THE IMPORTANCE OF HYMNS AND GOSPEL SONGS IN MODERN WORSHIP

Music is a very important part of a worship service.  It should be of high quality and well prepared for and is not something to be taken lightly.  If the accompaniment is sloppy or the leadership hard to follow, the music can become a distraction that takes away from the desired intent of the service.  Music should be used to glorify God, and the most common way a congregation does this is through singing hymns and gospel songs.  The conscientious worship leader should be able to use hymns and gospel songs, explain their importance, and determine what makes them last.

The words of hymns are easy to understand, and the singing which allows the congregation to participate is their largest contribution to the worship service.1  But they are defined in a number of ways.  The most explanatory is the one given by The Hymn Society of America:

A Christian 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 purpose in human life.  It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic and literary in style, and spiritual in quality.  Its ideas so direct and so immediately apparent as to unify a congregation while singing it.2

More concisely, a hymn is an expression of praise, adoration, and thankfulness to God.

Hymns are centered around God and should be addressed to Him or sung about Him with a sense of dignity and reverence.3

Hymns originally were written solely from the Psalms.  Later composers wanted

to make the hymns more useful and easier to sing, so they created their own.  This caused much division in the church, for some thought these hymns to be uninspired and of the devil.  However, hymns are now generally accepted as a key part of the worship service.4

Gospel songs, although similar to hymns, have a different focus, they were originally created for the purpose of convicting people at camp meetings to become Christians.  Whereas hymns communicate from men to God, gospel songs communicate from men to men.  They are lighter in nature (too light according to some) and easier to sing.  The gospel song was created due to the difficulty worshipers had in singing some hymns, and because hymnbooks were frequently in rare supply.  The songs were taught by rote and learned by repetition until they eventually became popular in the worship service.5  It is important that both hymns and gospel songs be sung in a service; the hymn gives adoration to God, and the gospel song exhorts others to make Him the central focus of their lives.6

Hymns and gospel songs have many other purposes in addition to worshipping God.  Barry Liesch gives a five-fold description of the uses of hymns: 1) to serve as a call to worship, 2) to turn attention seriously to God, 3) to sing meaningfully to the Lord in preparation for more serious areas of worship, 4) to express personal worship and sincere love to the Lord, and 5) to participate in the most serene, most intimate expression of worship.7

Hymns are also used to express one’s theology.  John F. Wilson states that

“hymnody is man’s way of personally defining and expressing his theological beliefs and

his Christian experiences.”8  In the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, hymn

writers wrote according to their own doctrinal viewpoints.9  Isaac Watts used hymns as a way of summarizing his sermons and portraying his theological beliefs on Calvinism.  He believed that songs are “human offerings of praise to God, therefore, the words should be their own.”10  Charles Wesley wrote hymns on almost every aspect of the Christian’s life with much conviction and sincerity.11

Hymns are invaluable, not only for oneself but also in teaching others.  They effectively communicate a church’s theology, instruct one on how to worship, teach small portions of Scripture, and speak of ways to successfully minister to others.  Most  importantly, they proclaim the gospel and emphasize the importance of telling the good news of salvation.12

Hymns and gospel songs are the most important part of the music in worship.  Singing becomes the congregation’s chance to participate in the service.  Hymns have a way of communicating to the emotions and planting the seed of definite decision in the heart.  They accomplish this through direct and simplistic lyrics, a tune that is harmonious yet easy to sing, and a refrain which summarizes the message and helps the singer remember the song through repetition.  Many hymns are written directly from Scripture or include a paraphrase of a passage.  The messages they convey attempt to bring people to a deep, personal relationship with God.13

Hymns are important to the worshipper for three main reasons.  The first is understanding.  When a person really pays attention to what he is singing, he will gain a

better knowledge of the ways of God, a better understanding of Scripture, and a number on other insights of importance to spiritual growth.  Every member of the congregation should participate in the singing during a worship service.  Therefore, the message must be clear and easily understood in order for a person to truly take it to heart.14  Paul writes in I Corinthians 14:15, “… I will sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.”15  This involves understanding what is being sung.  If the person does not understand what the congregation is singing, the message is of no use to him or to God.

The second reason hymns are important is for encouragement.  Hymns are meant to draw people together in unity through singing the same music and the same words.16  Believers enjoy singing hymns because they are written for the believers to give them a part in worship, yet the words are the most important part of a hymn.  Colquhoun states that “a hymn has to do with the heart rather than the intellect.”17  When one sings sincerely, those around him will notice and make more of an effort to sing from the heart as well.  Martin Luther said that “besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart… .”18  After singing a hymn, members of the congregation feel uplifted and closer to God and are better prepared to learn from the rest of the service.

Thirdly, hymns are important for the edification of believers.  They are intended to lift up fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.19  The practical purposes of hymns are worship, education, and ministry.  Singing hymns helps one to rid his thoughts of the mundane things of life and of the problems and frustrations with which he comes to church.  Singing also helps him to concentrate on why he is truly there.  Music has historically been used by churches to unite believers and to challenge them to live better lives by the words that they sing.20

Hymns are equally, if not far more, important to God than they are to men.  God is the single most important reason a congregation comes together, and He commands songs from of believers.21  As the Psalmist states, “Let the people praise Thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise Thee.  Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Psalm 67:3-4a). God requires and expects Christians to praise Him, not half-heartedly, but with all their strength.22

Singing is also important to God because it is a congregation’s duty in worship.  The Hebrews in Biblical times took their music very seriously.  They did not consider it  an art, but rather a divine service, and they seriously discouraged using it for personal pleasure.23 Worship should be based on sincerity and simplicity, as in the New Testament, rather than on tradition and ritual, as portrayed in the Old Testament.  One is to express reverence, humility, and dignity toward God in a worship service .24  Kenneth Osbeck states that “The act of worship, then, implies communion and fellowship:  The eternal infinite God deigning yet desiring communion with man; and finite man in turn capable of approaching and fellowshipping with Almighty God.”25

Hymns should be sung to express praise, devotion, and thanksgiving to God.  In the Bible, they are used to show private devotion, assurance of God’s presence, celebration of special events (such as the building of a palace or the temple) or to pronounce judgment on enemies.  In all cases, they were used to glorify God.  Basic concepts reflected in hymns today are of God and His nature, of trust in Him, of praise

and rejoicing, of His mercy, and of individual communion with Him.26  All of these

themes are extremely important to a worship service.

Several factors are involved in determining the lasting quality of hymns and gospel songs.  It often has to do with the people who sing them and depends upon an individual’s personal taste, the music one has heard growing up and is accustomed to, or how easy the song is to sing.  The only absolute way of knowing if a hymn will last is to put it through the test of time.  However, the background of the author, the words, and the music also have a great effect on what makes hymns last .27

An author’s background and experiences greatly influences the writing of hymns and gospel songs.  Many writers often compose during times of persecution or difficulties.  They speak of hope in days to come and ultimately in the second coming of Christ.  Other hymns are personal testimonies of commitment, living lives of holiness, judgment, missions, security, and prayer.28  “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was written from Martin Luther’s strong beliefs in the triumph God’s people would have over evil.29  Two great hymn writers, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, sought to write hymns that not only portrayed their own faiths and joys of conversion, but also expressed the thoughts and feelings of the singer.30  This is evident in the hymns they have written, many of which are still sung by congregations in churches worldwide.

The actual words a congregation sings are really more important than the music.

A potential danger of having music that is enjoyable to sing is that it may take away from or overshadow the message the hymn writer is trying to convey.  It is of extreme importance that a person pay careful attention to the words he is singing; otherwise, his singing is of no value.31  The words must be easy for the average congregation member

to understand, the theology must be clear, and the doctrine must be sound.32

A quote within ablock quote is designated by using the double quotation marks and is not cited separately.

 

 

The structure of the hymn is also very important.  William J. Reynolds said, “The use of figurative language creates pictures in our minds, and brings visual impressions that enrich and heightens the meaningfulness of what we sing.”33  Jesus used figurative language frequently in His parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in order to teach more clearly.  The words are not chosen by hymn writers just for their meaning, but also for their sound to “create a mood and focus attention.”34  Much of this is demonstrated in the imagery of hymns.  Tom Hunter, in his article, “During the Hymn: Thoughts While Singing,” speaks of the confusing imagery in “The Church’s One Foundation.”   He writes particularly of his experience in singing the phrase, “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won:”……………………………………………………………………………….

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