A Response to “15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals”

Look…I’m not one to get into the “music wars” arguments in church (because they are silly nonsense), but I think this article takes a lot of leaps and bounds in their assertions regarding hymnals. They give 15 reasons why we should still be using hymnals…I’ll give a reason for each of them as to why those reasons don’t hold water.

For the original article and authors comments check out: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponder…

NOTE: I can read music. I have been reading and playing music since kindergarten…so this isn’t exactly a biased argument from someone who can’t read music…just speaking from reality.

Ready? Here we go!

  1. Hymnals actually teach music.

WRONG: Hymnals have music, but they don’t actually teach anything. Hymnals are books with words and musical scores. Now, a hymnal can be used to teach someone music…but this is not the same as saying the hymnals actually teach music. Problem is, most people do not know how to read music. And yes, this includes most people from the generations who actually only used hymnals. There may have been a time a VERY long time ago where most people could read music. That time is not now. And most of the die-hard traditional music folks can’t even read music. I once was the choir director of a 30 member choir in a Southern Baptist Church, and the vast majority of them could not read music. And they were overwhelmingly of the generation that only used hymnals their entire life. Good people. Couldn’t read music. Even my piano player who was in her 70’s at the time couldn’t read music. This isn’t a slam. It’s just reality.

Let’s also be honest here. Hymns have been done so frequently that people practically have them memorized and don’t really look at the books anyways when using them. This actually isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. Familiarity of a song can make it easier to worship without distraction. Which is why in the contemporary realm we use repetition when doing a new song (usually a few times the first month, then repeated several times throughout the year).

  1. Hymnals set a performance standard.

WRONG: Anyone who knows anything about hymnals know that there are actually little markings at the bottom of each hymn where you can look in the back of the book to find what other songs in the hymnal the song can be sung to. So it is very possible that someone could’ve spent their entire life singing a hymn to a tune that another church didn’t. The beauty of music in general (contemporary or traditional) is that as an artist, you can make it your own. This makes worship that much more exciting!

  1. Hymnals integrate the music and text.

This one isn’t wrong as much as it assumes that people care about these 2 things. It also assumes that people know how to actually read music. See point 1 above for additional comments on reading music.

  1. Hymnals allow you to sing anywhere.

This may come as a shock, but sometimes, when my church (which is contemporary in musical style) does a service in a place with no technology, we actually type up the lyrics of the songs on to “lyric sheets” to hand out to everyone. Miraculously, we still had worship, and they were more engaged in those moments than I’ve seen from most churches that are “hymnal only” types. So, this one doesn’t hold water because it assumes that only hymnals are portable. It is simply not true.

  1. Hymnals allow people to take possession of the music.

This point once again wrongly assumes that people in the contemporary world don’t do the same. No, they don’t go home with hymnals and practice (again, assuming most people can read music, and they can’t), but they can go home and pull up YouTube and look up the songs worship along with those songs all week long if the worship leader provides a list of the songs to the congregation in advance of the Sunday service. Or, if they are in the car and the song comes on the radio, they hear them and worship along. Same desired effect, yet, doesn’t require a hymnal to accomplish.

  1. Hymnals don’t screw things up.

No, hymnals don’t screw things up…because they are inanimate…but musicians do. And a horrible piano and/or organ player, or horrendous choir can be just as distracting and damaging to worship as technology crashing in the middle of a song. Trust me, I’ve seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. Yikes!

  1. Hymnals are as helpful as the singer needs them to be.

WRONG: Not sure what churches this person has been in, but screens (like hymnals) are an aid. And when people are familiar with a song (using a screen or hymnal) they tend to leave behind the aid and just worship. Hymnals are not unique in this regard. See point 1 above for additional comments on this.

  1. Hymnals are a theological textbook.

WRONG: Some hymns are, but I can assure you there are equally as bad hymns in theology as there are in the contemporary realm. What may come as a shock to many folks in the traditional realm is that many contemporary songs actually are scripture to music. Take for instance “Better is One Day”…it’s a Psalm to music. Go look it up for yourself. And that’s just one of many examples. So no…hymnals are not unique in this regard and many have their own theological flaws as well.

  1. Hymnals involve tactile action.

I’m not even sure what the heck this means. Is the author suggesting that standing, singing, raising your hands, clapping, dancing, etc. are not tactile enough? I mean, those things happen when you aren’t having to juggle a book. Just saying 🙂

  1. Hymnals are not particularly distracting.

WRONG: This assumes that everyone who projects words over using a hymnal has moving backgrounds, bright backgrounds, etc. That said, hymnals are distracting. They distract the singer from other acts of worship during music such as raising hands, clapping, dancing, etc. These things are next to impossible if you are holding on to a huge book while singing. These are all things that accompanied biblical musical worship. Check out the Psalms if you don’t believe me.

  1. Hymnals preserve the aesthetics of the sanctuary.

Now we’re just getting picky. Aesthetics of the sanctuary? Is the room we are in the sanctuary, or is our body, which the NT calls “the temple” the sanctuary? That said, this is just a silly argument. Anyone with an eye for design can easily set up a screen in a beautiful and even functional way that is not distracting or ugly. Check out Pinterest…LOTS of great ideas for stage design that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

  1. Hymnals confront us with “new” songs.

Wow…the idea of contemporary songs is the very idea of “new” songs. I won’t even spend much time on this because hymnals are not presenting you with new songs. They may be new to you because you’ve never sung them before…but that doesn’t actually make them “new songs”…just songs you’re unfamiliar with. Hymnals have dated songs. They may create newer versions with newer songs, but generally they range from 20-100’s of years old. Hardly new.

  1. Hymnals give validity to new hymns.

At one point all hymns were “contemporary songs”. Many of which were written to old bar tunes (what??? are you serious? Yes…yes I am). In fact, if one actually takes a course on church music (like I did) you will quickly learn that the church once argued over pianos, organs, and using music at all in church. So, no…hymnals don’t validate new songs. Not remotely. Again, I think the author is making a serious stretch here.

  1. Hymnals make songs less disposable.

WRONG: I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and I can assure you this is not true. In fact, our churches rarely branched out of the typical 5-10 songs that everyone knows. Rendering almost the entire hymnal useless as we never ventured into those “unfamiliar tunes”. So no…hymnals don’t make songs less disposable. They simply serve as a reminder of the songs we don’t actually sing every week.

  1. Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people.

WRONG: This one doesn’t make sense at all. Congregational singing isn’t about who controls the lyrics on the screen as the author states. Congregational singing is about participation. Period. People will participate in worship in the ways they are moved to participate. This can happen with a book, with a screen, with no instruments or music at all. Hymnals don’t give anything back. They are simply a tool.

OK…if you made it this far, I want to add this:

I actually like old hymns. Many of them carry wonderful memories growing up as my grandfather was a pastor and a singer and when I sing the old hymns it brings back wonderful memories of him singing. I love hearing remakes of old hymns. I personally have written some remakes myself.

The fact of the matter is this, hymnals are tools, as are projector screens. Tools to help a church worship. When our focus actually becomes about the tool and not the object of worship (God), then we miss the entire purpose of worship to begin with.

So how about this, let’s just worship Him, and bring Him honor and glory no matter what musical context we may find ourselves in. That, in the end, will be a far better legacy to pass on to our children and churches than these stupid worship wars that never seem to go away.



  1. Nailed it. I think there’s a great place for hymnals (mostly left in the back of the pew ahead of you, but there in a case of emergency), but most of the arguments made in the original article were silly for exactly the reasons you pointed out. Well done, sir.

  2. Thanks! Stuff like this just gets me frustrated with the churches understanding of worship. We too often confuse preference for doctrine while ignoring actual doctrine on worship altogether. I think these “worship wars” could’ve been avoided had churches done their job and helped educate their congregations on what worship is about. Granted, there will always be those few squeaky wheels. But I refuse to oil those lol.

    1. Stating the word “wrong” in all caps is not an argument. Can you expound a little so we can at least hold a sensible discussion about why you think I’m wrong?

  3. Thanks for this. I appreciate you being gracious in it – and your closing two paragraphs were very good.

    1. Thanks! These worship wars are exhausting though I believe they are beginning to wane a little. But articles like the one I responded to periodically crop up trying to sow division. And it’s not necessary. I guess they never read 2 Samuel 6????

  4. For the most part I agree that this is yet another replay of the worship preference war… and at the same time I wonder if there might be a means to address some of this for whom it is not. Ie some folks truly may not take issue with the worship music/style choices per se, but do find the screen vs book thing a challenge on its own. Granted, its likely a small number of folks…

    Consider folks who prefer, or may only be able to use a large print hymnal….

    If we could get beyond the licensing headaches, what if lyrics could be streamed to a tablet or phone? Or maybe even better, what if the screen info, including musical notation could be accessed via a phone or tablet. What if a church had at hand a few legacy tablets to serve as electronic hymnals for use only in the sanctuary…

    1. I agree that the number of those who legitimately struggle are probably far fewer in number than it is led on to believe. I believe with the advances in technology that something like what you’re talking about is certainly attainable. And I also suppose that this would be entirely congregationally specific. Not every congregation looks the same. That’s why I argue that the church should do what it does but with excellence. If they want hymns with hymnals, go for it. Just do it well. Same with contemporary stuff on projectors.

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