25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them …
(Acts 16:25, ESV – YouVersion.Com)
For all those who have heard or said, “why don’t you just sing more hymns” …
What exactly is a “hymn”?
According to Merriam-Webster.Com, a hymn is:
Etymology: Middle English ymne, from Old English ymen, from Latin hymnus song of praise, from Greek hymnos
1 a : a song of praise to God b : a metrical composition adapted for singing in a religious service
2 : a song of praise or joy
3 : something resembling a hymn
My guess is that Paul and Silas weren’t singing “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. I doubt they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” or even “Victory in Jesus”. They weren’t singing “Come Thou Fount” and they weren’t singing “The Old Rugged Cross”.
What were they singing? Songs of praise to God. I’d guess they were songs that were known and established in their culture, perhaps songs from the temple. Maybe they were singing refrains of praise that they’d just composed themselves.
The point is … Hymns are songs of praise, specifically composed to be sung as praise and worship to God.
Back in my college days in the quest of a Music Degree, I remember reading about this in Music History. They discussed some of the things that would classify a song as a hymn, other than it’s lyrical nature. Things like “metrical” and “strophic form” come back to my remembrance.
Nevertheless, as people of worship in our modern era, that comment “why don’t sing more hymns” constantly comes to the ears of those in leadership. I have to confess, I’ve resisted the urge (though not with success on more than one occasion) to respond with a smart, arrogant jab such as “what, you mean nobody writes hymns anymore”?
Truth is, people don’t really know any better. To them, a “hymn” is one of those songs they sang in the traditional church as they grew up. It had a page number. Forget the fact that many of the modern choruses we sing these days have now found their ways into the more recently published hymnals. Does this validate those songs in some way?
Enough questions. How about our response? What are people really saying when they ask this question. I submit that they are saying “these songs are part of my heritage, they were foundations in my faith, and they are important to me”. I believe they are saying, “there is solid theological truth in the lyrics of these songs, and we should sing them”. Perhaps they are even saying “we’ve sang these songs in our churches for several generations, each passing them down to the other … can we not continue this heritage”?
As leaders do we brush this away? Or do we listen? Don’t be concerned about “what” a hymn is, and whether or not the songs you are so excited about are called “hymns” or not. There is a deeper message crying out in that question that so many of us grow weary in hearing.
As leaders, how do we respond?
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