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“Hymns are boring and the language is hard to understand, I want to sing Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Hillsong, and Jesus Culture.”

“Modern worship music is boring, it all sounds the same and is too repetitive. Besides it lacks substance, hymns are the only music that should be in a church.”

Worship wars are everywhere. The above statements have echoed in churches all over the country and likely all over the world (if they haven’t, they will). One generation wants hymns and another wants contemporary worship music. One generation wants hymnals and possibly a choir. Another generation wants a band with guitars, possibly a hipster worship leader, or possibly a praise team.

This sentiment is all too common and unfortunately, it is dividing the church. Churches split, generations are forced to leave, people are strong-armed, people are hurt, and visitors are left wondering what the big deal is.

Too many churches today are being divided and experiencing splits due to worship music preferences. Well, which one is right? Is it the younger generations who (mostly) value contemporary worship? Is it the older generations who (mostly) value traditional hymns? Who is right and who is wrong? Is there a right and a wrong? Well, what does the Bible have to say about this? Let’s check it out…

Ephesians 5:18b-21*

but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

In Ephesians, Paul seems to be exhorting believers to not live lives marked by worldliness, but to sing hymns and spiritual songs regularly. What is interesting is he says to address one another with them which I think he means to talk about the hymns and the songs, not simply sing them without reflecting the depth of their meaning. Something I have noticed older generations do well in is applying the content of a favorite hymn to a life circumstance and discussing it when someone needs correction, help, or encouragement. It’s not Hillsong, Passion, Jesus Culture, or something modern, but typically Gaither music or some of the older classic hymns. What is desirable is the practice, whether it be hymns or spiritual songs doesn’t seem to be the point of Paul’s statement here in Ephesians.

Colossians 3:12-17*

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What about Colossians?

Paul seems to use the mention of singing hymns and spiritual songs, both mentioned, to refer to the ultimate purpose of making Christ rule in the hearts of the believer. Paul calls Christians in Colossae to put on Christ, as he would word it, but he uses more terms than simply saying this at least in this passage. Part of putting on Christ, clothing yourselves with Jesus Christ and the Gospel, is to make the rule of Christ in your hearts as a follower of Christ a priority in which all that is done, whether it be singing a hymn or a spiritual song or a psalm or teaching one another or admonishing one another, all that is done in word or deed is to be done that Christ might be sovereign and claim His rule in your heart as a believer. There is nothing here about hymns or worship songs being better than the other. Hmmm…

And Acts, we can’t forget Acts, which depicts the early church as it grew and spread throughout the known world by the missionary efforts of many Christians, not simply celebrities such as Peter or Paul.

Acts 16:25-34*

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

*All scripture citations are taken from English Standard Version of the Bible.

In Acts, what then do we learn about hymns and worship songs?

It seems that when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, they sang hymns and spiritual songs to bring glory to God in the midst of their grim circumstance, and in doing so they were able by the power of the Spirit draw the ears of other prisoners to their songs and the content of these hymns and songs. In fact, a miracle happened in this midst of their singing and the result of their praising God in their circumstance is that they were able to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the guard of the prison. The emphasis here in singing hymns and spiritual songs seems to be twofold: 1) to remind themselves singing that God is in control and that glory is due to Him despite their circumstance, and 2) to share the message of the Gospel with all those around them that they might hear the content of the songs and hymns and have a miracle work in their hearts and be saved by God’s grace.

So, after looking at what Scripture has to say, what do you say then? Are hymns the true, biblical manner of worship through song, or are worship songs more important? OR, perhaps, could we all be terribly mistaken amidst this conflict and might it all be for naught? Perhaps, maybe, we are missing the point entirely.

I believe we are losing sight of the object of our worship and perhaps even making ourselves the subject of our worship at the same time.

Perhaps it is high time we move beyond our personal preferences and catch a glimpse of the bigger picture of what worship is and who we are worshipping and the power that worship can have on those involved and those around us. If we are so focused on bickering and complaining and nagging at one another, whether young or old, whether contemporary or classic, it seems that the Gospel is not being communicated to ourselves by our actions nor is the Gospel being communicated to those around who may be watching.

We are called to give God claim and rule over our hearts, our priorities are wrong. We don’t need more hymns or more modern worship, we need more of the Gospel, we need more of Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives. This comes in reminding ourselves as we learn in Scripture and we learn that the Hebrew people did in the Old Testament who God is and what God has done for us and surrendering our hearts and our silly preferences so that God may be glorified and we might decrease. After all, what is worship if we make much of ourselves, but not much of God nor much of the Gospel of God?

Personally, I love the content of hymns by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, but I also love the emotionally stirring of my affections toward God that happens when I hear and sing songs by Hillsong or Sojourn or Indelible Grace Music (modern hymns). It seems to me that we need both, we need to be reminded of the Gospel and we need our affections to be stirred to turn our hearts and minds to God.

May we all pray that our churches in the Western world at least would turn toward God in our worship and not against one another. Amen.