I did not find myself driven to worship, nor did I think Jesus was made more “beautiful and believable”. Is that the purpose of a hymn – ‘to make Jesus more beautiful and believable”?!

Here is a trailer of the documentary video Roots and Wings: The Story of Indelible Grace and the RUF Hymns:

One definition of a hymn is “…a lyric poem, reverently and devotionally conceived, which is designed to be sung and which expresses the worshipper’s attitude toward God or God’s purposes in human life. It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic and literary in style, spiritual in quality, and in its ideas so direct and so immediately apparent as to unify a congregation while singing it”.[2]

Robert Cottrill, a long time contributor to the Cyber Hymnal, wrote in his excellent article 30 Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing:

  “Occasionally, sing a hymn to a different tune than the one employed in the hymn book. (The Metrical Index can help with this. See my article About That “Metrical Index”.) Make sure the tune fits the word emphasis of the metre, and the mood of the words.”

It is not a bad idea if done correctly. Indelible Grace Music claims this was a tradition of the early hymn writers and uses as justification a claim that Wesley’s tune to And Can It Be was originally a bar tune. Mr. Cottrill however, correctly concludes in his article “Barroom Tunes…Again!” this was not common practice, nor was it condoned.

Luther, Wesley and others were greatly concerned that Christians should not be singing the songs of the world. They certainly would not condone using something that would remind people explicitly of immoral conduct or a sinful lifestyle. Down through the centuries, many Christian hymn writers have laboured to keep the church’s music distinct and separate, recognizably different from the secular music of the day.

In the final analysis, we mustn’t use the practice of others as our standard. We cannot say, “Because some hymn writer did this, it is permissible for me to do the same.” The bottom line is that our ultimate standard is Christ (Eph. 4:13), and the principles of God’s Word (cf. Lk. 16:15). When Jesus met with His disciples after His resurrection, Peter, curious about what the future held for John, asked, “Lord, what about this man?” The Lord’s answer affirms a basic principle of personal responsibility: “What is that to you? You follow Me” (Jn. 21:21-22).

 

If The Holy Spirit inspired the writer, what is the inspiration to change it?

What do you think? Should Hymns be changed?

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Comments on: "Changing Hymns" (3)

  1. Sis. Sharon said:

    I’ve been looking up some hymns by Albert Simpson that Bro. Branham quotes from, but doesn’t sing on tape (“Himself”, “Only Wait”). I read this article over here (https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies/ahtreadings/ahtr_s3.html), and I have to admit that it is a little tempting to use Bro. Simpson’s beautiful lyrics to rewrite a tune to. But I would try to leave the original style intact, and may keep mostly the same chord structure; the idea is to make the tune a little less jumpy and more singable– a little less formal?

    But when you hear, for example, newer renditions of the hymn, “One Day” that involve simpler chords and completely different rhythm (rock n’ roll?? why?), it does make one wonder the motive… workup or the words?

    • Anonymous said:

      There is often a fine line between “workup” and true inspiration. True inspiration stands the test of time, while workup is only for the moment. Thank you for your comments, and for the link!

  2. Garry Ballard said:

    I don’t mind singing a hymn with a different tune than the writer had as long as it can still be sung by untrained voices. The problem I have with changing the music of a song is it often only allows the professional to sing it. I have been in plenty of churches where they have a music ministry (so called often) that sings songs that very few in the congregation can sing. Either by having it in a key so high that untrained people can’t reach or employing musical gimmickry that sounds so like the world’s
    songs. Have you ever been frustrated at a public event where your country’s national anthem is sung by a current popular music idol and they change the way it is sung and you can’t sing along with it? That’s what I mean about the professional music ministry changing the music of hymns. In saying this I have heard that the music of the hymn Amazing Grace isn’t the original music.

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