Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs
by Erik Martin
By Stephen Miller
“A B C D E F G
H I J K LMNOP . . .
You’re singing along, aren’t you? This catchy melody was responsible for teaching you one of the most foundational facts you ever learned.
That’s the way music works. It teaches. It forms us.
We don’t need scientific studies to know that music and melody fuses truth into our memories and intellects. We can all observe how melody infuses meaning, emotions, affections, and experiences into words. It takes lyrics to new heights and depths that they couldn’t go on their own.
As a church musician, I’m not trying to downplay the formative importance of preaching. But I couldn’t tell you the take-home point of two sermons I heard growing up, no matter how clever the preacher’s alliteration. But I still sing “Holy Holy Holy” word for word. I know “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by heart. “The Solid Rock” is an ever-present companion for me in difficult times. Those songs have given me a vocabulary to express myself. I have learned the truth of God in a way that will stay with me for a lifetime.
It is no wonder. These hymns were written with that very purpose in mind. Pastoral and theological giants of the past went to pain-staking lengths to pen doctrinally rich, gospel-centered songs with the intention of shaping the people under their care. They poetically developed their thoughts to tell stories that would most memorably engage the intellects and emotions of the people who would be singing them. As a result, many of these songs became gems that have withstood the crucible of time.
In contrast, it is quite humbling as a corporate worship songwriter to see the shelf life of even the most popular songs of our day. They might last a decade—if the writers are lucky. Especially with the ongoing advancement of modern technology, it is likely that this shelf life will continue to decrease.
Shoulders of Giants
While it is important to continue to sing new songs to the Lord and to continue to write new songs to the Lord, I am often grieved to hear people say, “I don’t like hymns,” or, “That’s for the older people.” Perhaps the only thing that grieves me more is the lack of good doctrinal content in much of the newer corporate worship music.
I am not a traditionalist, but I believe new churches ought to sing old songs. I do not think that the only way is the old way. But we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have written songs that describe and declare the glory of Christ in a way that is unlike many songs written in our day. We miss out when we fail to teach with these songs that have shaped generation after generation before us.
I pray that in our day more than ever before, men and women will write great, God-exalting, Bible-saturated works that join the ranks with these hymns that have endured through hundreds of years of bad church music. All the while, I also pray that our church would guard good doctrine and not settle or compromise the gospel content of our songs for the sake of singing trendy new songs. May we sing songs, new and old alike, that make as much of Jesus as possible.”