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Old Hymns and a New Point of View: Worshipping as an Eternal People

"...when we reach back to sing a song written generations before us, we participate in a form of worship that cuts across time itself!"

Just before the service that I was leading yesterday, a wonderful elderly saint came to encourage me in my role of leading the worship, as I've been doing these past several months at my new church. In doing so, she also added that she wished we did a hymn regularly, because people love those songs for their richness.

Now, I wholeheartedly agree with her. And at first, I was taken aback. You see, my team and I do take pains to ensure that our weekly song selections are rich in theology and expression of worship and praise to God. I wanted to point out that we actually do sing many hymns. In fact, I would say that the songs our church embraces most are many of the new hymns from the Getty/Townend/CityAlight groups, for example.

But that's what brought me up short. You see, even though we are singing NEW hymns, we might actually be missing out on something by not singing OLD hymns regularly as well. While I know that we do this somewhat regularly, I guess that I don't always differentiate songs on the basis of age as much as I do lyrical content. But maybe I should...

I did my doctoral thesis on the power of worship to shape our theology and our obedience for Christ. That is one of the reasons we are dedicated to the task of keeping the lyrical content of our songs quite rich at our church. BUT ... is there something about the oldness of a song that I might be missing?

In fact, I believe that there is a great benefit afforded to us for singing songs that are 'legacy' songs of the faith. Songs aren't better just because they're old. But ... old songs that people still wish to sing must certainly be very good songs! That is part of their enduring nature.

But more than that, when we reach back to sing a song written generations before us, we participate in a form of worship that cuts across time itself! The church, as we read in Heb. 12:1, is an eternal people! We share a common confession across the ages. Like reading scriptures written centuries before or participating in an ancient ritual like the Table of the Lord, the singing of ancient hymns connects us across the ages to those saints who have gone before us - a great cloud of witnesses, as Hebrews 12 calls them.

There is a bold statement that we make about the God who was, and is, and is to come by embracing the songs of past generations. It's also a statement about who we are as The Church.

Maybe it should be a lesson to us that the new is not always better than the old. You see, we can be ruthlessly musically racist in our own generational groups. Yet, part of Christ's command of learning to "die to myself daily"[1] and to "prefer one another"[2] might just be to put my prefer-ences aside and sing something that means a lot to those who have gone before me - to make a statement that every age group is an equally valued part of God's family!

I'm aware that old hymns aren't always packaged in a way that makes them appealing or 'cool'. But maybe cool isn't the best criteria for encouraging and building the saints when we prepare to worship together. If we are willing to be together, as God commanded, perhaps we can learn that togetherness starts by remembering who we are... part of the the past, present, and future generations of an eternal people of God.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2–3, NIV).

[1] Matt. 16:24. [2] The King James uses this phrase in the context of honouring one another. "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Rom 12:10).

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema, courtesy Unsplash)

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