What Has Been Lost Along With The Hymnal?
Today’s post has nothing to do with “RhetoricandHomiletics.org” — see the disclaimer below.
Instead, it is about an article which caught my interest yesterday evening.
The article caught my attention because the article was unexpected.
I was not anticipating coming across an article on this subject from that “publication.”
I thought it peculiar!
I was on “TheFederalist.com” — an online news outlet publication.
Here was an article which was addressing what was happening in local churches . . . .
“Why Churches Should Ditch The Projector Screens And Bring Back Hymnals”
Published by — “The Federalist”? — which I enjoy for its secular, not religious newsworthiness.
My interest was further piqued as I googled the author — “Tom Raabe”1 — a seminary professor? — a pastor?
He is a layman in a Luthern church (the Missouri Synod — the conservative side of the denomination) — not a professor, not a pastor and not a Baptist. 2
I wasn’t so much interested in the “Projector Screens” side of the headline, as I was about the “Hymnals” side.
However, I did not want to read another article addressing the CCM movement and those kinds of issues, which are all too well-worn! Another article on that would not interest me, but this one did.
The article was more about the effects and use of video screens. Yet, the subject of “hymnal use” was peppered in here-and-there.
If you are interested in the whole discussion, you can read it yourself.
I thought that . . . .
√ some of the arguments made in the article were weak . . . .
“Screens Don’t Belong In Church
To the first point: they’re horrifically ugly. In churches that don’t look like churches, the sort that instinctively prompt you to look for basketball nets and a scoreboard, they almost fit. Screens feel at home among the accouterments of contemporary worship that also dominate the space—guitars, mics, drum kits, keyboards, and amps—and behind that, typically giant luminescent slabs on the wall.”
√ other arguments were ineffective and/or well-worn 2 . . . .
“The old-fashioned language of hymns may strike some as unusual, but their text teaches the Christian faith far better than most of the praise choruses that dominate contemporary services.”
√ some of the practical audio/video concerns mentioned are indeed accurate and all too pervasive, longstanding, and epidemically frustrating in local churches today (“distraction” matters in worship and preaching) . . . .
“Will the slide change at the right time?
Will the correct slide come up next?
“Oh, look, there’s a typo!”
It’s hard not to see how technology distracts from the meaning of the words we sing.”
√ there may be some validity to the point that seeing words on a screen has a different impact than words printed on paper 3. . . . .
“The words on the screens may look like the words in the book, but they lack substance. They’ll disappear the moment the switch is flipped off.”
However, what most resonated with me was when Raab said . . . .
“If you’re not already familiar with the tune, you cannot sing from a screen.
There are no instructions on how many pitches you must devote to each syllable. In cases like these, most just end up keeping their mouths shut.
This also limits the complexity of the songs’ music and words, because it’s easier to learn simpler songs when new ones are introduced without sheet music.”
It resonated with me because it mirrored what I have been thinking and saying over a lengthy period of time. Raab repeated, though nominally, what I have also thought about and saw happening.
A real lost was taking place which accompanied the disuse of hymnals —- musically, vocally, harmonically, didactically, and spiritually.
Let me state more fully my shared misgivings on the “disappearance” of hymnals.
What is being lost? — (These are in no particular order of significance.)
Loss #1): Elemental Instruction
How many of us we taught and/or taught our children to sing in church by holding the hymnal down at their eye level, guiding their eyes through the stanzas with our finger? They learned one of the most elemental concepts of music composition at the youngest of age. As they grew up, there was no difficulty in following a musical score.
If the present trend continues, that will be lost in a generation or less, if it hasn’t been already.
Loss #2): Fullness of Beauty
There are two parts to hymns. One part is the “poetry,” and the other part is the “music.” It is the combination of those two art forms which makes music speak to our minds and hearts like little else can do.
Just repeat the words of the poem — “It is Well With My Soul” or “And Can It Be” — no music. You probably won’t feel what the combination of words and music is designed by our Creator to accomplish.
Or listen to the “music” of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “The Hallelujah Chorus” and try to muffle your mind from calling up the words. The words push their way into your consciousness — into your mind and heart — which then overflows in true worship of Who He is!
Hymns are a combination of two art forms: Poetry & “Music.”
But let me push the argument further because the “music” side is not meant to be just one dimensional — “melody.” The melody is what allows us to “Name That Tune.” However, to experience the fullness of music, there are more dimensions!
The “music” was written in such a way as to complete that art form — a complete musical score containing different voices or parts (as with an orchestra composed of various instruments, but with only the trombone playing).
The “musical” composers wrote it out in parts for a reason, and the reason was that it rounds out and fulfills the beauty of the music.
Listening to the melody alone is a truncated form of musical expression.
Having an audience sing only melody is a loss, not an advance or a wholeness. The art forms — both of them — poetry and music — lose their full potential when combined together, with only the melody.
Is the fullness of the music only to be found and expressed when a choir or group sing?
Should the beauty of the music be left untaped when the congregation sings, a congregation of voices which has the potential to move each other in praise?
Don’t we lose something by singing only the melody as we join together in worship?
An Aside: Typically, there is also the loss of “descants” within a hymn [“descant” — also spelled discant — from Latin discantus, “song apart,” a countermelody either composed or improvised above a familiar melody.”]
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing . . . . . “of my heart” . . . . keeps me singing as I go.
Loss #3): Musical Development
Bear with me for a moment in order to drive home this point.
I have spent years teaching public address, pulpit speech, homiletics, speech 101, debate, and preaching at Christian colleges, state universities, and seminaries.
Over a period of twelve years, I wrote for lessons for Union Gospel Press. I have published magazine articles on preaching.
I spend over 35 years in the pulpit ministry, preaching at a minimum 3 times a week and for many years 4 times.
I am passionate about “Homiletics” — “Preaching” — passionate about both and on the practical and theoretical levels. Don’t get me going on the subject of preaching because I want you to see and understand what I love talking about.
Even today, every so often in Adult Bible Fellowship or during the Mid-week service, I will purposefully (and even “un-purposefully”) speak about the subject of “homiletics”/ preaching. Typically I don’t use that word, but that is what I am sharing.
I will say and have said something like this . . . .
“The Bible is designed to give us truths and principles which cause us to see and think differently. It is those principles which flow out of a passage.
A Bible principle is not — “God wants us to follow wisdom.” 4
That is a biblical fact.
That truth can be seen in all kinds of Bible passages. Bible principles are specific to the passage — maybe more than one passage, but not so general that it is taught “everywhere.”
“God wants us to follow the wise words of others.” — closer, but still fits a multitude of passages.
“God wants us to follow the wise words of experience because it will change our lives.” — closer, but still fits a multitude of passages.
“God wants us to follow the wise words of experience, else we may be misled by the voices of ignorance, ultimately leading down a road of idolatry. — I Kings 12 / cp. 12:8, 28 — shocking!
More Succinctly: Here is the biblical principle: When you follow the voices of ignorance, prepare for some terrible decisions down the road.
More Succinctly: Or we could say it this way . . . . .
Following Ignorance Will Compromise Fidelity
Following & Fidelity Travel Together
Idolatry Comes After Insanity
Idolatry Follows Insanity
Sorry . . . . See what I mean! — I love the practical and the theoretical side of the art of preaching.
That, to say this . . . .
I really do not get it. If as. . . .
a lover of music
the one who leads a congregation of God’s people — musically — week after week
the individual who is probably the most musically gifted and knowledgable
one who has given his/her life to one of the most important art forms of Creation
. . . . . whether it be traditional or contemporary music — it doesn’t matter in making this point . . . .
If you as an artist do not want to . . . . .
develop the congregation’s abilities in music
improve their appreciation of music
encourage them to bring out the fullness of the poetry and music
hear them minister to each other with all that music has to offer
help them understand the greatness of the art form
. . . . . who does and who will?
In fact, I have known musicians who lead a congregation in this-or-that particular hymn, and who will make sure that the congregation follows the score — “Now, there is no ‘rest’ there.”
Loss #4): A Partial Loss Of The Worship Experience
There are those who lead music in the church today who are committed to having the congregation enjoy their kind of music.
Like it or not, we are going to sing their genre of music.
Whether it is conscious or not, it often comes across as . . . .
“You’ll enjoy this!”
“I like it, and you will come to enjoy it as well.”
“What ministers to your heart is not important.”
“Like it or not, we are going to sing my genre of music.”
“You should like it. Stop being so narrow.”
“You should like it. Be more sophisticated.”
“The most important are the young — the future of the church.”
Again — that is how it may well come across — if that matters 5 — when there is not a diversity which takes into account those who love the traditional or likewise those who enjoy a different genre.
And let me also say, that is how it may well come across — and it indeed may be accurate.
I am not re-litigating the CCM issues.
I am litigating the issue of “selfishness” as expressed in the musical ministries of a local church — not a concert.
When you attend this-or-that concert, it is your choice! You should know the genre of music being performed, and nothing is being forced on you. Don’t like it? Walk out.
Not so in a local church!
We should not have to walk out of a church which we have loved, enjoyed, fellowshipped in, and invested our money, time, and service.
What no song leader has a right to do is be “musically selfish!”
The question must be: What does the congregation — the broad general spectrum of the congregation — find worshipful? Not, what does the song leader enjoy? It is not about him, it is about those who are there to worship corporately!
I have been in too many great churches with an effective pastoral and pulpit ministry, which have had little regard for corporate worship. During the music service, not even a single great hymn was included. It was as if there were none present which would have welcomed such a traditional hymn, a hymn which ministers to me and others.
A traditional hymn ought to be included, at the least because it is part of our Christian heritage.
There are times when a traditional hymn is sung, and I want to shout, “Did you notice how the singing changed when you sang that hymn?”
Or there have been many occasions when a great hymn was included, but . . . .
√ I am forced to sing (or listen to) the most recent modern musical arrangement of that hymn.
I don’t know how to sing that hymn with that music! It is an unfamiliar arrangement or a different musical score to the same words. Sorry, I would like to enjoy it as written. Its meaning and thoughts are connected to our lives and past experiences.
√ the song moves (after one stanza) into a ramped up version — and off we go — drums leading the way — to a contemporary sounding version.
√ that it is — 1
√ that it is — 1 — and then the rest of the music is basically all the same genre
Nothing else is used which I have ever heard or even might have heard — (That is not to say that I have to sing songs which I have heard. However, how about a little — just a little — balance.)
A loss of meaningful worship — as I stand … and stand … and stand … and stand 6 …
listening to songs . . . .
I cannot sing
are arranged for professional voices
I do not know
which have little variety
are directed to the taste of one segment of the congregation
which communicate that my attendance is not that important
forced upon me by a this-or-that song leader — both contemporary or traditional!
Does the song service have much to do with the preaching of the Word?
Maybe this post really is about preaching!
I am writing “above my pay grade” when I write about music. My typical post on LinkedIn is about “Homiletics & Rhetoric.”
After finishing, I thought — maybe this does have to do with preaching. You decide.
My Musical Credentials:
Raised on classical music by German immigrants
Took Lessons on Piano, Violin, & Mandolin
Played around with guitar, accordion, and tried xylophone
Would love to play marimba
Sang in church choirs over the years as layman and pastor
Never really enjoyed singing until I was saved in 1964
Love traditional hymns, but my appreciation of church music does go is beyond that.
Absolutely no formal training in voice — just contributed a voice and body to a choir
I was good-to-terrible on various instruments.
As you see — little to nothing to place me in a league with those who really understand music theory and concepts.
You might want to listen to an excellent theorist, Ben Everson — “The Power Of Music” — CD! I heard him in person for hours and bought the CD because he – along with others — helps me understand how music works!
1. If you want to read the Luthern take on what is happening “musically,” here is another link to an article by Tom Raabe in the American Spectator.
2. Apparently, the CCM issues are still resonating among various other church groups. That battle is threadbare, divisive, and unresolved among many Bible-believing Baptist churches. I am not being dismissive, but another article on Contemporary Christian Music is not going to settle much if anything.
3. I tend to believe this point primarily because the words printed in the Bible are far more visually and personally impacting than those up on a screen.
I do not believe that an actual Bible in hand is the same as an electronic version for several reasons. Without changing the direction of this post, let me just say that the ability to mark, note, flip here and there, make a cross-ref note is valuable! Write out your class notes versus typing them in class and see the difference!
I understand the argument that — “It is all what we get used to.” I disagree. I maintain that there is a connective difference. There is something about writing with the hand, and typing!
This is a whole other discussion, though I think related!
4. Another Example:
A Bible principle is not “God is gracious.” That is a theological fact. That truth can be seen in all kinds of Bible passages. Bible principles are specific to the passage — maybe more than one passage, but not so general that it is taught “everywhere.”
“God is gracious even in His times of judgment.” — is closer to a biblical principle, but it is still too broad since it is not specific enough.
“God is gracious even when he judges waywardness.” — Jonah / Nineveh
5. “If that matters to you.” — It does to me because what we communicate non-verbally matters to God.
6. Is it okay if people sit and sing? Just asking.
Do we all have to stand if someone stands?
Is it okay to stay seated if others stand?
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