Lest we be so vain as to think that we are the first generation of Christians to have issue with singing hymns in church, let me be the first to inform you that we are not. This has been an on-going discussion for years…hundreds of years.
I love hymns. And, I love singing a hymn that was written and used by John Wesley, or Isaac Watts, or John Newton. Their hymns, written in the 1700’s, were fresh expressions that served, not only as a means to praise God, but as lessons in theology as well. Add to that the contemporary hymns written by Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, and Steve and Vicki Cook. They, among others, have encouraged a hymn revival.
The Church, however, has not always been friendly to the hymn. For years, only Scripture was used for singing. This, obviously, was the Psalms. Many church leaders hissed at the idea of incorporating man-made compositions into the worship meeting. As a matter of fact, it was not until 1820 that the Church of England approved the singing of hymns, even though, for almost 100 years, dissenters had been singing hymns in their private meetings.
In 1740, John Scot wrote in A Fine Picture of Enthusiasm that the hymnody of the day was irrational. He says,
The Hymns they sing, i.e. all I have seen or heard of, are not rational compositions, nor do they accord with the first principles of all religion, but like their prayers, dwell upon a word, or are immediate addresses to the Son of God, as the supreme object of worship. And do represent him as much more friendly and compassionate to the human world than God the Father ever was – so that their singing is calculated to engage the passions by nothing more than words, and the melody of the sound, or voice; but if you would sing with understanding, you must have other sorts of compositions both for Psalmody and prayer, than what the Foundery or the Tabernacle [Methodist meeting halls] do afford you.
I thank God that the Wesleys, Isaac Watts, John Newton and others followed the leading of the Spirit to compose expressions of praise to God – yes, songs of theology – that generations of Christians may be bound to each other by the common purpose of voicing our gratitude to God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Spirit.
Soli Deo gloria!