Sunday, June 25, 2006

Old Hymns, New Music ?

As I posted on another day, our denomination is set to publish a new hymnal.  This will contain some old, some new, some music and hymns of other cultures.  In talking with a few other people about this and about music in their church in general, I’ve come to find out that many Lutheran churches don’t use any of the so-called newer hymnals we’ve had for several years. 


(And I’m sure that there are other churches that use music that they gather from a variety of sources, and in fact, some churches print their own music sheets.)


But one thing I’ve wondered about is how much of a shock a new hymnal will be to a church that is using our green hymnal exclusively.  That book is almost 30 years old. 


The church I attend, as I’ve mentioned before, has used music from a variety of sources.  We have come to love the With One Voice (blue hymnal.)  The copyright date on that is 1995.  We love the “new music” in that hymnal. 


Hmmmm, New Music?  Well, I counted the hymns today [while watching the Twins pound the Cubs 8 – 0.]  Since the blue book came out in 1995, I figured that I’d count anything copyrighted in 1990-1995 as “new.”  Anything before would be “old.” That means that new music could actually be 16 years old. 


There are 201 numbered hymns in the blue book.  Of those, 175 are more than 16 years old.  What really surprised me was not that many are from other cultures, but that a large number of the hymns are many centuries old.  Of course, at some time, those were new music as well.


Our church’s pianist has used the blue book with the Sunday School kids, teaching them the liturgy and a number of they hymns.  They love it.  I personally believe in also teaching the Sunday School kids some of the old beloved hymns.


Related Points:


No wonder some people seek to use much more contemporary music as a means to draw in the unchurched. 



The Roman Catholic Church as been commissioning much new music, and, in fact, employing some Lutherans to write it. 



“New” music doesn’t have to be loud or rock or any of the things that set the generations apart.


  1. I like the old "popular" hymns (A Mighty Fortress, Oh For a Thousand Tongues, etc etc) but I have become used to praising the Lord in very new hymns (or praise songs or whatever they might be called).
    We often sing songs in worship which are less than 5 to 10 years old many are even 1 to 3 years old. When asked "Why so many new songs?" our worship leader said he believes the Lord is still speaking to songwriters today and so he tries to discern what the Lord wants to say to us and pray through us as we worship. I would guess he sees sacred songwriters to be of the prophetic camp. He often intermixes older hymns and even new arrangements of older hymns that fit what the Lord intends for worship on a given day.

  2. I really don't know if it is a new vs. old issue. There are some newer hymns and songs that are very good, and some old ones that are very stilted.

    One of the things that concerns me about some of the new hymns are a reliance on pop theology and cutesy themes. I think about the song, "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry" from WOV and how it seemed so trite and silly at first, and then was just blatantly offensive later, as there was a whole group of young adults (myself included) in the church who had been or were going through divorces. It left us asking questions like, "Well, why wasn't God there to 'make our verses rhyme'"? Not only is the song writing shallow, but it is a smack in the face to many people as well.

    I think there is a way to incorporate new music, but I would hate to see a wholesale replacement of the older hymns. We try to mix our hymnody up a little bit, using hymns from a host of sources.

    I would also like to see become new by going REALLY OLD: let's use some chant and polyphony, and even use some different languages to reflect our catholicity. At Easter Vigil this year, we did two Latin chants that people loved. We also incorporated songs from newer sources as well.

    I think I am starting to get what I am saying, I hope. In short, new or old, I just want to see quality hymns that glorify God and allow us to worship in the beauty of holiness. The year they were written is a non-issue.

  3. Following our pianist's lead, our church does use different languages and some really old songs, as well as newer stuff not in WOV.

    I think you and I agree, looking at your last sentence.

    Regarding triteness: I hadn't thought about the Borning Cry song before. But I think there are any number of songs, and probably many in the "Gospel" tradition, about God being with us all the time that can come across as trite when we aren't experiencing that. And then we can get into semantic and theological discussion as to what it means for God to be "with us" and "always answering prayers" or whatever phrases a song uses.

    There is also music that is musically shallow..........and that is where some of the new stuff and some of the old "gospel" stuff leaves me cold.


And what do you think?