The Hymnal: Old Songs Are Important
By Justin Gray Hymns Are Sneaky
I grew up in the A.M.E. church (google it) among the sweet smell of dank upholstered pews and frayed hymnal covers. I often tell people about my many adventures in my old church — sleeping in the balcony and playing basketball during the sermon. These were definitely my most cherished experiences in “church,” albeit not a part of the Sunday morning liturgy. Recently though, I’ve been reflecting on my spiritual journey and realized something pretty powerful about my time in that old A.M.E. church in Detroit.
Something strange happened in the moments between naps and jump shots. Somehow, a theological framework was being laid. Most of what I came to understand about scripture was shaped by the songs and responsive readings from the hymnal. Deep theological truths and large passages of scripture were embedded into my memory before I even had a fleeting thought about repentance and faith.
The great mystery of music is that it can communicate things to us in a deep way that otherwise we would not as readily understand. In this context, hymns are probably best characterized as songs that speak deeply of the Christian faith in an intensely poetic and biblical way.
There was a time in church history when it was viewed as blasphemous to write worship songs that were not explicitly biblical. Although this is an extreme view of musical expression, I thank God for the songs written then; if nothing else, it set a biblical precedent in songwriting. These were the songs that I rehearsed during the ho-hum weekly services that are still fastened in my subconscious.
These old songs are important because they remind us of the timelessness of God’s word and His faithfulness in keeping promises. The philosopher, Heraclitus once said: “The only thing that is constant is change.” The word of God is our anchor on the choppy sea of change, contemporary fads, and whims of creative expression.
I pray that more songs will be written to affect the next generation of kids who, like me at one time, are being chased by God.
Take A Look Back
Spend some time over the next week studying your favorite hymns. Soak in the melodies, meditate on the poetry, and search out the biblical basis of the song. This is a good exercise to become more theologically sensitive in selecting and writing worship music.
Are you being mindful to select songs for your worship services that are theologically rich and/or recite scripture?
What kind of impression do you think the music you sing and write will leave on generations to come?